First-Year Seminar Courses, Fall 2020

All first-year seminars meet Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (subject to change for Fall 2020)

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).

Ahmed Alwishah, Associate Professor of Philosophy


Alwishah, Ahmed

“Philosophical Questions”

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? We will investigate these topics through the writings of ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary philosophers. This seminar will also develop your critical thinking, and help you construct and insightfully analyze philosophical claims and arguments. 


Brent Armendinger, Associate Professor of English & World Literature/Creative Writing


Armendinger, Brent

“Memory, Literature, and Culture”

In this course, we will focus on works of literature that explore the emotional, creative, philosophical, and political dimensions of memory. We’ll consider how memory changes our understanding of time; how memory informs the imagination; how imagination informs what (and how) we remember; how relationships are structured by memory, its variability, and its loss; the politics of remembering and forgetting; and how literature can harbor histories and traces of people from the past. In addition to our readings, we’ll consider works of film and visual art. Students will practice various forms of writing in order to engage with these ideas.


Timothy Berg, Associate Professor of Art


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.


Alicia Bonaparte


Bonaparte, Alicia

“Race, Gender, and Health in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.”

We will use the sociological imagination to comprehend the social context of how race and gender mediate how we understand health, illness, and U.S. health care system.  This course will review some key sociological and epidemiological scholarship on institutionalized racism and sexism within U.S. healthcare by exploring the history of colonialism and its role in the subjugation of people of color and women and other minoritized gender identities.  We also will discuss how racism and sexism function as interlocking systems of oppression and result in the perpetuation of unequal access to healthcare.


Darin Brown, Assistant Professor of Psychology


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 selves


Chao, Emily

“Food for Thought”

Food is a source of our shared passion.  In this course we analyze the meanings associated with food and eating.  We discuss the aestheticization and symbolization of food, as well as the moral economy of what constitutes healthy food.  Food defines who we are as well as who we are not. This course will use food as an optic through which we examine environmental sustainability, gender, public health and social inequality.  We will explore the histories of local and global modes of food production, distribution and consumption, and endeavor to imagine alternatives to contemporary eating practices and industrial food production.   



Feree, Elise 

“Nutrition in the Modern World”

In this seminar, we will trace the history of the human diet up to present time, including an examination of diet across cultures. With this cross-cultural lens we will then explore several multi-faceted nutrition issues in the modern world. Topics include the human microbiome and potential links to disease; food allergies; the epidemic of obesity; inequalities in access to healthy, affordable food; whether current food systems are sustainable; and seemingly odd food choices, such as eating insects in different societies. We will explore these and other ideas through books, film, and the popular press and practice writing for various audiences.


Melinda Herrold-Menzies, Professor of Environmental Analysis


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.


Hanzhang Liu, Assistant Professor of Political Studies


Liu, Hanzhang

“Living with Unfreedom”

Freedom is essential to human existence. For well over half a century, the West proudly regarded itself as the champion of human liberty and often looked upon unfree societies elsewhere with sympathy and uncomprehending fascination. “It can’t happen here.” So the conventional wisdom went. Sadly, recent political events have demonstrated that no society is immune to authoritarian erosion. In this course, we will read classic literature – including the iconic book 1984 by George Orwell – that depicts lives under totalitarianism and ponder how we, as individuals, can best guard against unfreedom in both our action and human consciousness.

FYS 10

Ma, Ming-Yuen S.

“Video and Diversity”

This first year seminar studies video as a medium, particularly as it is utilized by women, people of color, lesbians and gays, grassroots activists, as well as other peoples who are under and/or mis-represented by dominant media. This class explores independent video production from historical as well as issue-oriented approaches. The history of video technology, from analog to digital, is studied with a focus on developments that made video an accessible and powerful tool for self-expression and political intervention. Issues around gender, race, class, and sexual politics are examined in relation to works from the above-mentioned communities. Bodies of work by individual makers and collectives are presented as case studies in how multiple issues can be addressed through singular oeuvres.


