In a basement meeting room in Wheeler Hall, a group of first-year students is brainstorming to save the planet from hunger. When they finish with this session, they’ll go back upstairs… where they also live together.
These students are taking part in a RAP—a Residential Academic Program in which first-year students enroll in a general education class that requires them to live in the same hall. Courses are taught in residential areas, resulting in a seamless experience that reinforces the RAP community goal of “deep learning” that branches from the classroom outward into life.
RAP classes can be found in an array of departments, colleges, schools, and disciplines, exploring areas such as sustainable living, and humanities and the performing arts. RAPs are equally diverse in their internal makeup: for example, “Hunger in the Global Economy” is an interdisciplinary mixture of students from the sciences, social sciences, and those still undeclared. Led by their instructor Abdul Kidwai, a doctoral candidate in resource economics, they tackle heady, outside-the-box topics such as whether a technology produced by a society is truly capable of solving problems inherent in that same society, and whether our model of altruism is flawed if it means that one family or entity has amassed so much wealth that it can exert a notable influence on the potential future of a civilization.
Lizzy Morris, a sociology student from Jamaica Plain—who lives “two flights up” from her classroom in Wheeler—relishes the greater opportunity to contribute in the discussion format of a RAP: “I came from a small school with a graduating class of seven people, so I find I am more inclined to participate in a smaller group setting with a discussion style.”
RAPs have an undeniable emotional component because students live as well as attend class together while establishing their identities away from home and their own scholarly voices, practicing the analytic and critical skills needed for the world of the university. “The RAP is really a safe space where they can speak their mind and have this learning moment,” says Kidwai.