All of the seminars listed below earn 4 units.
FYS 2: Eating Culture: Food, Race and Migration
Prof. Alex Puerto
This seminar explores the relationship between food, race, and migration in historical and contemporary U.S. contexts. The course is organized thematically with a fundamental consideration of how and why food has shaped the contours of migrant communities and collective identities. Through Ethnic Studies frames and topics such as cultural memory, labor, agriculture, authenticity, gentrification, and health, we will examine debates about the role of food in assimilation, transculturation, and the interplay of race, class, and gender. Students will also draw connections between migration and the production, distribution and consumption of food. California as a subject of study and a collaborative food justice and migrant rights project will play prominent roles in our studies. This course is part of the Humanities for Just Communities (HJC) curriculum. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 3: Linguistic Resilience in Los Angeles
Prof. Marišhka Bolyanatz Brown
Los Angeles is one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world. At the same time, it is also known as a linguistic graveyard, absorbing immigrants by the millions and extinguishing their home languages within a few generations. The loss of home languages is due in part to ideologies associating the English language with whiteness, power, and “American” identity. It is within this context, acknowledging the socio-political and institutional barriers to speaking a non-English language in the United States, that students in this course will explore how maintaining a home (or heritage) language, and indeed, speaking any non-English language in the United States is an act of political resistance. This course will focus on the speakers of non-English languages who are attempting to resist the barriers described above and maintain their languages at the individual, community, and institutional levels. We will focus on the linguistic resilience and cultural practices of speakers of Spanish, Mandarin, and indigenous American languages in Los Angeles and throughout the country, via scholarly readings, documentaries, and case studies, as well as through field trips and guest lectures with members of these communities. This course will ask students to pose questions about the connection between one’s identity and the language one speaks. We will examine our experiences with our own language(s), confront our own beliefs, and aim to understand the beliefs and experiences of others. Finally, near the end of the course, students will engage in a project advocating for social justice in Los Angeles or their home communities. This course is part of the Humanities for Just Communities curriculum. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 4: Techno-Orientalism
Prof. Greg Toy
Two sections: MWF 11:45-12:40 or MWF 12:50-1:45
This course investigates how Asian American artists, filmmakers, and writers have responded to fantasies and fears of Asia—its cultural influence, its economic might, and its military ascendance—by appropriating the conventions of speculative fiction. We will examine how representations of Asian bodies and landscapes in alternate realities, possible futures, or revisionist histories negotiate what scholars call techno-orientalism—problematic visions of Asia as simultaneously hypo- and hyper-technological. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 5: Romance and Sexuality in Asia
Prof. Min Joo Lee
This course will examine the diverse ways that Asians conceptualize and engage in romantic and sexual relationships in ways that complicate the hegemonic Western stereotype of Asian men as emasculated and Asian women as hypersexualized. For example, we will examine the sex tourism and sex work industry in different parts of Asia. We will comparatively examine the stories of Asian marriage migrants. Furthermore, we will examine how queer Asians conceptualize their queerness in relation to the hegemonic white Western queer identities. In addition to academic journal articles and books, materials we will cover throughout the course will include various forms of popular cultural contents ranging from magazine articles, photographs, and films, to music videos, and social media posts. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 6: Queer 3.0: LGBTQ Rights in the Internet Era
Prof. Ron Buckmire
This course is about the past, present and future of the fight for equal citizenship for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, commonly known as the “gay rights movement.” A fundamental tenet of the course is the idea that gender, race, sex and sexual orientation (among other aspects of one’s identity) are social constructions. We will analyze the historical treatment of LGBTQ people throughout history with a specific focus on the Internet era: the time period from the Internet’s birth in the 1960s to the present day. We will examine the historical, cultural, religious, legal and societal significance of marriage and deploy this analysis as a lens to view the myriad ways that civil rights and fundamental freedoms are often mediated by identity and contingent on circumstance. Texts in the course will include academic articles, court cases, legal briefs, popular media, fiction, blogs, videos, tweets and images. We will use networking tools and social media (e.g., Slack, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Blogger/Wordpress, etc.) to facilitate students’ development as both consumers and producers of intellectual, academic material. The ability of students to produce and critique online content is a learning outcome of this class. No previous knowledge of any particular internet tool is required. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 7: What’s the (Subject) Matter with Musicals?
