First-Year Seminar Courses, Fall 2021

All first-year seminars meet Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 

First-year seminars (FYS) are writing-intensive courses of 14-15 students each, as well as forums to introduce students to the academic life of Pitzer College. Students will discuss and write about engaging topics that the faculty have selected. The courses are not part of any major and are not necessarily “introductions” to any given field or major. They are designed to be accessible to all students, regardless of background.

Incoming students will be asked to indicate their preferences for their first-year seminar. The professor teaching a given first-year seminar will also serve as their students’ faculty adviser for the first three or four semesters, until a student declares a major. Students develop strong mentoring relationships with faculty and gain a broad understanding of how the curriculum intersects with their individual educational goals.

In addition, mentorship goes beyond the first semester by providing diverse venues for students to participate early on in community engagement, study abroad, as well as the broader intellectual life of the campus; all hallmarks of a Pitzer education. As part of this, there may also be additional required programming outside of scheduled class time (TBA).

FYS 001

Anthes, Bill

“Writing About Art”

Someone once said that writing about art is like dancing about architecture. In this seminar we explore what it means to engage with a work of art through writing. How is the practice of the art writer – the critic, curator, or historian – in conversation with the work of the artist? What can writing bring to art? Do difficult artworks require the art writer to explain them? How can writing about art be a creative practice as well as a scholarly one? In addition to researching, writing, and talking about art, we will also visit exhibitions and interact with artists and writers. Writing projects and assignments range from the conventional to the experimental. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 002

Barndt, Will

What is The Point The Opening of the American Mind

A decade ago, a group of students at the University of Chicago founded The Point, a new journal dedicated to robust and open conversation about contemporary political and social theory.   Since then The Point has proved a remarkable guide to the at times unsettling dynamics that underlie everyday life in America.  It provides perhaps the best collective account of the political meaning of The Teens – the decade of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump – and offers vibrant ways to understand our political present. With all this in mind, the course considers possible futures for our world through the lenses of the wide range of intellectuals who have written for The Point. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 003

Berenfeld, Michelle

The Ancient World—Pasts, Presents, Futures

The ancient Mediterranean—famous as the home of the Greeks and Romans—was inhabited by millions of people who spoke hundreds of languages and worshipped countless gods. This course not only explores this world on its own terms, but also considers how ancient Mediterranean cultures have been reconstructed and interpreted ever since. We will explore how ideas about the past have shaped the present, including conceptions of race, slavery, and colonialism and the notion of the “West.” We will look at filters through which we see the ancient world, ranging from the Greeks and Romans themselves to Islamic scholars, medieval kings, the writers of the US constitution, several dictators, modern artists, and Hollywood filmmakers (among others). Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 004

Berg, Tim

“Tongue-in-cheek: Humor in Art and Visual Culture

In this course you will develop your skills as a writer/critical thinker while examining the topic of humor. Humor is an incredibly important vehicle for dealing with complex questions and one of the few forms that allows an author to communicate contradictory statements simultaneously. Humor has the ability to make something inaccessible, accessible or open up a taboo subject for discussion. In some cases humor is a political gesture. In this course we will examine humor through a critical interdisciplinary and intercultural lens. You will be responsible for developing written responses, critiques, oral presentations, performative projects, art and research. May be taken for letter grade or pass/no credit.


FYS 005

Bhattacharya, Sumangala

People on the Move: Understanding U.S. Immigration

The United States is often described as a nation of immigrants, yet immigration has long been a vexed issue. If you follow the news, immigration is often mired in a crisis. DACA! Unaccompanied minors! Migrant families! Illegal aliens! Refugees! This class will help you make sense of U.S. immigration news. You will gain a foundation in the laws, policies, and history of U.S. immigration. You will learn about the different pathways that people use to immigrate to the U.S. The class will also consider the humanitarian and ethical questions surrounding immigration, discuss competing values, and imagine better alternatives.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 006

Borowski, Tom

Is There a Science of Dreaming?

One of the most puzzling of psychological phenomena is the nature of dreams. Are they window into the unconscious mind or just random neural activity during sleep?  Dreams are a subjective and private experience. For the dreamer, dreams can be fantastic and illogical, filled with images of one’s life often colored with strong emotions and feelings.  We will examine whether the meaning and nature of dreams can be explained and understood according the principles of science and rational thought. Lectures, readings and class discussions will explore a number of different perspectives on the nature of dreams and dreaming. We will also look at how dreams are represented in our society through art, music and film and whether or not dream states can be artificially induced through drugs or brain machine interfaces.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 007

Fought, Carmen

The Last Laugh: Gender and Stand-up Comedy

In this seminar we’ll look at how stand-up comedians use their routines to present different views about gender.  We will use tools from linguistics to examine not only what these performers say but also how they say it. What messages are comedians sending about masculinity and femininity? How do women of color challenge stereotypes with their performances? What do queer comedians add to the conversation?  We will also look at the pluses and minuses of studying the media using quantitative versus qualitative methods.  May be taken for letter grade or pass/no credit.


