The Personal Effect//Michelle Callson


I’ll never forget the first day of CTW. It was a blistering hot day, I had already attended three lectures, and I was getting hungry. But I had one lecture to go. I walked in to this old, somewhat creepy building and thought, “no, this must be the wrong building…” but then entered Classroom G, and found other students waiting for their CTW 1 professor to show up. At 5:45, Professor Nick Leither was 20 minutes overdue.  We were all hungry and wanted to leave if we were not going to have class.

We decided to wait it out until 6:00, and leave if he was still not there. I forced the class to sit down on the floor together and do some stereotypical first day of class ice breakers. Some students seemed excited about this idea, while some didn’t want to join… But we made them. Right as we were about to start introductions, Nick walked in at 5:55, but we convinced him to let us keep doing our thing. By 7:10 that night, when class got out, I could tell this would not be another one of my classes where a professor asks a question, receives deer in a headlight stares, and accepts it. I knew that my peers and I would not accept it either; we all got along really well already, and the topic of the class seemed interesting enough!

The biggest lesson I learned in this class is that emotional education is extremely effective.  Having an emotional connection to the material being taught makes you really think about what you are learning, why you might be learning about it, how it actually applies to your life, and what you can take away from it.

The topics discussed in class got heavy pretty quick. As we dove into Eating Animals, I realized these subjects we learn about could get quite emotional. Thinking about the cause and effect of nearly each thing I eat every day… That’s a big and even scary thought. I like meat. I like chicken, steak, turkey, bacon, all of it. My family is Mexican and Italian, so the main dish at every gathering is filled with delicious and juicy meat. How could I be wrong for eating this? Everyone else does it, so what difference does it really make if I sit out on the chorizo, chicken tamales, or maybe leave off that amazing homemade meat sauce? I’m just one person.


One person consuming one quarter pound hamburger actually requires a minimum of 660 gallons of water, according to Kip Andersen. I learned a lot of facts about how I, one small person on this big planet, can make a massive difference in this world from his documentary Cowspiracy. I could save far more water by going vegetarian (or even more by going vegan!) than I ever could by trying to conserve water by shortening showers, turning off the water when brushing my teeth, and being a speedy hand-washer.


Photo courtesy of WallPaperUp

“Why does this class have to be about something I can actually change?” I had thought a few times. I am very used to English classes being about topics from the past, current events around the world, older writers and their styles, and how I read, write, and explain things. Never how my actions actually have an effect on virtually the rest of the world. I don’t like to be too personal with people. I don’t like people knowing too much about me. I don’t like people seeing effects I have. Let’s just focus on Hemingway, Shakespeare, or someone else important. I am not important.


As the quarter went on, I learned more about factory farming, the animal industry, and how terribly deceiving food labels can be.  I was disgusted when I turned a page in Eating Animals and saw the size of cages chickens are kept in!  It took up two pages of the book, but was certainly smaller than a normal 8.5 by 11 inch piece of paper.  I thought about the small changes I could make, how they really would not affect me too much, but they could have a decently large effect on the environment. While I did not go vegetarian, I did stop most of my meat consumption. I started eating meat with only 4-6 meals per week, as opposed to my usual 18. I was so affected emotionally by the material this quarter, that I feel I learned more from Nick during CTW 1 – only 10 weeks – than I did in any nine month high school course.


When I opened the CTW 2 Camino page and saw the picture of an iceberg illustrating the research to essay ratio, I got a little scared. I am not a writer; I’m a math geek who likes every question having a definitive answer. I don’t like having a research question which blows up a google search with thousands of different opinions. “I’ll survive,” I told myself, “As long as I like the topics I can make this really fun!”


I ordered my book for this class just a little late, but wanted to close it after the first few pages of reading. I knew, of course, what happened at Columbine High School on April 20 of 1999. But I had no emotional connection, just as I don’t to any school shootings. I have become numb to these events since they happen far too often in America. As I started reading Dave Cullen’s story of Columbine, from endless amounts of research, I developed the emotional connection I lacked for so many years. I have a connection to Columbine, even though I do not know a single person who attends or attended Columbine High School. I know someone who has murdered two people with a gun.


Killers. Guns. Columbine. Violence. All of these words just bring two names to mind; Meagan and Zach. On July 7th 2015, Zachary Craven broke into Theresa Cunningham’s house to steal belongings he deemed to be his, after their four year relationship ended. Theresa was on vacation, so Zach thought it would be a good time to slip in and slip out quickly. What Zach did not know was that Meagan Smith, one of mine and Theresa’s closest friends, was housesitting for the family. Zach took Meagan’s life upon breaking in to the home, with a gun he stole from a family friend. With this gun, he also took the life of the woman who raised him; his grandma. She saw the wrong path he had started travelling down, and tried to help him. She tried to help him stop abusing drugs and stop drinking endlessly, but he would not accept the help. He acted quickly and took her life.


Photo Courtesy of

I know, to some extent, the shock families in JeffCo experienced that year. I knew Zach, just as students knew Eric and Dylan. I know the pain you feel when you think “how did I not know something was wrong?” I know the pain of wanting to blame someone for letting a person become a killer. I know so many of the feelings this community experienced. But I felt more alone in the CTW classroom than I ever expected, after a glorious first quarter with this little family. I felt that no one understood my experience, and I had to share it after this topic was introduced. I slid by without telling anyone during first quarter, since the topic was animals. I was for sure emotionally affected by this topic. But, it didn’t quite hit home like this new topic would.


I won’t lie; completing the readings for Columbine was hard. I really didn’t want to read about killers anymore! But, I can sure say each and every lesson and topic we discussed in our homey little circle each lecture stuck with me more than any equation I’ve picked up in my STEM classes. This class will stick with me for the rest of my life, along with CTW 1.


Over these two quarters, fall and spring, I learned that education needs to be emotional. I need to have a reason to care so deeply about the material. It’s hard to learn about things that can be upsetting, but it’s also easier to in some ways. When the material is easy to relate to your own life and your own experiences, you not only get educated in terms of intelligence, but you become a more well-rounded and compassionate, self-aware individual.


As I thought about this, and discussed this idea with Nick, I realized this is the Jesuit Education Model in a nutshell. This is why I came to Santa Clara University. When my mom first asked me if I wanted to tour SCU, I said, “No way, Mom. I am more than done with Catholic education. Enough is enough!” Naturally, she wanted me to see this school that is so similar to her Alma Mater, Gonzaga University, anyway. So I came, against my will. I took one step on campus and realized how beautiful it is. I couldn’t get over how green everything is, and how many palm trees they have here! But still, it’s a religious institution. I went to the Admissions building to hear from a student panel, and the Jesuit Education Model was introduced to me. Through hearing about this, touring, and asking questions along the way, I knew by the end of that hour that this school was my top choice, and I wanted to be here more than anything. The Jesuit Education Model of educating the whole person was what I wanted in a university, and I knew I could get that here at SCU.


Works Cited


                            Rathoria, Sameer. Water Ripple Effect. Digital image. BlogSpot. N.p., 12 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 June 2016. <;.                  


                            Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.                          

                            Cullen, David. Columbine. N.p.: Twelve, 2009. Print.                          

Andersen, Kip, and Keegan Kuhn. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. , 2014.




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