Revisiting and Revising our Mission Statement

4 October 2021
By Kiley Kost

Our first post to this blog in February 2021 was a program mission statement that we collectively wrote as a way to reflect on the goals of the German program and our work as faculty. We deliberately framed the mission statement as a “living document” and planned to “reflect on [it] regularly, adjusting our approach where necessary.” During the summer break, we met to review the mission statement and discussed how it aligned with our ongoing work in the two terms since we first drafted it. This blog post presents a summary of our discussions and the change we made to the mission statement. 

In the first paragraph of the statement, we reflect on the goals and outcomes of our courses, focusing in particular on the intercultural awareness we hope students achieve in our courses and events. Overall, we agree that our courses do indeed present opportunities for students to reflect on complex connections between themselves and other cultures. In our beginning sequence, for example, students explore German-speaking cities and their histories, focusing on social justice dimensions in their term-long projects. They also learn about the fraught concept of Heimat and create multimedia projects that depict their own sense of belonging. Students in GERM 212 “Contemporary Germany in Global Context” encounter a multitude of voices and texts that represent the complexities of Germany today. In GERM 320 “Life Under Socialism,” students examine questions of gender equality in the German Democratic Republic and reflect back on their own experiences with this topic. For their final project in GERM 247 “Mirror, Mirror: Reflecting on Fairy Tales and Folklore,” students draw on their knowledge of fairy tales to write their own tale along with a critical analysis of their work; this final project allows students to fill in holes they identified in the published tales they read, crafting stories that they would have liked to read as children. We believe that students in our courses do “develop intercultural awareness, examine global issues and contexts, and interrogate their own cultural practices and perspectives.”

Some areas of the mission statement needed refining. Upon rereading the document, we realized the statement we drafted last winter describes multiple processes that were somewhat muddled or indistinct. On the one hand, the statement clarifies what we want our students to do and learn in our classes (as mentioned above). On the other hand, and as a distinct item, it describes the motivations and theoretical foundations that ground our work as faculty, even if students do not study the theoretical texts mentioned in any given class. We revised the mission statement to clarify this distinction so that it now reflects the theoretical lenses that deeply inform our research and teaching. 

The updated mission statement is below. We will revisit it again in summer 2022 to make further changes if necessary.

German Program Mission Statement, Fall 2021

We, the faculty of the German program, seek to provide students at Carleton College with engaging coursework and exceptional teaching of language and critical analysis. Our students develop intercultural awareness, examine global issues and contexts, and interrogate their own cultural practices and perspectives. We train our students to question their surroundings critically and see the complexity in cultures, languages, and individual speakers. Ultimately, we aim to teach German language and culture in a way that provides students with skills, knowledge, interests, and curiosity that will help them take on critical challenges of the world today. 

We offer rigorous courses that simultaneously and continually advance students’ language skills and build the sophistication of their cultural understanding. Students study media including literature, music, and film to learn about a wide range of historical periods and diverse German-speaking cultures. Our approach to pedagogy and research is informed by various theoretical lenses including critical theory, close reading, deconstruction, gender studies, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, and ecocriticism. In all courses, students develop skills of research, analysis of texts and other cultural products, interpretation, and presentation in both written and oral form. Multimedia tasks lead our students to engage with content creatively as well as critically. We build community within our courses so that students become active partners in the learning process. We connect this community of German learners with the diverse communities on and off campus that have an interest in learning about and sharing languages and cultures.

This is a “living document” which we will reflect on regularly, adjusting our approach where necessary. We welcome input and questions from students.