The heat from the fireplace cracks up to the comfortable sofa chairs. Stacks of books, pots of coffee and a little pouch of tobacco for the occasional study break are scattered across the table. With a few trusted study partners, an expert tutor, and a reading list the size of a short novel, the independent study offers an optimized experience of Quest’s academics for topics that are not covered by taught courses. It is the cornerstone of academic freedom, the celebration of rigor, the pride of our intellectual community.
During the November block, I will be participating in an independent study on France and the Islam. We will be taking a closer look at the history of the colonization of Muslim people and their subsequent migration to the country, the state’s assimilationist and laïcité policies, the people’s national spirit, and, more broadly, the European tendency towards exclusive visions of nationhood — ultimately to gain a better understanding of xenophobia, populism and the experience of religious and ethnic minorities in Europe.
So, course plan: check. But just a sexy topic does not suffice for a memorable independent study. To have a truly great experience, one needs the right peers, challenging assignments, the best possible materials, and a tutor who is not so busy they don’t have time to guide the rebellious students who refuse to just take one of the offered courses.
My peers in this study will be two 3rd-year students, both of whom focus on history and politics and have a particular interest in European affairs. One of them works as a peer tutor in the learning commons, the other seems to commute between the library, his room, and the climbing gym. I consider both to be my friends, but, more importantly, they are the epitome of the Quest-companion; a talking board ready to provide sharp and critical feedback, an imaginative intellectual sparring-partner, and in possession of a great dose of energy and motivation. As for the tutor, Dr. André Lambelet is Quest’s historian-in-residence, specialized in the modern history of Europe and, in particular, that of France(!).
Now, some might argue that this ode to intellectualism is elitist, even snobbish. And I can’t entirely disagree. But, while in its very nature exclusive, a vibrant intellectual community seems integral to any university — in particular those that envision revolutionary education. So instead of considering this a celebration of disconnect and arrogance, let’s embrace that one sphere of the Quest experience – which I hope appeals to many prospective students – is rigorous study.