In 1997, at Fall Plenary, two students in the homestretch of their Haverford educations proposed a program of student-taught classes. Bethany Carson Kilpatric ’98 and Emily Clark Garnett ’98, best friends and religion majors, essentially wanted a study break, but they didn’t just want to relax on Founders Green or make a pizza run. Instead, they proposed the Experimental College (ExCo). The student-organized classes, they argued in their Plenary resolution, “will in no way replace our professors. … Instead, we hope they will enrich our education, allowing us to share our knowledge, interests, and skills with each other.”
Courses began in late fall, and in spring 1998 the ExCo catalog, which featured a funky silhouette of a hand on its cover, offered 16 noncredit classes ranging from “Art for the Unartistic” to “Very Basic Sign Language.” Garnett and Kilpatric taught “Paper Arts,” a papermaking class.
“I was looking for a better balance of head, heart, and hands in my life as a college student,” says Garnett, who now lives in Maine. “I felt that I was only engaging my head through reading, writing, and discussing. I wanted to be making and doing as well; I wanted to be learning practical skills, and I wanted this kind of hands-on learning to be valued in the Haverford College community.”
Garnett knew that Oberlin College had a successful ExCo program. In fact, it dated to the 1960s, when the movement began spreading to many college campuses. As juniors, Garnett and Kilpatric had started Balance, a club that focused on practical living skills and proved a precursor to ExCo.
“We taught knitting and how to change a tire,”says Kilpatric, an assistant professor of English at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico.
In ExCo’s early days, she says, the semester ended with an “ExCo Expo” celebration during which students often displayed their class creations.
And ExCo has remained a popular outlet for creativity and hands-on learning without the pressure of grades. Over the years, offerings have included Indian classical dance, “How to Solve a Rubik’s Cube,” “Wall Street During the 1980s,” and lots of cooking courses. During the recent spring semester, one ExCo class offered tips on “Hosting 101.”
“For me,” says Kilpatric, “ExCo was probably the best experience I had at Haverford. It was a chance to interact with others in a way I hadn’t before. It was the thing that brought me into real community with others. There’s a real warm spot in my heart for ExCo.”
—Lini S. Kadaba
“History Lesson” is a regular series in Haverford magazine.