First-Year Seminar Offerings, Fall 2017

All first-year seminars meet Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00-12:15.

First-year seminars are writing-intensive courses of 14-15 students each, as well as fora to introduce students to the academic life of Pitzer College. As such, the professors choose topics that interest them and about which students will discuss and write. 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 will also be additional required programming outside of scheduled class time (TBA).

Affuso, Elizabeth – “Youth Culture”

This course presents an overview of youth culture from the development of the idea of the teenager in the post-war period to the present day. It will use a variety of case studies in areas such as music, film, television, literature, and comics to examine how youth-oriented subcultures influence social, cultural, and political change. By examining case studies across a range of media, the course will position issues of culture broadly to think about the idea as a concept and a construct. This course will also be interested in the ways that youth culture influences media industries creative and industrial practices. Students will engage in a range of assignments including personal essays, listening and reading exercises, research papers, and peer review.

Alwishah, Ahmed – “Philosophical Questions”
In the seminar we will examine a set of philosophical questions in the history of Western philosophy: What is the nature of reality? Does God exist? What is the relation between mind and body? Do we really know anything? What is knowledge? What makes you the same person over time? Do we have free will or are we determined? We will investigate these topics through the writings of ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary philosophers. In addition, this seminar is designed to develop students critical thinking, and help them to effectively construct and insightfully analyze philosophical claims and arguments. Student will be asked to formulate different forms of argument—deductive and inductive arguments, assess their validity or soundness, and reconstruct an objection against each argument.

Barndt, Will – “Political Imagination: Life on the Right”
This seminar explores life on the American political right. We will engage with right-wing political theory. We will analyze right-wing political movements. And we will read about daily life for those who associate with the right today. Together these will allow us to uncover the social and political foundations of contemporary right-wing politics in America. In doing so, we will seek to move beyond superficial dismissals of conservative politics and instead to figure out what exactly is entailed in being on the right at this historical moment.  All this, of course, will allow us to imagine: what is to be done?

Boyle, Nigel & Keeley, Brian – “Conspiracy Theories & Populism”
Why are conspiracy theories in which elites are working together, in secret, to thwart the will of the people so popular today? What can we learn about contemporary politics by exploring the nature of such theories? What do philosophy and comparative politics have to say about such theories and their current popularity? Populism is a political view according to which the common people are exploited by a privileged elite and holds that this is a situation that requires correction. Further, American political history often revolves around a notion of the country’s uniqueness, sometimes called “American exceptionalism.” Several purportedly unique features of American life and politics—America’s religiosity, U.S. incarceration rates, attitudes towards race & gender—have been related to American populist thought. In this seminar, we will explore the phenomena of conspiracy theories and populist politics through the lenses of comparative politics and philosophy.

Ferree, Patrick – “Pseudoscience and the tendencies of human thought”

According to the scientific method, investigators seek to be logical, unbiased, and systematic in their approach to inquiry; an approach that has produced countless benefits to society. However, the human mind is predisposed to certain logical fallacies that oppose scientific inquiry and, more generally, clear, logical reasoning. Moreover, logical fallacies can lead to the improper acceptance of “pseudoscience,” a collection of certain beliefs and practices that are not grounded in scientific evidence. In this course, we will discuss selected readings on the scientific method and the basis of logical fallacies, as well as important case studies on pseudoscience and its negative effects in today’s world. These discussions will provide a platform for creative and argumentative writing exercises that culminate in the synthesis of an op-ed piece centered on a chosen topic of pseudoscience.

Junisbai, Barbara – “Higher Education in the US: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
This course is an exploration of higher education, designed to help us situate our own experiences within the broader context of American society, politics, and the economy. The promise of college is great. We go to college hoping to find lasting community, stretch our imaginations, develop our passions, deepen our knowledge, and, ultimately, land a job doing what we love. The challenges are also great. Individually, we may be challenged with anxiety, self-doubt, and being away from the familiar. As a community, we are challenged when our diverse life experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs come together—and sometimes clash. How are colleges crafting responses to these challenges to foster the promise of higher education?  What about at Pitzer?  What hopes and challenges shape our own campus community? And how do we respond to them? Teaching methods include student-led discussion, daily in-class writing, formal essays, research, peer review, and presentations.

Krajnak, Tarrah – “Seeing is Believing: Photography and Truth”
This course will trace the evidentiary nature of photography from the medium’s invention until now. Throughout the course we will raise critical questions regarding the problems of representation, power structures, and the ethics of photography.  We will study a range of photography including 19th century spirit photography and the occult, FSA documentary photography, contemporary art photography and staging, as well as war photography.
***Students will be looking at, reading about, and discussing photographs of human suffering in the context of photographic theory and/or recent historical events which may be triggering, disturbing, and even traumatizing to some students.***

Menzies-Herrold, Melinda – “Environmental Documentaries: Critical Analysis, Evidence and Persuasion”
This course introduces students to current 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 and global security; petroleum exploitation and its environmental and social impacts; food and water resources; and perspectives on wildlife.

O’Rourke, Harmony – “Women and Political Change in Africa”
Over the past twenty years, African countries have arguably generated the most dramatic increases in women’s political representation in the world. Rwanda boasts the largest percentage of female legislators, while Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Seychelles, and South Africa are among the top 15 (the United States is 114th). Political scientists have sought to understand these developments by analyzing gender quota systems, post-conflict peace negotiations, and efforts at reconstituting political orders through democratization. In this course, we will examine these changes as part of a broader (and much longer!) history of women’s political engagement on the continent, which will illuminate discourses and forms of activism that are particular to African contexts. Through analysis of scholarly works, biographies, memoirs, documentaries, as well as visual and performing arts, students will build frames of knowledge that foster an intercultural understanding of women’s work in African forms of statehood, anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements, fueling leadership transitions at local and national levels, and advocating for the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQ individuals. Writing projects will focus on developing students’ abilities in evaluating sources, critical reading, formulating arguments, organizing evidence, drafting, and revision.

