First-Year Seminar Courses, Fall 2023

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

First-year seminars (FYS) are writing-intensive courses of approximately 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.

FS 002 

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? What is cultural relativism? Do we have free will or are we determined? What is Conspiracy Theory? We will investigate these topics through the writings of ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary philosophers. In addition, this seminar designs to develop students critical thinking, and help them to effectively construct and insightfully analyze philosophical claims and arguments.

FS 003

Berenfeld, Michelle

The Ancient Mediterranean: Past, Present, Future

The ancient Mediterranean world was inhabited by millions of people who spoke hundreds of languages and worshipped countless gods. This region—encompassing some 40 modern countries on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe)—was not monolithic and did not intend to become the “foundation of western civilization.” In this seminar, we approach the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean region (including the modern “Middle East”) from the starting point of ancient sources while critically examining modern responses to them, including our own. We will also explore how the ancient Mediterranean world has been imagined, constructed, and re-invented over the centuries and up until the present day. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FS 005

Brown, Darin

“Virtual You” 

Over the past half century, technological advancements have reshaped the way we spread and consume information. The rise of social media websites has allowed us to create a “virtual persona” in which to connect and interact with the world in ways once thought impossible. From sharing our ideas and beliefs with others, to finding romantic partners, to having “face-to-face” conversations with family members around the world, these technologies have reshaped our lives in both beneficial and detrimental ways. In this course, we will examine the benefits, as well as the detriments, our new “virtual selves” play on are real selve Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 009

Junisbai, Azamat

“Asians in America”

What is the contemporary Asian American experience? How does Asian America look when we take into account differences in ethnicity, class, gender, and generation? This course offers a sociological examination of what it means to be Asian American today. Topics include immigration, assimilation, demographic trends, ethnic identity, discrimination, socioeconomic mobility, gender, and relationships with other groups. By exploring the structures that shape Asian American experiences and Asian American challenges to those forces, the course encourages students to consider their own role in transforming US society. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 011

McCoy, Jessica

Observing Color

In this course you will develop your skills as a writer while gaining a heightened appreciation and awareness of color. The content will focus on color and the way it pervades nearly all aspects of our lives. We will study the basic science of how we perceive color, color theory as it developed through this century, the language of basic design principles, and introduce some of the ways in which our observation of color influences our experiences outside of art. You will be responsible for developing written responses, critiques, and research. You will also be assigned oral presentations and be asked to solve color problems using art media and design. We will use interdisciplinary academic strategies to describe ourselves, and our lives, through a chromatic lens. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 016

Snowiss, Sharon

“What is Human?”

This course serves two purposes. First, it raises questions about our understanding of ourselves as Homo sapiens, distinct from other species, machines and biological creations. Second, it emphasizes analytical reading and writing skills.
The determination of what is particularly or distinctively “human” is a problem for the contemporary world and at present has no definitive or consensual answer. We will explore how people in other eras defined themselves and how those distinctions are being blurred by modern technology and biological research. Do computers have consciousness? Do clones have souls? Do we think with our heart? Do we have obligations to others? How do we determine human nature? Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FS 017

Torres, Maria (Rodriguez, Norma-advising)

La Familia

This seminar explores commonalities and differences across conceptions and constructions of “la familia” (the family) for Latinx people living in the U.S. We will examine la familia from a comparative perspective (contemporary, across different Latinx groups, within families, across immigration status, etc.), and we will consider the psychological, sociocultural, and political factors that contribute to the complexity and diversity of Latinx families. We 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. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 018

Steinman, Erich

“Unsettling Histories”

This course will center on building a personal Family Place Portfolio, through which students will research both their family history and processes of settler colonialism and Indigenous presence in relation to their hometown or another place. Students will situate their own family history in the context of larger social processes, structures and inequalities. Conceptual, historical and other substantive work in the course will build understanding of the United States as a settler colonial society to provide intellectual scaffolding for the Portfolio. Key writing tasks will explore a settler colonial understanding of the United States, including drawing upon Indigenous perspectives. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FS 021

Strauss, Claudia

“The Future

What do different thinkers believe the future will bring, and what is the basis of those predictions? We will examine competing claims and different perspectives on topics such as biotechnology, climate change, economic inequality, and the future of work. One of our objectives this semester is to learn how to assess arguments and to examine the cultural and social assumptions that underlie visions of the future. Another aim of the course is to introduce you to ways of writing and creating knowledge in different disciplines. We will read work by novelists and literary theorists, philosophers, anthropologists, economists, historians, and cultural critics. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 024

Herman, Leah

“Diversity, Equity, and Inequalities”

This course will examine questions surrounding ethnicity, race, class, and gender to 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 discussion 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. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FS 025

Homma, Todd

“Asian Americans, Science, and US Empire”

This course examines the relationship between Asian Americans, science, imperialism, militarism, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism. We will begin by examining the construction of the concept of Asian America as a specific political platform during the 1960s-70s Third World Liberation and Anti-War Movements. We will then explore various? flashpoints? in the history of the US empire to understand the intimate connections between science, race, war, capitalism, and the Asian diaspora. Central to our study is the question of where to locate science and technology in ongoing struggles against racism, cis-heteropatriarchy, imperialism, militarization, and ecological destruction, and renewed movements for collective liberation.


