For those who are unaware, the University Honors Program is an academic program that provides alternatives to gen-eds through socratic seminars and other discussion based classes. Its goal is to teach students — through a liberal education — how to be good citizens and challenge themselves. While that is a noble goal, in practice it has excluded certain types of students and perpetuated inequalities — whether that is through the social culture or the rules of the program itself.
The name of the program itself is an issue. Having classes for ‘honors students’ feels very high school which is reflected in the attitudes of some of my peers and the faculty. There is also an air of superiority and pretentiousness that comes with the position. We’re told we’re special. We get matching shirts and priority registration. It doesn’t take long for cliques to form, especially when we are introduced to the program during freshman year, leading to social exclusion for other students. Some students are also alienated by the ‘honors’ moniker due to experiences with high school honors classes. The program should have a name that is more representative of its goals.
One issue is that the honors program lacks non-traditional students, which feels counterintuitive to the program’s mission. The program that seeks to embrace diversity, inclusion and to expose us to a variety of experiences and viewpoints, only recruits 17 to 18 year-olds. There have been many discussions in my honors classes that would have benefited from the input of someone who was coming back to school after a few years — even a student parent.
The honors program has had issues with classism as well. In one course, our professor expected us to buy seven books out of pocket for the class, at a school where textbooks being included in tuition is a selling point for many. Not everyone can afford to buy seven separate books, even with the used copies in the Cougar Store. Students were also expected to get the exact version the professor was using, which is difficult when classic novels have many different versions that some students may already have. It’s not reasonable to expect them to buy another copy.
I’ve also had a professor in the honors program go on rants against audiobooks and e-books, even prohibiting us from bringing them to class because it’s not the experience of reading a real book. There are numerous issues with that. Personally, I use audiobooks as an accommodation for my ADHD and not being able to use them would harm my ability to learn. Audiobooks and e-books are also cheaper in most instances. It would be easier for a
lower-income student to obtain those than seek out physical copies. They also save space when you’re stuck in a tiny dorm room or apartment, as is the nature of college living.
While these are isolated instances, they’re just a few examples of the overarching issues with classism and ableism within the University Honors Program. However, things don’t have to be like this and there are tangible ways for students and faculty to improve the program.
Honors students, get to know people outside of your friend group — whether those students are in the honors program or not. Make an effort to know them instead of just knowing of them. The diversity of experiences is supposed to be what we’re all about, so make an effort to include others.
Honors faculty and administrators need to take the issues outlined above into consideration. Non-traditional students should be allowed into the honors curriculum and recruited like any other student. That principle of diversity and inclusion should be put into practice by considering the needs and abilities of the students as well. In accordance with the principles of a liberal education, it should be accessible to all.