Past Course Descriptions

Read about MSI’s past Academic Components.

Imagining the Future

This course on Anglophone literature, postcolonialism, and the African diaspora proposes to critically investigate the concept of time. In particular, we will examine how time provides a crucial framework for how we imagine the future. We will take the seemingly self-evident concept of time and critically examine its intellectual history to consider how time serves a crucial function as a means of ordering our cultural, economic, and political ideas as well as our individual lives. Frameworks of history, modernity, and futurity rely on concepts of development and progress that are related to broader ideas of race and sexuality. In what ways do historical representations of time, development, and progress structure how we imagine the future? On whose behalf is progress being imagined? Where is progress located? What are the ideals of the future? Whose pasts are connected to the futures that we privilege? In considering these questions, we will examine a range of novels, films, empirical studies, and cultural theory that provide a complex portrait of how the future is imagined, especially from the perspective of those scripted out of its dominant narrative. We will engage with critical and literary approaches, including Afrofuturism, queer futurity, the developmental novel, economic models, and science fiction.

Race & Community Exposures: Environment, Health, Resilience, and Justice in the United States 

Straddling the lines between history, politics, geography, science, and critical theory, this course examines the relationships between environment and health to highlight how environmental factors and health outcomes are inextricably linked while being spatially and racially determined. These issues have come to the fore vividly through the current COVID-19 crisis. The four unit course is divided into three integrated components throughout the academic year: a 2-unit summer online course, a 1-unit community dialogue in the fall, and a 1-unit community-based project in the spring.

At the core, students will interrogate the sources of socioeconomic and racial health disparities through four key questions:

  • What role have issues of class, gender, and race played in the inequitable distribution of toxics and pollution? 
  • How does living in toxic environments alter experiences of identity, health, and place? 
  • How have communities combatted environmental hazards of the city, field, and workplace? 
  • How do social movement efforts to address toxic exposures to their communities get translated into scientific and regulatory structures?  

“(De)familiarizing Identity”

“(De)familiarizing Identity” will acquaint students with a selected set of historical, philosophical, and scientific perspectives on how to think about the meaning of selves, and how identity is acquired. We explore individual and collective conceptions of self, as well as notions about what constitutes societies, nations, and peoples. We also look at related concepts of race, religion, gender, sexuality, and culture, examining how they influence each other and how they are connected to citizenship. We consider what identity meant prior to the European nation-state in ancient Greece and Rome, during U.S. imperial projects of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Pacific Basin, and what it currently means in the era of globalization and transnationalism. In doing so, we explore the ways in which – or if – individual and/or collective identity entangles within culture. We ask: How do identities develop and change? What assumptions do people make about themselves and others regarding identity? How do identities influence how people approach and interact with the world? We will engage these questions through scholarly texts and oral traditions, works of art, film and media, and discussion.

Community Exposures: Environment, Health, and Justice in the United States

Straddling the lines between hisory, politics, geography, science, and critical theory, this course examines the relationships between environment and health to highlight how environmental factors and health outcomes are inextricably linked while being spatially and racially determined. Major course themes include the role of structural racism in shaping where and how communities develop, the history of environmental exploitation in working class and Native American, Latinx and African American communities, the role of science in environmental regulation and policy making, and community organizing for environmental justice. Topics will include both historical and contemporary case studies of community exposures to chemical and radiological toxicity. Students will engage built environment, critical legal studies, environmental humanities, and social movement frameworks as well as epidemiological, toxicological, and exposures science approaches to quantitative health risk assessment as contrasted with alternative frameworks such as hazard based approaches, precautionary regulatory structures, and Health Impact Assessment. Co-curriculum anchored in participatory action research field labs and integrative health education will reinforce the academic program. Los Angeles as a field of study will occupy a significant place in our exploration.

Children, Youth and Inequities 

This course focuses on the lives of children and youth, the inequities they face in various societies, and how they construct identity in such socio-cultural, socio-historical, and socio-political contexts. Students will analyze narrative stories, films, and other cultural artifacts documenting the lived experiences and representation of children and adolescents as they navigate the geographical spaces and the hierarchies of their social worlds. More to the point, students will examine: 1) how youth who participate in Hip Hop scenes around the world construct their social identities and how some challenge the prevailing social orders in their countries; 2) the experiences of U.S. children and youth in schools and the justice system, with particular attention given to the school-to-prison pipeline; and 3) the representation of children and youth in literature and films from throughout the Americas. Students will build critical and interpretive capacities through their examination of sociological, empirical, cultural, and literary texts. Additionally, through the construction and revision of several expository writings, students will hone their writing, argumentation, and presentation skills.

Inequality by the Numbers 

We’ll introduce you to the scientific research method and understanding science as a way of knowing. You’ll examine issues of poverty, discrimination, segregation, migration, education, and health using data analysis and realize the utility of research in understanding inequality of opportunity.