This is a point/counterpoint article; to see the other side, click here

The language requirement at UMBC

By Aviva Zapinsky

Contributing Writer

 The language requirement is one of the most passionately contested and firmly detested GEPs at UMBC.

 Many of the classes for the General Education Program have become touchy subjects that students feel they can’t speak out on. Many students feel frustrated with these classes; especially the language requirement that feels redundant as culture courses are one of the other GEP requirements.

Students must take up to a 201 level language, but most students don’t gain fluency. To the administration, that’s not the point.

According to Dr. Diane Lee, Vice Provost for Undergraduate and Professional Education, “students who meet the 201 level of proficiency would gain meaningfully in cultural competence. For many faculty, cultural competence is an essential component of a distinctive undergraduate education, one fitting an honors university. Given our global society and mission, such a requirement was also deemed necessary.”

Dr. Arthur Johnson, Provost Emeritus (1998-2008) and a political science professor, who was the provost when the general education requirements were revised, expanded on this. “The general education program was modified in 2000, but the language requirement was not new then. It was modified to reduce hurdles in satisfying these requirements. For example, students can get credit for high school language classes. It is now more accommodating for students,” he said.

Dr. Johnson said UMBC has this requirement because, “most students are getting a liberal arts degree: they are not supposed to take courses only in their major, but in a broad variety of classes.”

In addition, Dr. Elaine Rusinko, the undergraduate program director in Modern Languages, Linguistics and Intercultural Communication and associate professor in the linguistics department, says the language classes are “more than just speaking. “

“We aren’t expecting fluency, but we want students to gain a recognition of how people in other cultures think and socialize, and to learn about their values. That’s built into the language classes at UMBC. If the students ever need that language, it will come back faster. If students are just trying to get through the class memorizing verbs that they will forget the next semester they are missing the point,” she said.

Cultural awareness – gaining the knowledge that there are other peoples who speak other languages out there –  seems like a valid reason to have language courses.

But is that not what the culture requirement fulfills? This makes the language classes unnecessary. Although, according to Dr. Johnson, “We want to train students to think critically in a broad manner, so we don’t just approach it one way.”

Still, there is overlap.

Many students feel that these classes are a waste of their time and money. The beginning post on the foreign language requirement discussion page on myUMBC, written by Timothy Hayes, a junior history major: “Does anyone else think the foreign language requirement at this school is insane? I have a job and bills and responsibilities. I don’t have time to take three courses on a foreign language.”

Students feel frustrated: they are not gaining fluency – these classes become ones that they just have to get through, classes that are redundant, classes that, to them, are useless.

According to the administration, the language requirement is a valuable addition to the curriculum, befitting an honors university and a liberal arts education – matriculating well-rounded individuals. Many of the GEP requirements overlap, none more so than the language and culture courses.

This leaves students feeling that they are wasting their time, and it seems that they are.

Forwarding foreign language

This a point/counterpoint article; to see the other side, go here

Foreign language requirement is positive and holds benefits for UMBC students

By Holly Vogtman

Staff Writer

Foreign language requirements at UMBC are important not only for the purpose of language acquisition, but also to further broaden the minds of students and spark interest in worldly activities.

The description of the requirement on the UMBC website states, “The language and culture requirements recognize the global nature of society in the 21st Century, the importance of intercultural communication and the need for modern citizens to broaden their horizons. The study of language through the 201 level provides a foundation for fluency.”

UMBC requires students to take a single language through the 201 level or of “equivalent proficiency.” Foreign language requirements for students are a positive aspect of the UMBC curriculum as it forces students to step outside their normal boundaries and experience various cultures through language acquisition.

Learning another language in the United States has taken a back seat when it comes to other forms of education, which is dangerous when students will be competing for jobs in the global market after graduation.

Foreign language competency helps students prepare for future careers and activities as the world continues to evolve into a global community. Having knowledge of a culture, history and language of a foreign nation allows students to gain a deeper perspective and understanding to a different part of the world.

Besides the actual language acquisition and the positive benefits of finding jobs, foreign language education assists in reinforcing an individual’s native language skills as well. The cognitive skills and academic performance of students in all areas of education can improve while learning a foreign language because it refines skills necessary in other classes such as writing, reading, research and memorization.

Sometimes students are not exposed to the many opportunities and options of study abroad without being part of a foreign language class and receiving information from the foreign language department.

Students that may have never thought about taking a foreign language class without the requirement from the university may be drawn to a different culture and inspired to continue with the language and study abroad. Study abroad is a once in a lifetime experience that all students are encouraged to participate in.

