First-Year Seminar Courses, Fall 2022

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.

FYS 001

Anthes, Bill

“Art in an Age of Protest”

What is the role of art in our present moment of social upheaval, environmental crisis, and ascendant authoritarianism? Is art essential in an emergency? According to poet, activist, and educator Cesar A. Cruz, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Our seminar will focus on the power of contemporary visual art to express and make change. We will visit galleries and museums at the Claremont Colleges, an in the greater Los Angeles area and Inland Empire. Class discussions and assignments will explore how we engage with a work of art through research and writing, and why art matters today.  Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 002

Banerjee, Mita

“All My Relations

This course will take an interdisciplinary look at the construction of family. We will look at these constructions, through texts in psychology, sociology, literature, culture studies, and gender studies. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 003

Cap, Max King

Graphic Narratives

Graphic Narratives have been a human activity for millennia, from Lascaux cave painting to the Bayeux Tapestry to WPA murals. A continued maturation of these words and images into what is called a graphic novel has influenced film, television, and theatre despite still being referred to as comic books. Yet the genre has become an important part of visual art and commentary, as read in Maus, Fun Home, Persepolis, and March. Exploring contemporary and historical subjects, students will create narratives, both graphic and literary. Considerable readings and research will be discussed and accompanied by substantial drawing practice and illustration training. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 004

Coleman, Melissa

“Behave: The Biology of why we do what we do

While hiking, you see a rattlesnake. You immediately feel frightened, but shortly later you can think rationally and find a safe path around the snake. Within those few moments, two parts of your brain activated – the first gave the ‘alert’ signal, and the second helped you make a rational decision. In this course, we will consider the biology behind why humans behave the way we do. Your actions are shaped not only by your immediate surroundings, but also your past experiences, the experiences of your parents, and evolution. How do these different factors contribute to our actions? No prior science experience necessary. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 005

Dengu-Zvobgo, Kebokile

African/a and Latinx Food Identity and Resistance

We will examine African, Africana and Latinx foodways, which were similarly impacted by the Columbian exchange, through both conquest of indigenous people in Las Americas, and the slave trade of African people to the Americas and the Caribbean. We will sample three interrelated issues: 1. Food production and consumption, 2. Food identity formation and culture, 3. Food insecurity and ways of resistance, and survival of Latinx and African/a in the United States as it relates to foodways. We start with history to understand the present, so our materials take us back and forth from centuries ago and the present. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 006

Ferree, Elise

Nutrition in the Modern World

The study of nutrition and food has arguably never been more interesting, due to developments in science and the globalization of food markets. In this seminar, we will trace the history of the human diet to present time. With a cross-cultural lens, we will then explore nutritional issues in the modern world, with a goal of better empowering us to make choices that improve our health and that of our communities and the environment. Books, film, the popular press, and guest speakers will be our sources of information, which we will discuss and write about in various formats. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 007

Garcia, Robin

Representation Matters: Contested Monuments and Public Space

Over the last decade historical monuments have been called into question by social movements looking to revise colonial histories. This course will look at a diverse array of contested monuments such as the Columbus statue that was recently taken down in Los Angeles as well as transnational counterparts to explore the relationship between historical narratives, monuments, and public space. Specific attention will be given to the diverse interventions that communities have made to tell their story from their own culturally relevant lens and push for popular revisions that center indigenous, campesino, Afro-diasporic, and working-class histories.


FYS 008

Grell-Brisk, Marilyn

Envisioning Diverse Futures, Utopianism, and Social Order”

Knowing and understanding the world through a uniquely Black perspective allows for new and different visions of human possibilities. The possibilities for humankind, social order, and utopianism are examined through the works of visionary science fiction author Octavia Butler’s Parable, Xenogenesis, and Patternist book series. With climate change, increasing political polarization, and rise of populism across the globe, discussions will focus on how we organize and shape the world around us to ensure a future that is sustainable or altogether different. Students will engage theories across multiple disciplines to practice critical thinking through writing. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 009

Herman, Leah

Diversity, Equality, and Inequities

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 only.


