The need for a nuanced perspective in the global classroom

 Photo courtesy of ||  A nuanced perspective is necessary to living in and understanding a global world, Zoya Azhar ’20 writes. 

Photo courtesy of || A nuanced perspective is necessary to living in and understanding a global world, Zoya Azhar ’20 writes. 

Zoya Azhar ‘20
Assistant Opinions Editor

How important is it to your success as a student in a Smith classroom, to be American?

Of the million things I thought about before I came to Smith, this was something I took for granted. I assumed that a college education is global, no matter where you go, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I believe a global education is valuable, and it encourages a greater understanding of world problems. And that has been my experience, to some extent. 

However, I was forced to think harder about this as I started to peruse the course catalog more intently and took more classes.

Smith courses deal with pieces of knowledge from all over the world and one can study almost whatever they want. One can find classes on conflict in the Middle East, Russian literature, African history, etc. One can be plenty educated at the end of their years at Smith and think of themselves as a supposedly global individual. And they may be justified in saying this, but there is something missing here.

One doesn’t become a global individual just because they took classes about a bunch of international problems and seem to care about global issues, or alternately, took classes in domestic areas of interest and were able to recognize how things are done differently in other places. 

Nuance is important. And this nuance is gained by looking at issues from varied perspectives, including an American one. 

One of those perspectives should absolutely be the American perspective, which means a perspective on topics that is catered to the American way of thinking, uses the American language generally surrounding that topic and takes into account American customs and norms. I may even go as far as to say the primary perspective should be the American perspective seeing as Smith is located in the American context and majority of its students are Americans. 

An American perspective is not just for the benefit of the international students (of which there are roughly 300 to 400 on-campus and studying abroad), it is essential for them. 

Students also need to hear perspectives other than the American one, to understand and apply the information they learn in Smith classrooms. But sometimes for our international friends, an American context is necessary – an international student will probably not know what an EZ-Pass is or why it’s being discussed in an urban economics classroom unless it is prefaced with an explanation. 

American culture is a dominant one in today’s world, and it isn’t hard to be familiar with it. This means that most international students are familiar with general American ways of thinking, which may contribute to their comfort with applying to study here. But it does not mean that their educational experience at Smith should not be improved. 

One could argue that a change in Smith course offerings or shift in the teaching of them is not necessary because international students apply knowing what they’re signing up for, which suggests they want to learn things from the American standpoint.

All of this is not to say Smith’s course offerings are or should be steeped in ethnocentrism. There are plenty of classes, concentrations and study abroad opportunities that provide a rich academic experience. However, the need for nuance is something I have felt time and again when I go to classes, and I feel it must be talked about.