Prof. Laural Meade
Broadway musicals are paradoxical. For all their quality, popularity, and variety, musicals have been historically disparaged as escapist entertainment: romantic and/or comedic romps that are, for the most part, thematically light and spectacle-oriented. And then Hamilton, right? Not so fast. Singing and dancing theater artists have dramatized hard-hitting social dynamics throughout the history of the form. This course will explore the development of the distinctly “political” stage musical. Offerings will track its rise throughout the 20th century (in shows such as Showboat, Cradle Will Rock and Hair), to contemporary productions that tackle a variety of issues through a decidedly intersectional lens (like Caroline, Or Change and Passing Strange). Our inquiries will also address representation and access. For all of the evolution of the genre, musicals are out of reach for many, on stage and off. How can an essentially elite art form have meaningful resonance and impact? Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 8: Myth, Magic, Mystery: On Disenchantment and Its Responses
Prof. Devin Fromm
Two sections: MWF 11:45-12:40 or MWF 12:50-1:45
We will look at the concept of modernity as disenchanted, reading essays on the subject, as well as a selection of literary works that seek to find or instill such sensation in the modern world. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 9: All That Glitters: Life and Literature in Los Angeles
Prof. Jackie Elam
Two sections: MWF 11:45-12:40 or MWF 12:50-1:45
Norman Mailer described Los Angeles as a “constellation of plastic.” John Fante called it a “sad flower in the sand.” Is Los Angeles really just “72 suburbs in search of a city,” as Dorothy Parker claimed, or is there something else brewing beneath the beautiful, sunny skies? We’ll explore (through art, films, and books) 20th and 21st century Los Angeles as both a real and imagined location. Through the completion of three short papers and one longer paper, you’ll craft your own conceptual “map” of the place. Please note that some of the texts for this course may be disturbing. Please contact the instructor if you have any questions. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 10: Opening the Aviary: Minds, Ideas, and Matters of Fact
Prof. Chris Blakley
Two sections: MWF 11:45-12:40 or MWF 12:50-1:45
What are we doing when we shout “I have an idea!”? Did the idea originate in our minds or from the world around us? Or even other minds? In the Theaetetus, Plato likened the mind to an aviary in which he compared ideas to captured wild birds that a thinker possesses for a moment until they choose to let them fly free. Mental states, concepts, and theories are deeply personal and part of our inherently subjective experience of reality. At the same time, they are also the epistemic background of societies, cultures, economies, and states. Ideas inform how we think about ourselves, ethics, time, and much more. During the Han dynasty in China, for example, a person aimed to know and live within their place in a hierarchy of mutual reciprocity and respect. In antebellum America, people strived to become totally self-reliant, and eschewed depending on others. Our conception of time itself dates, arguably, to 311 BCE, when the kings of the Seleucid Empire began enforcing a linear chronology of years onto their society. So, understanding ideas, thoughts, concepts––as well as our own sense of what minds are and what knowledge is––as they evolved in their own time and place can reveal to us something vital about a culture. Simply put: ideas have histories. Our seminar will take an interdisciplinary approach to these topics and combine methods from psychology, history, philosophy, and cognitive science to probe the mental world in all its complexity. Together we’ll explore how to make use of our analyses in different kinds of writing situations throughout the course that will enable participants to develop skill in expository writing, composition, research with primary and secondary sources, and techniques for rhetorical analysis. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 11: Cultural Anthropology and Other/Realities
Prof. Alex Bolyanatz
This course is essentially a course in cultural anthropology. Cultural anthropology emerged within the past two centuries as a means of coming to grips with the diversity of ways of being human. While cultural anthropology’s history has been tainted by collusion with racist and imperialist programs, it remains the single loudest academic voice on behalf of indigenous peoples around the world—not only in terms of advocacy for such folks, but also in terms of fomenting understanding of people who are not like us. In this course, we will look at a part of the world—New Ireland, Papua New Guinea—that is different, in many respects, from the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) societies from which most, if not all, of the students in this class come. In so doing, we will discover that non-WEIRD societies have a logic to their ways of being and relating, and that sometimes, WEIRD ways of doing things are, well, weird. This is a 4-unit course. On average, you should expect to spend at least twelve (12) hours a week (including in-class time) on this course. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 12: Climate Crisis, Refugees and Ethno-Nationalism
Prof. Malek Moazzam-Doulat
