SJLA: My Central College Experience

Much of my college experience at Scranton had been defined by SJLA. The Special Jesuit Liberal Arts (SJLA) Honors Program is a philosophy-based honors program at the university. Before my freshman year, I was offered a spot in the program. I didn’t know much about it, but I did know that one infamous class, The Trivium, trained students intensely in public speaking. One of my weaknesses in high school had been speaking in front of crowds, so I knew that I had to give myself this opportunity to improve. I accepted the invitation into SJLA, and that decision has enhanced my college studies immeasurably.

My first impressions of SJLA came from a inaugural meeting during my freshman year. All of the teachers and students from other grades were in attendance. I noticed first that when the teachers were introduced, their students went wild for them. They clapped and hollered. It was charming to see how much the students appreciated their teachers. Then, during a talk given by a student, I noticed that the student made many jokes, all relating to various courses they had taken in the program. Laughs resounded through the hall; the freshman, myself included, awkwardly smiled, unsure what the jokes were about. But beneath that awkwardness was curiosity. I wanted to know what tied all of these students and professors together. Now I know that the shared pursuit of good through education enables such strong bonds.

The SJLA curriculum hopes to produce well-rounded students through rigorous exposure to the humanities. Together, students take two theology, two english, one interdisciplinary, and eight philosophy courses throughout their four years. Through these classes, SJLA hopes to build a community of scholars. In my experience, this is certainly the case. One of my SJLA teachers last semester joked about how he can tell the difference between his SJLA classes and his other classes: When he approaches a normal class, there is complete silence, and when he walks in the door, many people are on their cell phones. In contrast, when he walks to an SJLA class, from down the hallway he can hear “a commotion, like there’s a bullfight.” That’s because we’re all talking excitedly with each other before class — talking about our lives, the assigned reading, some new thought we had.

This camaraderie makes all the difference; classes become all the more interesting because I am in them with friends. Friendships are initiated and strengthened by the classes; in listening to others express their thoughts and opinions in class, I learn more about them and can grow closer to them. There is something magical about maturing in education with one group of people. At times, I am struck by how much a particular friend of mine has grown in her ability to think well; or I feel pleasure when another friend who struggles with participation in class raises his hand and asks a brilliant question. Seeing my friends and acquaintances grow in their abilities spurs my own growth and enriches my gratitude to the process of education.

The courses we take are truly superb. They are taught by some of the best professors on campus, who bring their passion and personality to the classroom. You can’t help but become excited with them. In my Subject and Medieval Thought class this semester, I sit on the edge of my chair, immersed in what the professor is explaining. I can’t wait to talk about the lecture with my friends after class. One of the key features of SJLA for me is that it extends beyond the classroom. The ideas are so interesting and important that we just have to talk about them over dinner, late at night, on the weekend. Here is a link to the current SJLA program, where you can see the required courses.

Please contact me if you’d like more information about the program! I seriously love to talk about it. My email is juliana.vossenberg@scranton.edu.