I loved Prof. Pfeil as a person, but I didn’t really like how she taught the class or the amount of work she assigned for a FYS course. Gretchen always arrived to our class in a good mood and I could tell she genuinely looked forward to it, which definitely made it more bearable. On the other hand, she cuts off students mid-sentence and will sometimes lead an entire discussion without leaving adequate room for the students to actually discuss topics. As for the amount of work assigned, my friends tell me that it’s pretty copious considering that it’s a FYS class. We had anywhere from 30 to 100 pages of reading (usually two sources to read, I’m stating total page count here); most of the time it was in the middle of that range, but occasionally I would have a crude realization that I had to read 100 pages and write a discussion post about it before class the next day, and it would offset my homework immensely. These long readings were often set for the second class of the week, leaving just two days to get through them and write about them, and that’s if you’re incredibly proactive about your work. I wish the reading was more consistent or that we would get some kind of warning when the reading was 70+ pages.
Because Gretchen is in anthropology, lots of our readings were ethnographies, and while interesting, they were usually not very concise. I felt that way about a majority of the readings we had: that it was a lot of reading for a very short point that we could have easily gotten to if we hadn’t read the full document. Furthermore, we only discuss the readings in one class period, so our discussions about the long readings were often sporadic given our limited amount of discussion time. Some of my friends in other FYS classes had longer readings like these, but often took 2-3 classes to discuss them.
And then there’s the discussion posts. The problem with the discussion posts, which we completed on a biweekly basis (due the day before class at 8pm, but class wasn’t until 2pm), was the sort of hierarchy she created with them: she would mention the “best ones in class, and they were more often than not by the same couple of people. At the beginning of the semester, she planned to grade them, and everyone was scrambling to create the lengthiest, most insightful post. It was incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing to feel inadequate when you don’t have more than an hour to spend on a biweekly discussion post on a given school night when we also have so much reading to do. In the end, she graded for completion. I hope she continues doing this so that it doesn’t build such a competitive classroom environment in the future.
The best thing about this class was probably the papers. Like other FYS classes, we were assigned peer writing fellows to edit our drafts, and that really helped them develop into better papers. I found Gretchen’s paper grades to be very fair, and the topics to be pretty interesting and relevant to whatever was going on in class at the time. I also liked that the topics were broad enough that they could be interpreted a variety of ways; I’m sure no two papers Gretchen read were very alike.
It should also be considered, however, that this was Gretchen’s first semester at Barnard, so she’s still very likely to adapt and change quickly. I felt this review was necessary since she didn’t have any reviews here when I first signed up for my class with her, and since several of my peers in this class have agreed with the sentiments I’ve stated in this review. I honestly would not have taken this class knowing what I know now, but it could be worth it if you’re into anthropology and SUPER into feminist theory (I was a little into it when I signed up, and now I think I need a feminist theory cleanse).