Integrative learning is a type of classroom behavior that emphasizes time outside the classroom just as much as time within it. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) created a “framing language” to better explain the purpose of integrative learning and how it can be carried out. Dr. McCoy supplemented this vision in a video interview regarding this learning and teaching style. Integrative learning is “cross-disciplinary”—as Professor McCoy put it in the video—and reiterative, focused on connection beyond what the AAC&U calls “academic boundaries.” The ultimate goal involves creating people who can function as participating members of our global society. A key part of integrative learning also includes exploring subjects beyond the classroom and connecting them to course material. By enabling students to see links between SUNY Geneseo’s Facilities department and heating plant, and our current perceptions of the academic partnership and Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild,” integrative learning allows me and my peers to reevaluate our class through a new lens, more oriented towards care and providing for other living creatures, both on a regular basis and in times of emergency.
The Department of Facility Services is an integral part of SUNY Geneseo, yet students and faculty don’t often consider it as such. It’s all too easy to forget about how critical this department is when students gripe about their residence hall’s shortcomings or when faculty and staff bemoan tech issues. At the same time, the academic partnership is traditionally regarded as two-sided: between students and faculty or administration. However, nothing that happens in Geneseo would be possible without Facilities. In the first seconds of a video on the Facilities’ department web page, the narrator explains that the department’s mission is “to ensure that the college runs smoothly.” This is absolutely crucial; without the hard work of Facilities, there would be no physical space for the college to exist in. As the recent COVID-19 situation demonstrates, not having a physical space where students can go to college can be quite demoralizing. That being said, I believe that Facilities adds another level to the broader academic partnership between a student and their college. Facilities is one more group of individuals that students can make connections with. For example, Brandon Schmitt, an employee, discussed how rewarding it was to be able to do something that the students would recognize almost immediately. At the same time, Karen Rockhill—Academic Head Custodial Supervisor—explained that Facilities was an environment that always invited questions and was eager to teach others about the jobs that it encompassed. These two statements highlighted for me that Facilities is an underappreciated section of the college that is filled with possible connections that students can create and nurture. Thus, Facilities is a department that supports what we consider to be the traditional academic partnership between students and administration, while also being a part of the greater, and ever-evolving, academic partnership between the student and the college.
Another integral function of maintaining SUNY Geneseo is the heating plant. Most people on campus have passed by it—and its billowing smokestack—countless times, without knowing what it is. However, the college would not be able to function, much less house its students, were it not for the heating plant. In this way, the heating plant and its staff play a crucial role in the academic partnership. Admittedly the academic partnership is not a singular association; everyone involved with the college has a different view of it and how they relate to it. Nevertheless, everyone from the president to the students are impacted by the heating plant. The plant’s website enumerates the many services it provides, including providing the entire campus with hot water. What’s more, the website points out that the plant’s staff are responsible for responding to all “after-hours maintenance emergencies.” I see this as impacting the students more so than faculty; but nonetheless the service and dedication of staff is incredible. This is considering that “after-hours” consists of so much time, both on weekdays and weekends, and there is staff stationed there twenty-four hours a day/seven days a week. Yet, as a tour guide, I point out every building on East Campus, West Campus, and South Village, but never mention the heating plant.
The plant also proclaims a commitment to sustainability—as the website indicates a close partnership with Environmental Health and Safety departments—which is impressive and appreciated in the wake of increasing climate change. However, this comes slightly at odds with the smokestack building, which I’ve seen active on occasion, and makes me question the levels of sustainability practiced. Such information could definitely impact one version of the academic partnership, with regards to environmental sustainability and preservability, towards not only students and faculty but to the greater Geneseo area. That being said, this doesn’t do much to detract from other academic partnerships the heating plant upholds, wherein the plant and its employees do so much to create an environment where students can learn, and faculty can teach. This dedication to providing so much for the people who rely on Geneseo in one way or another simply shows that anyone associated with the college ought to be more appreciative and knowledgeable regarding the heating plant and its employees.
After investigating Geneseo’s facilities department and heating plant—and seeing just how much they do to keep the college functioning—we can return to Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” with new eyes. This new sight is more focused on care and providing for the sentient beings around you. The first observations to come to mind were several parallels between the roles of these Geneseo institutions and of the Tlic and Terrans. At the novel’s beginning, T’Gatoi is providing Gan’s family with eggs that sustain their good health and youth, much as both facilities and the heating plant maintain Geneseo’s campus in ways that no other group can. To that extent, the role of the Terrans take an entirely new viewpoint. T’Gatoi herself mentions that the proliferation of her race would not have been possible without the arrival of the Terrans, making them as indispensable as facilities and the heating plant. Furthermore, throughout all their web pages and videos, facilities and the heating plant employees seemed extremely kind and eager to help. This bears some resemblance to Gan at the end of the novel, as he decides to bear T’Gatoi’s children, out of love, despite other possible resolutions. On another note, the heating plant in particular stood out in conjunction with Lomas’ unexpected emergency. The heating plant is meant to ensure a plethora of essential services are provided to campus, much like someone who is pregnant is expected to provide so much for their child. Similarly, the heating plant houses staff that deal with all emergencies after-hours. This sense of always being ready, especially on off hours mirrors T’Gatoi’s reaction when she found Lomas, analyzed the situation, and decided what needed to be done. In many ways, Geneseo’s facilities department and heating plant helped me reevaluate “Bloodchild” through a lens more focused on care and providing for other living creatures, both on a regular basis, and in times of emergency.
Throughout the paragraphs above, I have explored the very essence of integrative learning. It is reiterative and multi-disciplinary. As students, we’ve put into action the words of the AAC&U’s framing language in our connection of academics with our campus and community life. While it might not seem obvious, it certainly didn’t seem so to me at first, each paragraph of this essay has achieved the goal of integrative learning. Each has included critical thinking, connection-making, between an aspect of campus life and a feature of this course. At first it was the connections between the facilities department and heating plant, respectively, and the academic partnership. Then it was between these two institutions that allow our campus to function and “Bloodchild,” this course’s seminal text. This has allowed us to broaden our horizons regarding institutions many of us knew very little about yet do so much for us—often by quite literally caring for us—and the general community, as an employer and place of growth. We’ve also had the opportunity to reflect and be in discussion with our work and others’ in ways that hark back to the AAC&U’s statement encouraging reflection and contribution. All of this allows students to become more well-rounded individuals that will better contribute to our societies after we graduate.