For my senior seminar class, The World of Woof, all of the students had to either design brochures or create videos with the aim of educating the public on issues with respect to animal welfare, specifically canine welfare. My partner and I decided to do ours on Black Dog Syndrome. Black Dog Syndrome is the common name for the plight of large black dogs in animal shelters. Simply put, they don’t get adopted at the same rate as other dogs. The causes are numerous: a folk history of black dogs as bad omens, the relative lack of photography of the animals, an inability for potential adopters to clearly see visible facial features upon first glance, etc. It’s a very worthwhile cause, and I would like to iterate that anybody reading this who is considering adopting a dog should give black dogs a chance, as they’re generally healthier, tamer and just as expressive (once you get accustomed to them) as any other dog.
The larger point that I would like to write about, though, is that we had to actually make realistic brochures that could, conceivably, convince prospectus readers about our cause. The aim was to connect the lessons learned in class with activism in the larger community. My partner and I also decided to do a website, and we designed little square pieces of paper with a QR code that we could put lots of places and lure people to raise awareness.
This was one of my favorite assignments that I did at Maryville, and it’s because of that connection to real world problems. Academies and universities have traditionally been the places in which social activism and outreach have been nurtured and encouraged, from the Greeks all the way up to the French mass protests in the late 20th century and beyond.
That type of connective learning to the outside world is a specific hallmark and goal of liberal arts education, too, and it’s something that we would all do well to heed and ask for more of. I know it’s not the most popular opinion to say that we ought to have more out-of-class assignments, especially at this point of the year when we’re all writing finals papers and making portfolios and finishing research and all that normal fun stuff.
But, honestly, what the heck use is all of that if we don’t apply it to practical matters outside the little bit of greenery that we call our campus? What does it matter what I learned in that dog class if I don’t use it to educate and help improve the lives of dogs? I often decry how we need to learn about Keats and Yeats and Joyce in literature classes, but the onus is on me to make it relevant to people. These authors did make great literature and if people aren’t reading enough of it, well, why shouldn’t I change that?
In other words, what does it behoove a man or woman to learn all that we can learn and keep it to ourselves, especially when we’ve been blessed with the work ethic, desire, luck, etc., to go to a fine college like ours? We need to connect more outside the university, and not just in a transparent desire to get a job after graduation. The other stuff is just as important if we really want to create our proverbial city on the hill, our great society.