FYS 008

Gilbert, Sarah

Speculative Feminisms and Sustainable Futures”

The future is female, proclaims a well-worn feminist adage.  Emerging from a circle of radical lesbian intellectuals in 1970s New York City, the statement operates simultaneously as incantation and prediction, synthesizing the voices of all who utter it into something generative, rather than simply descriptive. Yet, it reverberates somewhat dissonantly in our contemporary moment; even the term “female” can evoke the same essentializing tendencies that queer and intersectional feminisms today actively unsettle. Drawing on a range of recent fictional, critical, and localized knowledges, this seminar invites additional speculative futures, exploring interdisciplinary thinking and writing as generative practices.  May be taken for letter grade or pass/no credit.

FYS 009

Gilman, Sarah

Selective Science

From Climate Change to Vaccines to Frankenfood we are bombarded in our daily lives with scientific (and pseudoscientific) information. How do people use this information.  Why do some accept the science on evolution but not vaccines?  Or on climate change but not GMOs?  The goal of this seminar is to explore how we use science our daily lives.  We will focus on three central questions: How is scientific knowledge generated?  How do people assess and assimilate scientific information in their of daily decision-making? How accurately are scientific controversies presented in the media? No prior science experience necessary.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 010

Guillermo, Steffanie 

“Social Identity”

There are many aspects that comprise our social identity—age, gender, race/ethnicity, school affiliation, religion, the list goes on and on. According to psychologists, these social identities shape the way we navigate our world, such as how we categorize ourselves and others, and who we tend to compare ourselves to. Social identity informs us of who constitutes our “ingroup” and who constitutes the “outgroup,” with implications for stereotyping and intergroup prejudice. In this course, we will examine how social identities shape our perception of the world and the consequences for affect, cognition, and behavior.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 011

Herrold-Menzies, Melinda

“Environmental Documentaries: Controversy, Evidence, Persuasion & Critical Analysis”

This course introduces students to current national and international environmental and social justice issues by exploring how they are documented in film. We examine these documentaries not just as a way of exploring environmental problems but also as vehicles for understanding how arguments are made, how audiences are persuaded, and how evidence is used to justify various theses and assertions.  This year the main themes in this course will be climate change; petroleum exploitation and its environmental and social impacts; human encroachment on disappearing habitat; and perspectives on wildlife. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 012

Johnson, Carina

“Pandemic Histories: The Decameron and Life after the Black Death”

In 1347, the Black Death reached Mediterranean Europe and, within a few years, killed over half of Europe’s population. What were important impacts of the pandemic? How did people respond to the experience? By 1351, Giovanni Boccaccio had written a wildly popular fictional work – the Decameron (Ten Days) – in which 10 young women and men shelter in the countryside and pass the time by telling stories filled with humor, sex, violence, deceit, virtue, or pathos. To explore the pandemic’s impacts, we’ll read the Decameron in conjunction with historical investigations of the Black Death’s social and cultural consequences.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 013

Justus, Timothy 

“The Musical Mind”

Writing about music can illuminate philosophical questions about the arts, the mind, and aesthetic experience: What defines music—and musicality? How is music biologically grounded and yet also culturally and historically contingent? What are the relationships between music and language, emotion, and movement? This interdisciplinary seminar will also explore how scholars across the humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences approach the phenomena they wish to explain. Students will practice developing well-reasoned arguments and defending them with appropriate evidence. Through the microcosm of music, we will seek to become analytical readers, elegant writers, clear speakers, and generous listeners.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 014

Kizer, Jessica 

““Facts and Evidence Don’t Work Here”: Anti(Racism) and Emotion” 

In this course, we will explore how emotion impacts how and why people participate in racism and engage in anti-racism in the United States through an interdisciplinary lens. In doing so, students will reflect upon their own positionality, to contextualize their own experiences in U.S. society, begin to see how all our fates are linked. Students will engage in their learning in a variety of ways including in-class writing, research papers, and peer-review and student presentations. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 015

Neckar, Lance 

“Landscape Matters”

As half of the terrestrial earth has been transformed for human purposes, landscape has become a diversely composite index of human life, a complex inscription on the earth of civilization’s values.  Students will be encouraged to find their own land and landscape voices as they are also exposed to the ways in which others have written about their inquiries into the everyday and extraordinary relationship we have the realm of earthly life. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 016

Pantoja, Adrian

“The Criminalization of Immigrants & the Militarization of the Border”

How did immigration and the U.S. – Mexico border transform from a low – priority policy issue into one of the most contentious issues in the 20th Century? One of the most important factors shaping the size and composition of authorized and unauthorized immigration is U.S. immigration policy. Indeed, to meet labor demands, U.S. immigration policy initially encouraged immigration from Mexico and other parts of the globe. Although labor demands continued, by the latter part of the 20th Century, some elites saw a political opportunity by constructing immigrants as a threat and the U.S.Mexico border as dangerous. A major focus of this course examines the process that has led to the criminalization of immigrants and the militarization of the U.S. Mexico border.

