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placeholder January 18, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Catholic Schools Week

Jan Term: a time of exploration at Saint Mary's College

January is a time for exploration at Saint Mary's College of California, where "Jan Term," as it's affectionately called, allows undergraduates to step out of their comfort zones and tackle courses that are not be in their majors.

You probably can't get more uncomfortable than contemplating death.


Speaker series
As part of January Term, Saint Mary's College welcomes the public to a speaker series. Remaining speakers this month include:

Jan. 19, 7 p.m.
Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou
"After Ferguson:
The Dream for Justice

Jan. 26, 7 p.m.
Roland Merullo
Merullo is the author of 20 books, including the trilogy "Breakfast with Buddha," "Lunch with Buddha" and "Dinner with Buddha."

Both events, offered free of charge, will be in the Soda Center, Saint Mary's College of California, 1928 St. Mary's Road, Moraga.

But two dozen Saint Mary's undergraduates are doing just that in the course "Death and Dying," offered by Psychology Professor Emily Hause and Leadership Professor Grete Stenersen.

It's a popular course, said Paul Ebenkamp, who coordinates the Jan Term offerings, which include 115 courses on the Moraga campus and more than a dozen international trips, to as far away as New Zealand and Rwanda.

The Death and Dying course, Ebenkamp said, is "full of interesting experiences."

As for why 18-to-20-year-olds would want to spend a month studying death, the instructors leave that to the students. Students are not asked to disclose what brings them to the class.

"Professor John Dennis had taught Death and Dying," Stenersen said. "He has since passed away."

The course was not offered for a few years, she recalled.

"Professor Hause had known for several years she wanted to offer a general education Death and Dying class," Stenersen said. When Hause asked Stenersen to teach a course with her, they made a formal application to a faculty committee for approval.

Hause teaches statistics in the psychology department; Stenersen's strengths are English literature and theology. She teaches the Great Books collegiate seminar. In the Leadership program, she works with college students who are older than traditional undergraduates.

Because of its interactive nature in discussing personal topics, the class is kept small purposely. Basic psychology class is a prerequisite.

Stenersen said, "Even these young people have experiences bereavement and loss, someone very close to them."

But to talk about death and dying, grief and loss, is not common," Stenersen said. "It makes a lot of people uncomfortable for many reasons. "

Some students are planning careers in medicine, or in working with particular populations.

During the month, the students will visit Cooper's Mortuary in Oakland's Fruitvale District, and the Contra Costa County morgue. In one assignment, students will write their own eulogies.

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