John Sinnigen, UMBC Spanish professor, said, “I would say that a world that is as globally connected and complex as ours requires that everyone know at least one foreign language and study at least one foreign culture … I lived in a pretty small world before I started studying Spanish in college and went on to do study abroad … my eyes were opened to a world that was bigger, more complex, more exciting and more invigorating than what my monolingual and monocultural experience had been. Now, as a Spanish professor, I see my students have the same experience. No one should miss it.”

Students sometimes find foreign language requirements to be obtrusive and simply unnecessary because their field of study does not seem to have ties with any kind of foreign language acquisition.

However, as students are living in a world that is constantly growing smaller with more communication and international relations, foreign language acquisition is a necessity and beneficial for the future.

Strength in solidarity

LGBTQ keynote speaker Reina Gossett inspires and informs

Andrew Mayn

Contributing Writer

 In her talk, Gossett gave an insightful look into the tumultuous, yet triumphant, history of neglected members of the LGBTQ movement.  

On the night of Tuesday, Oct. 21, lightning split the sky and rain fell in sheets across the University Center. Inside, however, the only marks of the weather were the emergency alert tones humming from phones and the damp, but smiling, faces of an eager crowd. As Reina Gosset, the 2014 LGBTQ history month keynote speaker, prepared to take the stage the buzz of conversation gave way to the quiet of anticipation.

According to her website,, Gossett is a recipient of the George Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship and 2014-2015 Activist-In-Residence at Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women. She is a filmmaker, writer and community organizer.

Gosset’s eclectic background is characteristic of the interdisciplinary emphasis of the critical social justice field. However, Gossett was firm in stating that this solidarity must extend beyond the professional realm, and that unity and solidarity between oppressed populations is essential for social change, as past leaders of the LGBTQ movement have worked to show us.

The point was reaffirmed with accounts from Gossett’s own research, including one powerful video featuring activist and early organizer of the LGBTQ movement, Sylvia Rivera. In the video, Rivera, a trans woman of color, faces a hostile crowd after the 4th annual Christopher Street Liberation March, now known as Gay Pride. As Rivera tried to get on stage earlier that day, she was assaulted by the same individuals whom she helped organize and support.

Gossett’s account of how trans individuals were scapegoated within the early LGBTQ movement was harrowing, but, Rivera’s bravery in rallying against transphobia was nothing less than inspiring.

“There’s so much invested in us forgetting that people who are doing this work are currently incarcerated, people who have being doing this work for a long time, people who are Sylvia’s comrades are right now incarcerated and navigating criminalization. Sylvia didn’t forget, and she continues to remind us,” Gossett said.

As important as the videos Gossett showed are, there are many more important acts that she couldn’t, and may never be able to show.

“So often what we come to know as facts, or what we come in contact with inside an archive, happened through a violent, discerning process, which separates out whose lives are valuable to record, whose actions are important to note,” Gossett said.

Countering the “violence of erasure” is essential, and to this end Gossett has worked to familiarize herself with a woman known as Marsha P. Johnson, a woman whose contributions to the LGBTQ movement were almost lost to history.

“She was one of the first people to fight back at Stonewall…she [and Sylvia Rivera] formed STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries…She galvanized people from inside jails and prisons, as well as created a home for them in the form of STAR House in Manhattan’s lower east-side,” Gossett said.

Gossett’s spotlight on marginalized members of the LGBTQ community and their achievements was a powerful statement on solidarity, both with those struggling in the present movement and those who gave their lives to shape it.

Nation and World News

Ahmed Eissa

Senior Staff Writer


Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed on Thursday that Canada will redouble and refocus its efforts to combat terrorist organizations abroad. The announcement came after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier at an Ottawa war on Wednesday.

After killing the soldier, Zehaf-Bibeau entered parliament and fired dozens of shots, but no government officials were killed or injured. Parliament was placed on lockdown for several hours, barring individuals from entering or leaving the premises.

Canadian police said that Zehaf-Bibeau had a criminal record and recently applied for a passport, planning to travel to Syria after undergoing a radicalization process.

Earlier that week, another Muslim man ran over and killed another Canadian soldier in Quebec.

Both attacks follow Canada’s announcement that it would send six jets to take part in coalition air strikes against the Islamic State fighters in the Middle East. However, there is no confirmation that the attacks are linked to Canada’s new military campaign or that the perpetrators had any connection to the Islamic State.


United States

Dr. Craig Spencer, Doctors Without Borders volunteer who recently returned to the United States from a trip to Guinea to treat Ebola patients, became the first person in New York City to test positive for the disease.