FYS 017

Paulse, Shelva

“Psychology of Cricket”

Associated in the popular imagination with Britain and its former colonies and sometimes baffling to Americans, the 2019 Cricket World Cup was watched by an estimated 1.5 billion viewers worldwide.  This course will introduce students to important psychological concepts in sports psychology and apply those concepts to cricket. We will explore the socio-historical evolution of international cricket.  Second, students will be introduced to various intra- and inter-personal psychological processes related to sport.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 018

Torres, Maria
“La Familia”

This seminar will explore the role of “la familia” (the family) for Latinx people living in the U.S. We will analyze both commonalities and differences across conceptions and constructions of la familia.We will also examine la familia from a comparative perspective (contemporary, across different Latinx groups, within families, across immigration status, etc.), and will consider the psychological, sociocultural, and political factors that contribute to the complexity and diversity of Latinx families. Students will read research and narrative accounts of the journeys that Latinx families have undertaken (in some cases, crossing the U.S./Mexico border and being separated from family members) resulting in the development of transnational ties and evolving identities.

FYS 019

Scott, Andrea

“Radical Care”

We are in the midst of a global “crisis of care.” The growing inequalities produced by late capitalism have disrupted our social capacities for everything from birthing and raising children to caring for friends and family to maintaining households and communities. And yet such reproductive labor is essential for the creation and maintenance of social bonds and the functioning of institutions and infrastructures. How are artists and activists pushing back against this crisis, forging collective movements that view “care” for one’s self and one’s community as moral imperatives to act? How might the expression of radical care—in literature, activism, and art—call into being more socially just relations among friends, family, neighborhoods, and communities? Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 020

Segal, Dan
“In the News”

This course’s main goal is for students to learn how to stay well informed about news in the world in which they live. That will involve both using various sources to follow the news and examining the history and shifting political-economy of journalism, particularly in the context of the internet.  A core assignment will be to read each day’s New York Times online, but this will be supplemented by a range of local, national, and global news sources, as well as relevant scholarly literature.  Letter grade only.

FYS 021

Strauss, Claudia
“The Future”

What do different thinkers believe the future will bring, and what is basis of those predictions?  We will assess social science research, fiction, and one or more movies about such topics as the future of work, economic inequality, education, moral decision making, state surveillance, the climate, and social effects of technological change.  In addition to sharpening your writing, research, and critical analysis skills, the course will introduce you to disciplinary differences in research and writing as we compare articles by philosophers, anthropologists, economists, historians, and cultural critics, among others.

FYS 022

Wenzel, Anna
“Drug Development, Policy, and Innovation”

This seminar provides students with an in-depth perspective into the pharmaceutical industry, particularly the process by which a drug candidate transitions from the laboratory to patient. Discussions will also focus on public policy and ethical debates surrounding the pharmaceutical industry and the commercialization of science. Topics include: the link between academic research and industry, the clinical trial process by which a molecule becomes a drug, the origin and role of the FDA in protecting the consumer, the concept of informed consent in ethical drug development, and the economics associated with orphan drug development.

FYS 023

Cap, Max King

Graphic Fiction and Narrative

Graphic narratives have long been historical artifacts, from Lascaux cave paintings to the Bayeux Tapestry, demonstrating that illustrative storytelling has been a human activity for millennia. From the 1970s onward, what is now generally called a graphic novel has continued to develop; film, television, and theatrical versions have sprung from what are still often referred to as comic books. Yet the serious subject matter of this output has become an active and important part of visual art and commentary, as seen in Safe Area Goražde by Joe Sacco, Unterzakhan by Leela Corman, and Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev. In this course students will examine, explore, and articulate their ideas through both text and imagery that addresses serious contemporary and/or historical subjects. Assigned readings and research will be accompanied by substantial drawing and illustration training. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 024

Herman, Leah (I-Scholars)
“Diversity, Equality & Inequities”

This course will examine questions surrounding ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality and consider how this diversity has been challenged or accepted in the United States. Students will analyze contemporary and historical issues and explore questions of social justice as they read a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts. In discussions and compositions, students will consider the ways that culture and social structures shape the Pitzer experience, as well as imagining their own roles in transforming society.

This course is the designated First-Year Seminar for students in the International Scholars Program and is open to non-native English speakers only.

FYS 025 (Canceled)

Ballagh, Michael (NRS and transfer students)
“Love and Loathing in Los Angeles” 

Through readings, documentary, cinema, and selected field trips to iconic LA spaces, students will unpack the stereotypes of communities and the natural environment of Los Angeles and come to their own understanding of this enigmatic and deeply flawed city. The course will focus on communities of color within LA and the cultural and environmental “apartheid” that impacts them. Readings—both fiction and non-fiction—movies, and documentaries will reflect Los Angeles in the later part of the 20th century.

This course is the designated First-Year Seminar for transfer students and students in the New Resources Program only.