FYS 10
Pantoja, Adrian – “Surfing and the Politics of Race and Gender”
Surf studies is an emerging interdisciplinary field that is informed by history, politics, economics, cultural studies, gender studies and other disciplines. This course examines the evolution of surfing through academic studies, popular films, and documentaries. A major focus of this class is on the role played by race, class, gender, and culture in shaping the socio-demographic composition of surf zones. History will be our guide as we explore how surfing evolved from a native Hawaiian cultural practice to a multi-billion dollar sport and lifestyle that is largely dominated by White men from California, Hawaii, Australia, South Africa, and Brazil. Yet, we will also consider how ethnic/racial minorities and women are seeking to challenge the status quo and transform the image of surfing. This course also draws from politics, economics, and other disciplines in order to understand how surfing is transforming the cultural, economic, and ecological landscape of less developed nations.

FYS 11
Parker, Joe – “Indigenous Cultural Resurgence”

A generation committed to practicing heritage cultures, economics, and politics and rejuvenating indigenous languages is emerging in Native communities across the Americas. Known in one Ojibwe telling as the Oshkimaadiziig or the New People, communities committed to this cultural resurgence may be found across the settler colonies sometimes called Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Indigenous stories, prophecies, and histories will give you context for these movements. Meetings with indigenous elders and indigenous cultural resurgence community members combined with field encounters with southern California native plants will open ways to learn to live out love for the land again. Accounts of the dilemmas and pitfalls of indigenous building partnerships with settlers will invite you to decolonize solidarity and re/envision both the ancestors and the future.

FYS 12
Steinman, Erich – “Unsettling Settlers, California Indian Nations, Indigenous Knowledge Perspectives, and Decolonizing Journeys”
This course will support and guide Pitzer students of all backgrounds on their own unsettling and/or decolonizing journeys in conjunction with engagement with Indigenous knowledge perspectives and communities. Class sessions, readings, assignments and experiential learning will operate on a variety of levels, from intellectual to personal, and link theory, history, and biography to envision and move towards enacting anti-colonial practices and relationships in the present. Drawing upon a settler colonial analysis of the United States, the course will question and disrupt knowledge assumptions of settler education and introduce students to Indigenous knowledge perspectives and Southern California Indian Nations. To prepare for active participation in Indigenous/non-Indigenous collaborations and to advance their own unlearning of colonial perspectives, students will also research their own family, cultural and place-based relationships, including the intersection of these with historical processes of cross-cultural interaction, settlement, displacement, and Native survivance and resurgence.

FYS 13
Talmor, Ruti – “Global Intimacies”

In Western culture, we locate intimacy in ‘natural’ and ‘enduring’ spaces and relationships: love, family, marriage, desire, sexuality, the body, reproduction, etc.  From this perspective, intimacy remains outside of broad-scale social processes.  Yet, intimate and reproductive labor—such as domestic service, sex work, surrogacy, medical tourism, cross-border marriages, transnational adoption, organ trafficking, etc.—tie the intimate to the large-scale, the individual to the social, the local to the global.  Some of the questions we will ask are: How do past and present global transformations change practices of love and intimacy? What do “love” or “marriage” or “parenthood” mean in different locations, and how are they changed by transnational exchanges? How do inequalities (of class, race, gender, sexuality, or geography) produce and shape intimate relations across national borders?  Pairing ethnographic (anthropological) texts with fiction and non-fiction films, this course will investigate several case studies of global intimacies.

FYS 14
VanSickle-Ward, Rachel -“Gender, Politics, and American Culture”
This course explores linkages between gender, politics, and American culture. We will consider how gender is socially and culturally constructed and how gendered stereotypes shape, and are shaped by, political discourse, policy-making and pop culture. We will examine the ways in which gender intersects with race, class, and sexual orientation, and how these intersections affect attitudes, advocacy and institutions. We will investigate feminism as a political movement and cultural phenomenon.  In so doing, we will tackle classic questions regarding the connections between descriptive and substantive representation, identity and ideology, and personal and political priorities.

FYS 15
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 16
Yamane, Linus – “Rich Nations, Poor Nations”
There is enormous wealth and income inequality around the world. We will take a historical perspective, and seek to understand the sources of disparities in economic development, and wealth distribution among the world’s nations and regions. We will consider the role of geography, institutions, property rights, economics, politics, history, and culture in explaining different standards of living in different parts of the world.

FYS 17
Zuckerman, Phil – “Deconstructing Religion”
Religion does a lot of good in society. It also causes a lot of damage. But whether fostering altruism and communal bonds or supporting harmful tribalism and injustice, there is also the question of veracity: are religions based on truth? Or are they based on myths and fabrications? In this class, we will look at religion as a significant social phenomenon; one that strongly influences various aspects of the contemporary world—from politics to sexuality. The approach of the class will be critical/skeptical, as we will seek to examine and understand how religions are created and maintained, and ultimately, socially constructed.

FYS 18
Herman Leah – “Diversity, Equality and Inequities”
This course will examine examples of difference in 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 19
Ballagh, Michael – “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.