From deep dives into the psyche of serial killers to the literary relevancy of superheroes, the Experimental College’s fall 2019 lineup includes a wide variety of courses taught by undergraduate students.
The Experimental College (EXCO) program provides students the opportunity to teach classes based on their own interests.
Kathy Emery, director of EXCO, petitioned the university for the revival of the program in 2017. The program was originally established amid the student-led strikes of the 1960s by those who were dissatisfied with their education, according to SFSU Centennial History. Emery said it was shut down just four years after its creation in 1965, due to a funding shortage and student interest.
“Students gain confidence in their ability to organize,” Emery said. “It’s a transformative experience for them because their passions and interests are awakened.”
Through the EXCO program, student teachers develop a syllabus and course structure based on their own interests. History of Moral Panics, taught by Amanda Hawkins, a senior criminal justice major, explores moral panics, the widespread fear that some evil threatens society, like instances of Satanic Panic.
Hawkins, vice president of the EXCO club, said she chose the topic because she has always been fascinated by Satanic Panics. Her mother, a metalhead, and father, a Dungeons and Dragons player, felt rejected by society during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.
Other student instructors see the opportunity to teach as a way to impart knowledge of their favorite topics. Stephanie Martin, a senior comparative literature major and president of the EXCO club, is instructing the course “Teaching through Superheroes” for her third semester. This course examines the literary and cultural relevance of superheroes and villains.
“I love superheroes,” Martin said. “ ‘Watchmen’ has a lot of philosophical themes, ‘Wonder Woman’ has queer and BDSM themes, ‘V for Vendetta’ has themes of anarchism. So, we get to have a lot of political and theoretical discussions.”
The peer-to-peer learning style promoted by EXCO attempts to produce a safe zone where students can feel free to express their opinions without the pressure of traditional professor figures.
Mental Analysis of Serial Killers, taught by junior Robert Van Noord, includes lectures and discussions on a new serial killer each week, like the Zodiac Killer and Ted Bundy, separating reality from myth.
“I’m also learning by teaching something which reinforces my ideas,” Van Noord said. “We can both learn about history, come away with new knowledge and break down the stigma of mental illness.”
Taking an EXCO course can help students who need a few extra units meet requirements and graduate on time. Each class fulfills one unit of upper-division elective course credit for those enrolled and student instructors may receive up to four units.
“I wish I knew about it sooner,” Samantha Tersigni, a graduating senior enrolled in Van Noord’s course, said. “Because every unit counts when you’re trying to graduate. The fact that it’s taught by another student who understands being a student really creates an environment where you can learn freely and willingly,” Tersigni said.
Other courses offered through Experimental College this fall include How to Get Your Life Together, Internet Communities and Cultures, Perceptions of Mental Illness in Society and Why We Sit in Rows, among others.
The last day to add Experimental College course classes is Monday, Sept. 16.