Napier Initiative courses set to resume in person this spring

Drawing of an elderly student raising their hand
(Clare Martin • The Student Life)

As course registration for the spring semester rolls around next week, students at the 5Cs are scrambling to figure out their ideal schedules. But a lucky few automatically get a seat in the courses they want. In fact, they’re an integral part of the courses altogether. 

For the last 10 years, members of the Pilgrim Place community have studied alongside 5C students in a host of courses as part of the Napier Initiative. This intergenerational collaboration between the Claremont Colleges and Pilgrim Place aims to build relationships between students and elders through courses focused on sustainability, justice and social change. 

The spring 2022 semester will mark a revival of in-person Napier courses as students and elders study alongside each other. Political Economy of Food, taught by Scripps College professor Nancy Neiman, and Gender, Crime and Punishment, taught by Scripps College professor Susan Castagnetto, are the two designated Napier courses for next semester. 

“Elder co-learners bring a rich set of experiences and knowledge to the class that they are very willing to share with others in the room,” Castagnetto said of the five instances she’s taught Napier courses.

Elders are expected to — and gladly do, according to Castagnetto — complete all the course readings and writing tasks. “They are excellent listeners, make very insightful contributions to class discussion and are not afraid to ask questions,” she said, in ways that serve as “a great model for undergraduates.”

Aside from skipping a hectic course registration, other perks of the Napier Initiative courses include parking permits, boxed lunches on class field trips and reduced tuition for courses elders enroll in, according to Paula Hui PO ’67, who has previously taken Napier courses. 

The vision behind an immersive classroom experience, Hui explained, was that elders would get the chance to be reacquainted with the college population and get to know students and their aspirations. 

“The excitement and intelligence students bring [are]invigorating for us [elders],” Hui said, a sentiment that Castagnetto echoed. 

On the flipside, the lived experiences of elders — many of whom have been longtime social justice activists — allow students to learn about real world experiences they otherwise might not have had access to, Castagnetto said. While many elders are mentors and “grandparent” figures for the students, students also get to see them as peers in the classroom. 

“It unsettles the notion of what a classroom should be like, who we can learn from [and] what it means to be a student” —Susan Castagnetto


“It unsettles the notion of what a classroom should be like, who we can learn from [and] what it means to be a student,” Castagnetto said. “Students see that learning can be a lifelong passion.” 

Nelia Perry PO ’24 echoed the life-long learning sentiment as one of the main takeaways she’s had from the Feminism and Science Napier course she previously took. 

“I really admired their commitment to being lifelong learners,” Perry said via email. “It motivated me to be focused on the class for the sake of engaging with my learning and thinking critically about topics that mattered to me rather than constantly worrying about my grade.”

Perry commends the way the class brought forth intergenerational understanding for experiences she and the elders found they shared, even if the circumstances surrounding them were different.

“I loved having the opportunity to have intergenerational discussions on topics of feminist theory and womxn in STEM as we have had vastly different experiences with those themes and yet have a surprising amount of overlapping stories,” Perry said.

Overall, the intergenerational aspect of the class allowed Perry to reflect on social issues spanning several generations, in ways “you do not get in other classes.”

“I learned a lot about the struggles the elders had gone through in their own careers as marginalized individuals and admired the ways they navigated those struggles,” Perry said. “At the same time, I was frustrated at how seemingly little has changed.”

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