Trinity Inaugurates J-Term with Six Half-Credit Courses

Innovative Topics and Small Class Settings are Hallmarks of January Session
Snow and bone-chilling temperatures have not deterred nearly 50 Trinity undergraduates from participating in a new program that offers innovative half-credit courses during the hiatus between New Year’s and the start of the spring semester.
The J-Term or January Term, which was approved by the faculty in April, was launched last week as part of a three-year pilot program to assess campus interest in nontraditional classes held during the winter recess. The classes, which require students to attend for 20 hours to receive the half-credit, will continue through the end of this week.
Faculty members were asked to submit course proposals last spring and students were required to enroll during the fall semester up until the Thanksgiving deadline.
The menu of course selections include “Culture, Conflict and Competition” taught by Physical Education Professor Robin Sheppard; “Soccer, Race and Nationalism” taught by Luis Figueroa, associate professor of history; “The Godfather: Art of Hard Choices” taught by John Alcorn, principal lecturer in language and culture studies; “Music in the 1960s” taught by Music Professor Gail Woldu; “Writing about Place” taught by Irene Papoulis, principal lecturer in the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric; and “Reproductive Justice in America” taught by Sociology Professor Theresa Morris.
Physical Education Professor Robin Sheppard's course, "Culture, Conflict and Competition." Photo by Richard Bergen.
From the outset, the goal was to have a minimum of six courses, a threshold that was met. “The enrollment is very good for the first year,” said Associate Academic Dean Sonia Cardenas, who is overseeing the new winter session. Although she acknowledged that the J-Term was well publicized, she noted, “Students weren’t used to thinking about the J-Term as a possibility.”
Cardenas, who inherited the program from outgoing associate academic dean Sheila Fisher, said administrators intend to evaluate the program – both from the perspective of the faculty and students – to see how it can be improved and possibly expanded. Cardenas said there are a number of lessons that have already been learned, such as the need to recruit faculty and interest students earlier in the academic year. “But,” she added, “48 students is a pretty healthy number for the first run.”
Typically, about 300 students are on campus in January, a number that includes athletes and international students. In considering whether to experiment with a mini-session in January, members of the faculty’s Curriculum Committee last year heard from some students who expressed a desire to use the break productively.
In advocating for the J-Term in April, Johannes Evelein, associate professor of language and culture studies and a member of the Curriculum Committee, told his colleagues, “We decided that a three-year period would allow us to launch a program, learn from the first year, tweak it, and over a three-year period arrive at something” that can either be continued or abandoned.
At the time, Fisher, who gave up the rotating dean’s position to return to teaching on July 1, said the goal was to have a minimum of six to eight course proposals and “to get a sense of the lay of the land.”
One of the benefits of offering a course during the J-Term is the flexibility in scheduling. Professors are able to configure the hours any way they choose. For example, some courses are meeting two hours a day over the two weeks, while others are meeting for four hours a day for one week.
Morris, who is teaching a course on reproductive justice, said she has enjoyed participating in the J-Term in ways that she didn’t anticipate, including having a closer relationship with students that is more difficult to replicate during the regular semesters.
“Meeting for an abbreviated number of days but for longer stretches of time during those days really fosters a more intimate class environment,” Morris said. “I feel like I have gotten to know the students much more quickly than is possible in a seminar that takes place over a longer time period. This includes having discussions in which there are no right answers and on which not everyone agrees. Teaching a J-Term course has been quite fun, and I think the students are enjoying it as well.”