The composition requirement originally began as a requirement for graduation from Davidson College in the 1968-69 academic year.
The requirement certainly meshes well with Davidson’s purpose in providing a liberal arts education to its students. It encourages all students to learn to critically evaluate intellectual issues and make complex arguments about them, not only in speech but also in writing.
Although now there are many “W courses” being offered every semester, it originally began as just the composition requirement. Students had to complete either English 101 or 102, or the first year of the two year Humanities program (listed as 150-151 in the course catalog). If students did not perform well in their Humanities composition course, they could be referred to English 101 by the Composition Committee. The 1999-2000 academic year was the first year when the courses that satisfied the composition requirement were designated with a “W.”
Although the writing requirements are tough (students write about 40 pages over the course of a semester), there are W course topics to interest every student. Some of the courses being offered this semester include The Trial of Jesus (Classics), Growing up Jim Crow (Education), The Hero’s Question and
Love, Death and Art (both English), Human Beings and the Natural World (Philosophy), Justice and Piety (Political Science), Animal Questions (Religion), and Russia and the West (Russian).
Even the writing assignments themselves require creativity and imagination. For Food as Spectacle and Symbol, students had to write a two page essay describing how to cook their favorite comfort food, and for extra credit, they could prepare it for a friend and write about the results. Students read books and watched films for The Horror:Read, Write and Exorcise, offered in the fall of 2000, but they also looked at mass media and the monsters created by newspapers, television, and websites. In War Stories, offered in the spring of 2001, students explored the story of the Trojan War by reading the Iliad and Christa Wolf’s Cassandra.
The composition requirement is also constantly evolving. This year, Davidson College has adopted the New Intellectual Writing Project, inviting students to take a writing course highlighting how scholarly discussions are made available to the general public. And even since I’ve started writing this blog article, the writing course information on the Davidson College website has changed from being called “W courses” to “WRI101.”
The composition requirement is definitely a staple core requirement at Davidson College, but it will be interesting to see how things like the New Intellectual Writing Project change its effects upon students.
This entry was written by Sarah Adams, the Archives student assistant.