Spencer was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center with a 103-degree temperature and placed in isolation. His fiancée and two of his friends have also been told that they will be quarantined, but it is unclear whether they will be relocated or kept at home.

Spencer finished his volunteer work in Guinea on October 12 and left the country on October 17, landing in New York City on October 17.

New York City health officials are retracing Spencer’s steps to find locations and individuals he may have come into contact with. So far, city officials have closed the bowling alley he visited and have sealed off his Harlem apartment building.


Hong Kong

Historic negotiation talks between student protesters and government representatives in Hong Kong intended to resolve a standoff over proposed political reforms ended without substantive progress.

The two hour debate between five student representatives and five government representatives was broadcasted to the public.

The current crisis centers over whether the people of Hong Kong will be able to choose their own representatives free from the government’s interferences.It represents the biggest challenge to the mainland’s rule over the region since China regained control of it in 1997.

Hong Kong’s chief secretary, Carrie Lam, said that the government would submit a report to Beijing about the discontent that resulted from the party’s decision to vet Hong Kong political candidates for office.


Compiled by the Retriever Weekly Features Staff

Virgo- All the blood, sweat and tears and the countless hours away from your loved ones will be rewarded this week: can you say pizza party?

Libra- You are feeling divided this week, a feeling that will intensify when you return to your room to find someone who looks just like you sleeping in your bed.

Scorpio- Be careful entering into any new relationships. Unless there is a free tee shirt or hat involved, a new friendship will probably be more trouble than it’s worth.

Sagittarius- You won’t believe the size and weight of your roommate’s pumpkins, but you will absolutely believe that he decided to keep them on your side of the room.

Capricorn- You’ll be nervous when you lead The Sacred Blood Chant of Amahn-Rye for the first time, but your new friend’s supportive smiles and thumbs up really will make you feel more comfortable.

Aquarius- Take some time this week to focus on yourself. Invest in a hand-mirror.

Pisces- You won’t be dressing up this Halloween, but that won’t stop people from complimenting your “perfect hipster costume.”

Aries- You’ll finally understand what your professors have been trying to teach you all along: your heart really is the most credible source.

Taurus- Your experiment with a novel trick or treating method will be a huge success when your sister agrees to give you half of her candy.

Gemini- Those extra credit points will be absolutely worth the mild hallucinations and itchiness at the injection site.

Cancer- Stay away from the weight room this week: there is a spooky poltergeist and he won’t get off the squat rack.

Leo- Those caffeine pills will certainly do the trick as you hammer out those last few pages. Alas, you will never sleep again.


Get to Know a Retriever

Peace be still

Brandon Foster

Staff Writer

 Young woman uses fairness to peacefully bring about change.

What is your name, major, and year?

My name is Danielle McGrogan, a junior who is majoring in global studies.

Where are you from (city, county, state)?

I am originally from Dundalk in Baltimore County, Maryland.

Who do you admire and why?

I admire many social activists who have stood up and advocated for civil rights and equality. What an incredible feat!


What is your career goal?

After UMBC, I plan to join the Peace Corps and work in different non-profits internationally with refugees. I would eventually like a career in genocide prevention.

If you could change one thing around the world, what would it be?

If I could change one thing, it would probably be the accessibility to needs such as water, food, medical treatments, legal help, etc.

What do you like most about UMBC?

I am one of many who like the diversity here! There are so many different areas of study, organizations and perspectives on campus; I love it!

What activities do you participate in on campus?

I am an active member in Global Brigades (Human Rights), and I am in the midst of getting the Amnesty International Student Group back up and running! I am also a Conversation Partner through the English Language Institute, which has been extremely rewarding.


Who is the celebrity you would like to meet; what would you do with him/her?

I would love to meet Emma Watson! I loved her speech at the United Nations for the HeForShe Campaign.


What is/are your favorite thing(s) to do outside of UMBC?

Outside of UMBC, I enjoy dancing, volunteering, learning more about different cultures and traveling.

Where do you want to spend your next vacation?

My next vacation will hopefully be backpacking in Nepal and India!

What is your favorite genre of television (comedy, competition, reality, etc.) and why?

I love documentaries and a healthy dose of fantasy with Game of Thrones!

What kind of music do you like?

Indie and alternative music are my favorite kinds, anything similar to Alt-J, Foster the People, Lana Del Rey and Hozier.

If you met Dr. Hrabowski (UMBC President), what would you say to him?

I would probably ask if he has any advice for students and leadership!