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Freshmen examining origins of persecution in First-Year Seminar

December 18, 2009

In order to better understand modern persecution, students at Loyola have been examining the medieval origins of persecution of minority groups, particularly in the High Middle Ages, an era that has earned the title of a “persecuting society.”

“Creating Medieval Monsters: The ‘Other’ in the Middle Ages,” is a first-year seminar taught by Sara Butler in the department of history. The class shows students how medieval Christendom protected the community by lashing out at those on the margins of society and how this history can teach them solutions or alternatives to modern-day persecution. By the end of the course, students should be knowledgeable of the principal forces of change and adaptation that have marked humanity’s cultural, intellectual, religious, social, political and economic development.

As part of its mission to educate the whole person, Loyola University New Orleans has implemented these seminars for all first-year students. The seminars are special-topics courses conducted by leading Loyola faculty. All are small classes grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and an exploration of values. They provide unique classroom experiences, as well as co-curricular events, field trips, dinners, films and other social gatherings.

“This course examines an early period of demonization, which I think has always been a common response to unhappiness rooted in our own daily lives,” says Butler. “It is important to demonstrate that biases rarely spring from tangible sources.”

One of Butler’s students, Chad Landrum, found the class so insightful that he changed his major.

“I took this class because I have always been interested in the medieval period, but I lacked knowledge of the cultural attitudes that fueled the persecuting society of this period,” says Landrum. “After the first semester of this class I realized I really enjoyed history and have decided to become a history major.”

Butler thought it was important to leave the classroom and demonstrate to her students the power of persecution firsthand. In November, she took her class to the National Hansen's Disease Museum in Carville, La. The museum is site of the former hospital that treated leprosy for 100 years. For centuries, leprosy had typically been regarded as a source of stigma.

“After going on this trip I can say that not only did this trip make the class ‘real’ for some of us, it seems that we got a real glimpse of the horrors of persecution that happened in our own backyards,” says Landrum.

Melanie McKay, Ph.D., vice provost for faculty affairs, sees the seminar experience as a tool for students to use to approach learning in all of their classes.

“A liberal arts education teaches students to synthesize knowledge from different subject areas and to reflect critically on facts and ideas. These seminars help our first-year students begin that process,” says McKay.

The seminar is also proving to be an effective tool in promoting the Jesuit vision of Loyola, promoting a call to human excellence, to the fullest possible development of all human qualities.

“The Jesuits tell us to think critically, and to promote social justice and this class does both,” says Landrum. “It shows us medieval persecution, and by comparison our class has been able to expose modern persecution and point out the small things that build up into the large human rights violations. By knowing what leads to persecution we can learn how to stop it.”

For more information on the FYE, contact James Shields in the Office of Public Affairs at 504-861-5888 or jshields@loyno.edu.

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Loyola at a Glance is written and distributed for the faculty, staff, students and friends of Loyola University New Orleans. It is published by the Office of Public Affairs, Greenville Hall, Box 909, 7214 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118. (504) 861-5888.

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