FYS 010

Keeley, Brian 

“Reasoning about the unreasonable”

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” So sayeth philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Death. Divine miracles. Nothingness. Creativity. What the minds of others are like (including other animals with senses very different from our own). The nature of the unknown. Conspiracy Theories. One thing that unites this disparate collection of things is that all have been claimed to lie beyond the reach of human reason and the processes of logic. In this seminar, we will see how one might think and write about things that seem to defy or outstrip ordinary reasoning. Is Wittgenstein correct, and if not what can we say of such things? Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 011

Lagji, Amanda

“Unruly Women of World Literature”

Troublemakers. Witches. Nasty women. Mad-women. Deviants. This course will explore representations of “unruly women” in world literature and pop culture—women who in their unruliness illuminate the politics of gender and behavior, race, sexuality, and class, and around whom discourses of madness, discipline, punishment, and morality dovetail. Our texts will include short stories, novels, films, and essays. Questions we’ll discuss include: How do the texts address, critique, and expose notions of femininity and appropriate womanhood? How do characters limn the demarcation between good girl and dangerous woman? Under what circumstances can the attribution of “unruly” be embraced, defied, and/or declaimed? Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 012

Lerner, Jesse

“Latin American Media Experiments”

Though largely excluded from the histories of avant-garde film, Latin American and diasporic Latinx artists have been producing experimental media for nearly a century. This history intersects with those of other artforms, with the histories of commercial cinema in the region, and with other international avant-garde art movements. Interrogating unstable categories and subverting narrative conventions, Latin American filmmakers have long tested cinematic boundaries with works that integrate rigorous formal experimentation and probing social commentary. Through readings, discussions, and close viewing of diverse films, this course will explore this long history of experimental media arts by Latin Americans and Latinx filmmakers. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 013

Lorenat, Jemma

“lies, damn Lies, and the History of Statistics”

This class explores how quantitative evidence has been acquired and analyzed since the nineteenth century. The intent is to better understand contexts in which basic statistical tools (surveys, visualizations, measures, etc.) emerged and propagated and how social factors continue to inform their use. The course will include primary source investigations of published and archival statistics with an emphasis on how and why data were collected. May be taken for letter grade or pass/no credit


FYS 014

Ma, Ming-Yuen 

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

If writing is defined primarily in visual terms, then how does one write about sound? This seminar takes an exploratory approach to think through and write on noise, voice, the soundscape, sound in media and film, as well as other auditory frameworks to introduce students to ways of learning historically and culturally about sound and listening. This course will survey wide ranging topics including American and European industrialization, rainforest soundscapes of Papua New Guinea, cassette sermons by Islamic preachers in Egypt, avant-garde music, DJ culture – to name a few. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)


FYS 015

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 Namibia, Senegal, and South Africa are among the top 15. Political scientists have sought to understand these developments by analyzing gender quota systems and post-conflict peace negotiations. This course examines a much longer history of women’s political engagement, illuminating forms of activism, justice, and social healing particular to African contexts. Students will build an intercultural understanding of women’s work in religion, state-making, anti-colonial movements, leadership transitions, and advocating human rights. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 016

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 017

Rodriguez, Norma and Torres, Maria

“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)


FYS 018

Steinman, Erich

“Unsettling Histories”

The semester-long project at the center of this writing-intensive First Year Seminar is working on a Family and Place Personal Portfolio. In the context of ongoing U.S. settler colonialism, students will research their own personal, family, and cultural relationships to processes of nationalism, settlement, displacement, and colonialism regarding their own hometown or territory. The project asks students to learn and integrate Indigenous histories of place and people with non-Indigenous and settler histories of place and people, so that the two are seen together rather than as separate. Project writing involves personal reflection, analysis, and representing research findings. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 019

Willoughby, Urmi

“Histories of Health and the Environment”

What is the relationship between health and the environment? How have humans shaped the physical environment, and how have environmental conditions affected human health and well-being? This seminar explores these questions from a historical perspective. We’ll study the history of anthropogenic environmental impacts alongside non-human, biological processes. Human-induced ecological transformations have shaped patterns of health and disease, manifested in a multitude of dimensions, influencing cultural, social, economic, and geopolitical developments. We will examine the intersection of histories of the environment, health, and disease in diverse global contexts, with an emphasis on the reciprocal relationship between ecological change and human health. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 020

Yamane, Linus

“Rich Nations, Poor Nation”

There is enormous wealth and income inequality around the world. Why are some countries rich, and other countries poor? What do we mean by rich and poor? We will begin by looking around the world today to understand this inequality. Then we will go back in time and seek to understand the causes 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. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)

FYS 021

Simmons, Rosanna

“Queer & Trans Migrations: Performance, Poetics, Politics”

This course introduces key concepts in the field of Queer & Trans Migration Studies through texts, performance and visual artworks, films, music, podcasts, and social media. Students will learn how to write about 1) historical root causes of migration; 2) present-day global politics that have real life-or-death consequences; and 3) queer and trans migrant arts and activism that point towards a future where every being has the right to move freely. While we center our analysis on sexuality, gender, and citizenship, we will apply an intersectional lens that includes race, class, ability, and more. Guest performances will accompany assigned materials. Letter Grade (may be taken pass/no-credit with instructor approval)