FS 026

Catan, Fely

“Sovereignties in the Global South”

In this seminar students will analyze the fundamental, constitutive role of the decolonial dimensions of nonsovereignty in nations of the Global South, as well as in postcolonial framings of independence, revolution, history, and agency. Drawing from nonsovereignty (as defined in anthropology) and decolonial studies alike, this course will look at the ways nations of the Global South imagine new forms of sovereignty or liberation outside political independence that take the form of social solidarity networks, and alternative community configurations—one that illuminates the contradictory political sovereignty/independence that underlie narratives of self-determination, progress, modernization, and development. By co-constructing knowledge, it is hoped that students registered in this seminar will contribute to decolonial thinking by demonstrating that nationhood/political independence has not brought freedom or sovereignty to many nations of the Global South. Indeed, the approached chosen for this seminar will challenge the dominant narrative of political independence as the sole locus where the emancipatory solutions are to be found by fomenting a non-sovereign thinking that praises plurality (of poetical/political thought, of experiences). Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 027

VanSickle-Ward, Rachel

“The Room Where it Happens

This course considers the relationship between musical theater and politics, broadly defined. Through an in-depth analysis of several shows, songs and scenes, we will use musical theater as a lens through which to explore abiding themes in political science including power, protest, social justice, freedom, identity, representation, and governmental design. Throughout the course we will reflect on such questions as: what makes a composition, performance or production “political”? How does art both reflect and shape political culture? How are music and theater used to mobilize or marginalize? Shows discussed will include Newsies, Cabaret, Hamilton, Wicked, The Sound of Music, Assassins, Rent, The Color Purple, Fun Home, Les Misérables and Dreamgirls. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 028

Kohn, Cory (Ferree, Patrick-advising)

“Al Chatbots in Science”

This course introduces students to the fundamentals of large language model (LLM) AI chatbots. Students will critically engage with the applications and challenges of LLMs in science and society. Students will learn how to design effective prompts by critically engaging in prompt engineering exercises to develop their science writing skills while gaining hands-on experience with LLMs to generate different types of science writing, such as popular science writing, abstracts, and other sections of a research paper. Students will be able to use LLMs critically, ethically, and responsibly. (Written with the aid of LLMs: ChatGPT and Bing AI.) Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FS 029

Acu, Bahar

Political Geometry

This first year seminar course explores how quantitative evidence has been acquired and analyzed in the context of geometry of borders for issues such as redistricting in the US and gerrymandering. The goal is to better understand contexts in which basic mathematical tools (boundary, visualizations, dimensions, etc.) emerged and how societal factors inform their use. The course will primarily investigate published work in political geometry with an emphasis on how geometry of borders impact day-to-day living and political climate of the society locally and globally. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FS 030

Jha, Suryatapa (Ferree, Elise advising)

“Climate Crisis and colonialism”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) included colonialism as one of the primary drivers of climate change in its sixth assessment report, released in 2022. This acknowledgement conforms with the climate justice movements’ narratives over the years and will potentially help shape climate conversations and policies. Plants had been the mainstay in both phenomena, that damagingly shaped and challenged human society and civilization. Using Amitav Ghosh’s non-fiction book, The Nutmeg’s Curse as the primary text, along with selected readings from John Freeman’s edited anthology Tales of Two Planets and other sources, this course will explore how exploitative practices of colonialism affected biodiversity, subsequently resulting in this overwhelming crisis for humans, and discuss how we can learn from these historical exploitations to find means for a sustainable future. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 031

Harris, Laura

“Octavia Butler”

Octavia Estelle Butler invites readers of her fiction to engage in critical questions about social justice issues such as environmental destruction, collective values, hierarchical power relations, sexuality, race and gender, colonization, slavery, home, displacement and immigration, detention and imprisonment, self-reliance, trans-species cooperation, and trans-human hybridity, to name a few. Through this course students read the complete oeuvre of Butler, from her early pulp fiction books to later well-received texts that situate her as a renowned Afrofuturist artist of the latter twentieth century. While closely reading and discussing Butler’s body of work students conduct research on the historical and global-local contexts, aesthetic questions and practices of Afrofuturism, and current import of Butler’s artistic vision. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 032

Bhattacharya, Sumangala

“Literature and Social Justice”

This class focuses on reading select literary texts responsively, responsibly, rebelliously, and joyfully. Through creative, critical, and oral interpretations, we will immerse ourselves intellectually and emotionally in texts that help us make sense (or not!) of some of the “difficult questions” of life. What values, morals or ethics can we derive, absorb, reject, revise, or adapt from our readings? How might reading, storytelling, and close attention to language empower us to produce a textured dialogue about concepts of the good life and social justice for all? Last, but not least, how can we make all that fun? Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 033

Herrold-Menzies, Melinda

Environmental Documentaries and Films

This course introduces students to environmental and social justice issues by examining how they are explored in documentaries and film. We examine environmentally-themed films 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. We also look at films as a vehicle for the exploration of philosophical about the environment. Topics include climate change; petroleum exploitation; and the conservation and exploitation of wildlife. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)