The Human Relationships Seminar: the value of understanding human relationships

The logo for the Human Relationships course, which began on February 8, 2023 – courtesy of Sean Ngo ’24

Understanding why humans interact is valuable; all of human history can be explained through careful analysis of human relationships between people from all walks of life. However, many people today, especially high schoolers, are ignorant of modern human relationships. 

This is exactly what the Human Relationships Seminar, held weekly for juniors and seniors from Haverford, Baldwin, and Agnis Irwin sets out to do.

The seminar holds student-driven, discussion-based meetings, gathering weekly on different topics including healthy views towards gender, sexuality, feminism, manhood, as well as healthy relationships and mental health. Guided by five teachers from Haverford, Baldwin, and AIS, including history teacher Dr. Bridget Gurtler and English teachers Dr. Del Rosario and Ms. Harnett, the Human Relationships Seminar is a popular optional course among the students. In fact, Haverford’s applications alone were competitive enough to have an acceptance rate around 50%. But why is such a class so popular when the subject matter—human interaction—may seem intuitive?

“As an adult, I would suggest that when you are sixteen to seventeen, you don’t know that much about the world. Your experience is still limited.”

Dr. Del Rosario

It’s not surprising to think that just in day-to-day interactions most people know a lot about human relationships, but that’s not entirely the case. According to Dr. Del Rosario, while topics like race and sexuality may come up in a history or English class, those conversations merely reach the tip of the iceberg. 

“As an adult, I would suggest that when you are sixteen to seventeen, you don’t know that much about the world. Your experience is still limited,” Dr. Del Rosario said. “It’s not just that you’re young, but you’ve spent your life in one place.”

In addition, there may also be topics that students may be aware of but don’t know much about or entirely new topics where a student might not know anything at all.

“There are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns,” said Dr. Del Rosario.

Providing a comfortable space to explore these topics fully among peers with vastly different experiences fosters thoughtful discussion and, hopefully, “an excitingly eye-opening, humbling experience,” Dr. Del Rosario said. 

“We [teachers] are thinking about what’s important to our students personally when they leave Haverford, and it’s going to be this question of relationships. What makes someone’s someone’s life fulfilling and meaningful? If you asked someone that question, what would they say?” Ms. Harnett said. “Many people, and I think rightly, would describe their relationships with others to be the most important… It’s an opportunity for students to discuss the really pressing questions about who we are as human beings and how we relate to one another.”

Dr. Del Rosario and Ms. Harnett, as well as many students who have applied to the course, have expressed that the content of this course is both appropriate and would be incredibly valuable in the school’s wider curriculum. The application process, with priority given to Sixth Formers and those who haven’t taken the course before, aims to find a range of beliefs and different opinions, perspectives, backgrounds, and the ability to articulate a unique perspective. Leaders think that in order to “prepare boys for life,” these topics must be discussed, regardless of age or maturity.

The topics for the course, especially sexual identity, consent, mental health, and the process of maintaining and creating healthy relationships, may not come up in the standard curriculum. Conversations about these topics can prevent dangerous misconceptions or filter out false information that students may never realize until later in life. A misunderstanding of the meaning of consent, or an underdeveloped, misleading idea of Black history, can have disastrous consequences on a person’s opinions and reactions. 

“A deep understanding of these topics is necessary to be human, to begin with.”

Tripp ronon ’24

As Fifth Form Human Relationships Seminar student Tripp Ronon put it, “You can either learn them the easy way or the hard way.”

“The topics in Human Relationships [don’t] seem like they should be taught in a classroom, but they absolutely should be,” Ronon said. “A deep understanding of these topics is necessary to be human, to begin with.”

This environment allows the students and teachers to focus on big-picture questions. One of the bigger aims of this course is to assess whether each individual student can consider themselves a good person. 

“The way we answer that question is by looking at how we treat people very close to us,” Ms. Harnett said. “Most of us are not powerful enough, not important enough, to affect that many people beyond the people we are in relationships with. When it comes to assessing moral character, the first place we look is our relationships.”

The value of studying and analyzing healthy human relationships goes beyond just learning about greater problems in the world: it can affect our own personal lives, happiness, and the people around us. 

“I want my students, above all else, more than being good readers or writers, to be good people,” Ms. Harnett said. “In order for Haverford as an institution to achieve that goal, we have to teach others how to have good relationships.”

The lack of education on understanding the intricacies of human relationships is not often taught, and this makes the value of the course all the more apparent. 

“In life, you don’t have to take away facts from the Civil War or how to find the derivative,” Ronon said, “but regardless of who you are, you will be involved in some way in the contents of human relationships.”