Wesleyan has a wide variety of classes to satiate any interest you may have, be it sex or Harry Potter (and maybe both at once). The University prides itself on its flexible course selection process, which lets students take advantage of the variety of classes available. Many courses have become “regulars” over the years; they either arise as institutions due to their popularity or are basics for a particular field of study. A small percentage of courses, however, is entirely new. Here is an overview of some Fall 2014 courses that are on their first run.
PSYC 318: Psychology of Environmental Issues
PSYC 318, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Katherine Lacasse, examines the individual and communal psychological forces that can be used to explain society’s contribution and reaction to climate change. Lacasse plans to explore what causes apathy about climate change and what causes motivation to combat it.
“In general, I think that many Americans care about environmental issues, but the question is how to best translate that caring into behavior, and to decide what behaviors we should even be doing,” Lacasse said. “Should each environmentalist buy a hybrid car, or should they lobby for a policy that requires all cars to have better gas mileage? Are high-tech futuristic cities the solution, or should people return to small communities with rural agriculture?”
This 300-level course has no prerequisites but requires permission of instructor (POI) and seats 15 students. The class meets for about three hours on Tuesday evenings, from 7 p.m. to 9:50 p.m. The course is designed to be student centered and filled with discussions, presentations, and activities.
“I am looking forward to the student presentations because they always impress me with their creativity,” Lacasse said. “Each person brings their own interpretations and perspectives, and I am looking forward to considering new viewpoints.”
The course was inspired by Lacasse’s own relationship with environmental issues. Although she is concerned about climate change, she says her actions do not always reflect this concern.
“I think that when I see the contradictions in myself, it makes me wonder how to explain it,” she said.
So, with such powerful and relevant course matter, what lesson does Lacasse hope students take away from the course?
“Humans are not separate from ‘the environment,’ and many environmental problems are grounded in human behavior, thinking, and culture,” Lacasse said. “The good news is that students who receive training in the social sciences such as psychology will be well equipped to join in with climatologists, biologists, and engineers to try to address these problems.”
FIST 123: Love, Sex, and Marriage in Renaissance Europe
This course, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of French Michael Meere, examines the relationship among love, sex, and marriage in Renaissance Europe, as portrayed in literary and artistic work. Though Meere is a specialist in the French Renaissance, he expanded the course to a fit a broader European context.
“I thought it was interesting to see how stories were told in one country or one area and how they were adapted in another, either in the same genre—like a rewriting of a short story, for example—or how the short story would be adapted for the stage,” Meere said. “[This course is] a dialogue between the earlier periods and today.”
This 100-level course is a First Year Seminar (FYS), meaning it is reserved for freshmen and has a small class size. It meets twice a week, and its seminar style focuses on honing writing skills and fostering in-class discussions.
“Because it’s a writing-intensive seminar, the focus is on writing: how to write an argument, how to structure an essay, and how to conduct research,” Meere said.
Assignments include research projects based in the Davison Art Center and in Olin, and a Special Collections visit.
“The focus of the class was to show the students what the Renaissance has to offer in its different iterations, and what Wesleyan has to offer, on the other hand,” Meere said.
While many discussions will be literary in content, others will strike a more personal note, including questions such as what love and marriage mean, and how, or if, they are related.
“I think it’s pretty topical—marriage, sex, and love,” Meere said.
Meere added that he is especially looking forward to taking students out of the classroom, to show that what might be perceived as “dead texts” or irrelevant are still being adapted in our world today and are still relevant.
In an example of this applicability, Meere said that one of the first assignments is to read part of a book titled “Same-Sex Marriages in Pre-Modern Europe” by John Boswell. This will provoke a discussion about the meaning of marriage and how the definition has evolved.
“People automatically assume that [the Renaissance era] was earlier so it was more traditional, so marriage was between a man and a woman…but it really was more complicated than that,” Meere said.
Meere hopes that students continue to take courses in this genre and continue to deepen their understanding, but his primary goal given the class’s FYS format is that they come away more confident in their writing and research abilities.
AFAM 118: Ebony Tower: The Rise of Black Studies
This course, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies David Swiderski, is cross-listed in African American Studies and American Studies. It examines the evolution of Black Studies as an academic field and its relationship to society off of a college campus.
Black Studies is one of Swiderski’s primary interests, and he brought his knowledge to the course and tailored it to the specific dynamic of the Wesleyan campus.
“When I knew I was coming to Wesleyan and started reading up on [the school], I discovered the protests at the end of the spring—the ‘AFAM is Why’ campaign, the occupation of South and North College—[and] I thought that was particularly fertile ground to launch this class, since there already was ongoing discussion and dialogue about the importance of African American studies and its relationship to Wesleyan,” Swiderski said. “Those critical inquiries were already being opened up by students, so I figured they might be interested in being taken back and looking at the foundations of Black Studies.”
This 100-level course meets twice a week. The course is aimed at freshmen and sophomores, though it is open to older students. The workload includes weekly responses and a final project about the future of Black Studies at Wesleyan.
Research to prepare the course included books with historical and sociological perspectives and information from Special Collections and Archives that relates to the formation of Black Studies at Wesleyan.
Swiderski is most looking forward to taking students to the library and the archives to examine the history of this subject at Wesleyan in order to then fit the field into its historical context outside of the University.
“There is a developing narrative that is almost standardized,” Swiderski said. “People talk about the same struggles and the same institutions that were the most explosive—either the first, the most important, or otherwise the most significant. So you build this national story, this big context, and I think it’s then very cool to be able to see Wesleyan as part of that.”
The final project will focus on the future of Black Studies at Wesleyan. Students will take the information they have gathered through the course, such as the way social movements change educational institutions, the history of Black Studies, and the current dynamics at Wesleyan to evaluate how the department should proceed in the future.
LAST 307: Disease, Health, and Power in Latin America, 1850-1990
This course, taught by Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Professor Carlos Dimas and cross-listed in the Science in Society Program and Latin American Studies, looks to explain the connection between health issues and social order in Latin America. It also examines the role disease has played in shaping history and in shaping dynamics between governments and the rest of the state.
Dimas explained that there is an inextricable connection between medical and social issues within a society.
“The new work that’s come out in Latin America is very much pushing recent-day medical studies into the social and cultural realm,” he said.
This 300-level course has no prerequisites, and it meets once a week on Tuesdays from 1:10 p.m. to 4 p.m. It is small, with a maximum of 15 students, as is appropriate for its seminar format. “Disease, Health, and Power” is aimed at upperclassmen, and it is suitable for majors and non-majors alike.
The course was inspired by Dimas’ own research, which thus far has centered on cholera epidemics in Argentina.
Dimas said that although the entire course will be interesting, he is especially looking forward to the second half of the semester when the course studies Cold War politics, the role of gender in health issues, and the difference between “old” diseases and “new” diseases.
The course readings will focus on “human interaction,” and on the evolution of this interaction in the light of medical catastrophes such as diseases. Some specifically focus on tension in areas where government aid is unwanted but necessary. These issues do not just apply to Latin America, but are relevant on a global scale.
“A lot of these questions, although they are placed in Latin America, can be adapted,” Dimas said.
This type of global application is a key point that Dimas hopes students will notice as the course progresses.
“The one conclusion would be when people talk about sickness and health and disease and anything like that, it’s only the beginning,” he said. “Everything after that goes into so many other areas. You can use these moments to expand upon much broader issues.”