Student initiated courses (SICs) are the perfect example of peer education at Stanford University. With a cap of twenty students, faculty guidance, and department sponsorships, they provide an intimate learning environment led by students themselves. Each SIC is led by one or more students, after an application that has to be approved by a faculty advisory board. The classes are not only more intimate and relaxed, but are also engaging, substantive, and taught by competent undergraduates.
Of the many SICs provided this quarter, Political Science 92X draws much attention. Lead by Amir Badat, Jeff Tai, and Caitlin Maloney, POLISCI 92X is a class on free speech on the Stanford campus. Although there was much speculation about the partisanship of the class, Tai stated that the class is very well-balanced.
The class has invited guest speakers such as then Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Vice President and Stanford Democrats President Andy Parker, Associate Dean and Director of Student Activities and Leadership Nanci Howe and Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Sally Dickson, who handles the acts of intolerance protocol, to discuss the topic.
The objective of the class, as Tai remarks, is to create awareness and inform the Stanford community about free speech on the Stanford campus by presenting a spectrum of opinions that is brought to the class by the guest speakers who have their own experiences and expertise to speak from.
POLISCI 92X was inspired by events such as Corry v. Stanford, a Santa Clara County Superior Court case in 1995 against Stanford’s free speech code, and the University’s disapproval of former Stanford Democrats President Kai Stinchcombe’s initiative to phone bank for Senator John Kerry’s Presidential campaign in 2004.
Tai—who, along with co-leader Badat, is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Stanford Chapter—is confident that the class is doing well to educate students about such issues and expose them to many different perspectives. In fact, the class is used by some of the guest speakers—who are also the key players in university policy or activism—to gain feedback from the students towards building a better free speech environment at Stanford.
Angelina Cardona, ASSU President and a student in the class, commends the merits of the class. According to Cardona, “The more people that know about free speech, the better.” She stated that the class has been successful in conveying a better understanding of free speech issues at Stanford, and also has the potential to pave the way towards formation of measures that can be taken to improve the situation.
The military strategy SIC led by Kelly Gleischman, Kate Powell, and Courtney Khademi is another notable class. Started last year by the three students who had just returned from a quarter at Stanford in Washington, it invites influential guest speakers to discuss topics that fill, as Gleischman and Khademi remark, “A huge gap in our curriculum as we learn about foreign affairs and domestic policy; a huge gap in learning about the military and an enormous defense apparatus that we felt ignorant about.”
The SIC program is run with the goal of allowing students to teach about subjects that they are passionate about, and for students to take classes about topics that are not usually covered by the curriculum. According to Justine Brooke and Christina Zhu, the coordinators of the SIC program, there is a lot of interest to start up SICs and classes are usually well-enrolled. Student leaders are very competent and passionate about what they are teaching. Brooke gives the example of “a class on using laser cutters in creating sculptures where the supervising professor remarked that the students were possibly more competent than him at teaching the class.”
When it comes to the state of the program, the coordinators believe that the only problems it faces are related to funding and other administrative issues. There is no lack of enthusiasm to keep the program running. As Brooke stated, “There are always ways to improve it, but that doesn’t mean the way it exists is bad. I think it’s in a good place. Just because we’re not at the ideal doesn’t mean we’re far from the ideal.”
SIC classes are deliberately capped to create a seminar-like environment. However, many student leaders believe that the subject matter of their classes should be available to a greater student population. The military strategy class was initially envisioned as an instituted course, according to Kelly Gleischman. She added, “We would love to reach a broader audience, but as it stands, SICs have been a good opportunity to start off in that path.”