FYS 11

Monroy, Jenna

“Canine Companions: Exploring the origins and behaviors of dogs”

Dogs and humans have coexisted as each other’s companion for more than 20,000 years. However, anthropologists, ethologists, and genomicists continue to debate over the evolution of dogs from wolves, the genetic basis of behaviors in many dog breeds, and the emotions that we share with our pets. In this course, we will explore the history of human-canine relationships and the roles dogs play across cultures. We will read and discuss popular articles on dog cognition, physiology, and behavior and practice writing to multiple audiences. Using a multi-drafting approach, we will develop strategies for revision, peer review and constructive criticism.

Harmony O'Rourke, Associate Professor of African History

FYS 12

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.


FYS 13

Paulse, Shelva

“The History and Psychology of the Sport Cricket”

Associated in the popular imagination with Britain and its former colonies and sometimes baffling to Americans, the 2015 World Cup in cricket was watched by an estimated 1.5 billion viewers worldwide. This course will introduce students to the academic study of the history and psychology of cricket. The main focus of this course is two-fold. First, we will explore the socio-historical evolution of international cricket. Second, students will be introduced to various intra- and inter-personal psychological processes in the sport of cricket.

Suyapa Portillo Villeda, Assistant Professor of Chicano/a-Latino/a Transnational Studies

FYS 14

Portillo Villeda, Suyapa

“Queer Latinx Migration: Migration, Race, Detention and Deportation”

This interdisciplinary class draws from queer and Feminist theory, Latinx and Latin American Studies and social movements to study migration/immigration and Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Intersex narratives. Mainstream immigration policy/movement discourses prioritize heteronormative notions of ‘family’ and citizenship, eliding voices and visibility for LGBTQI+ justice. Meanwhile predominant articulations of LGBTQ ‘equality’ marginalize queer immigrants. This class explores how Latinx-, immigrant-, Trans- led community campaigns against horrific conditions in private detention centers and on the ‘borderlands’ are challenging myopic notions of immigrant and LGBTQ rights. We will interrogate historical and contemporary conceptions of sexuality, gender, gender identity, race and (im)migration.


Andrea Scott, Assistant Professor of Academic Writing and Director, Writing Center

FYS 15

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?


Sharon Snowiss, Professor of Political Studies

FYS 16

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 animals, 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 peoples 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? Or, does man have a nature? Readings will range from works in philosophy and science to science fiction.

Erich Steinman, Associate Professor of Sociology

FYS 17

Steinman, Erich

“Imagining Social Transformation: Towards Climate Survivability”

This course will draw on sociological theory, history, fiction, and current social and political movements to imagine possibilities for, processes of, and challenges to the transformation (or restructuring) of society. Sociological conceptions of social forces, social change, and institutions, paired with critical Indigenous perspectives and experiences (of surviving ecologically destructive colonialism), will centrally inform and refine our imaginings The promotion of the Green New Deal will be used as one specific link to this process currently unfolding within society; course activities will include participation in the Sunrise Movement or similar efforts. Students will be invited to integrate varying levels of ideas, inspiration and insight, starting with developing and implementing self-care practices.

FYS 18

Soldatenko, Maria & Dengu-Zvobgo, Kebokile

“Latinx and Africana Food Identity and Resistance”

In this seminar we will explore African/a and Latinx foodways and systems in the US.  We will study how these were impacted by exchange, enslavement of people plus the desires to retain their traditional cuisines.  We will explore the knowledges that enslaved Africans brought to las Americas, in particular how their cuisine used maize as well as domesticated animals; how Amerindians were able to retain their knowledge of the land and ecology and maintain their own foodways; the colonial project and how Europeans forced Africans and Amerindians to cultivate and produce their foods.


Andre Wakefield, Professor of History

FYS 19

Wakefield, Andre


This course examines propaganda, past and present. We will look at everything from police state rhetoric to mass market advertising, investigating the ways in which propaganda has been mobilized in different times and places. The course will be based around reading, writing, and discussion. In examining the topic, we will use everything from theory and primary texts to posters and films. 

Leah Herman, Instructor in English Language

FYS 20

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.

Michael Ballagh, Associate Vice President, Study Abroad & International Programs

FYS 21

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.