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  • Brooke Austin, Staff Writer

Opinion: A combination of emotions and data makes for the best WU education

Drawing by Eli Fukuji

Willamette University prides itself on its ability to create safe classes centered around serving students to the best of its ability, stating on several different sites how students have “the space to share their deeply held beliefs, principles, and ideas, especially on challenging issues and topics.” When both data and emotions are included in the classroom, students gain the best education.

Many classes here at Willamette have found a balance that seems to be beneficial to most students. When asked if she prefers emotional or data-based classes, Amanda Padgett (‘25) said, “I think a mix of both.” Padgett explains how for her own personal preferences in class, being able to include both makes the class feel more engaging.

Physics professor Daniel Borrero feels the same. “I think a lot of times students don’t really see the sciences as being creative fields,” he said, further emphasizing the idea that the most valuable education comes from a combination of both emotion and data in classes.

Padgett, a PPLE major, explained how emotions and data are prevalent in her classes. “Emotional reactions to certain things … impact the way people talk about data.” She added, “When you come into the data set with … your preconceived notions, I think that really dictates the conversation.” Padgett also discussed the idea that, “Society’s feelings towards the topic don't impact the way we understand the facts. But I think that when you incorporate both of those together, that can be very valuable.”

Professor Sarah Chivers, a visiting assistant sociology professor, explained the benefits of including the option for students to tap into emotion or data. “Some people don’t have the capacity to reach into individual things,” she said. “So they can write about the big structural things, but for some of us, like something so bad has happened to us, to share it is to begin healing.”

Borrero shared the same idea about the importance of incorporating emotion and data in classes, even bringing up Einstein’s theory of relativity as an example. “All that math [had] already been developed. People had already kind of studied the stuff, but it took Einstein to really kind of just think about the same math in a different way.”

Though many students and professors believe that a mix of both emotion and data is important to include, some students like Josi Lee (‘26) prefer more emotion-based conversations in class. She reflected on a previous class she’s taken, Intro to Public Health, at Willamette: “There was a total lack of emotion which I found … hard to follow.” Regarding the classes she’s taking now, she said, “They were appealing to emotions, and I enjoyed those classes a lot more.” Like Padgett’s experience coming from a high school where emotions, a heavy aspect of humanity, weren’t allowed in a classroom, Lee appreciates Willamette’s openness to allowing emotions to influence a class. “Their environment is a lot better.”

Despite a few classes putting a greater emphasis on emotions or data, a common consensus here at WU is acknowledging the importance of including both. For example, in traditionally data-based sociology, the classes benefit from data because they allow students to see how their emotions are being formed by the structure our society has put in place. Similarly, physics benefits from emotion because it allows people to understand how to view data in different ways and how that data plays out in everyday life.

With the recognition that both emotions and data are not only incredibly important, but prevalent in classes here at Willamette, students and professors are able to both gain and give valuable knowledge. Furthermore, they acquire the ability to interpret data as fact or as a structural system, as well as understand how emotions are a heavily influenced means of viewing said data. With both included in a classroom, students can receive the best education possible.

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