This course aims at a radical critique of the failed moral and political responses to climate change and migration and a creative, ground up re-imagining of the possibilities for a future response to an exigent crisis. Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of two apparently unrelated crises: on the one hand, massive migration across the world leading to crises at borders and refugee camps with the attendant suffering and death, and on the other a global resurgence of reactionary, anti-democratic ethno-nationalist politics focused on the threat of migration. It is likely that this rising authoritarian movement will intensify as climate change creates unprecedented population movements among people in vulnerable economic situations who are most susceptible to displacement. This course will critically examine the nature and interrelation between resurgent racist, ethnno-nationalist ideologies, tracing their historical and conceptual roots. It will also take up recent studies of the looming consequences of climate change for population displacement while examining the viability of public policy frameworks and legal instruments for addressing these exigent problems. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 14: Race and the Environment
Prof. Michael Murphy
For several decades, scholars and activists have documented, analyzed, and organized against the myriad ways that race shapes the quality of environments in which human life unfolds. Their work has consistently revealed that environmental burdens, such as air pollution, toxic contamination, and urban heat island effects (to name a few), are distributed unequally across the color line, and that both nonwhite and low-income populations are most vulnerable when it comes to dealing with "natural" disasters and their aftermath. People of color also often lack adequate access to environmental amenities and necessities like tree canopy cover and green space, in addition to having inadequate access to healthy and affordable foods. This scholarship points to different facets of we might call racialized socioecological relations, or those relations and dynamics between humans, nonhumans, and ecosystems, that are mediated by racial hierarchy and difference. In this course, we will study racialized socioecological relations at various scales, from the neighborhood to the globe, with the underlying aim of rethinking “race,” “the environment,” and their complex relationship. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 15: The State Against Diversity (Course cancelled)
FYS 16: German Film: Modernity and its Monsters
Prof. Alexander Gardner
This course offers a survey of German film from the origins of cinema to the present day. We will focus on questions pertaining to how one can interpret or "read" a film, as well as the relation of German film to contemporaneous developments in art, literature and politics. How is the authoritarianism of the early 20th century depicted and/or confronted in film? What do horror films tell us about the anxieties and prejudices of the societies that produced and consumed them? Throughout the course, we will investigate the ways in which the dilemmas and aspirations of the modern world became legible in film, and continually ask to what extent film is a medium uniquely suited for depicting and attempting to understand modernity's paradoxes. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 17: What is Justice? An Idea with a History
Prof. Jacob Mackey
Talk of justice has become central to the messaging of elite institutions, from liberal arts colleges, to The New York Times, large corporations, and activist organizations. Ironically, however, many of the institutions that seek to legitimate themselves through messaging about justice depend upon racialized, gendered, and classed inequalities for their operations and actively reproduce such inequalities through their core activities. This course takes students beyond such justice-messaging into a deep, historical exploration of the very idea of justice. We start in Mesopotamia, with the Code of Hammurabi, and examine attempts to grapple with and define justice from antiquity up to the present day. We read poets, philosophers, jurists, and economists, from Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero to Hobbes, Kant, Hayek, Rawls, and Sowell. We shall seek to understand how justice has been conceived in major religious traditions, what is meant by “social” justice, how justice relates to fairness, equality, equity, and luck, and how to distinguish among distributive, procedural, retributive, and restorative conceptions of justice. Students will leave the course better equipped to contextualize and assess the justice-talk ubiquitous to the institutions in which they have been, are, and will in the future be enmeshed. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 18: Literature and Philosophy: The Dionysian in Modern Thought
Section 1: Prof. Sydney Mitsunaga-Whitten
Section 2: Prof. Damian Stocking
Both sections: MWF 11:45-12:40
More than simply a "god of wine," Dionysus was for the Ancient Greeks a god of ecstatic self-abandon, of gushing fertility, of violent dismemberment and unexpected rebirth. In myth he was attended by raving Maenads and mischievous Satyrs; amongst humans he was worshiped with festive dances, communal shouts, ritual obscenities, and (perhaps most importantly) with poetry—with the literary genres of ode, comedy and tragedy that were invented specifically to honor him. What could be farther, we might ask, from the cool, reasonable practice of philosophy than this wild, uncanny, irrational god? And yet, as we shall see in this class, this reckless god of madness and poetry stands at the foundation of some of the most important ideas in modern philosophy—Hegel's phenomenology of spirit, Nietzsche's will to power, Heidegger's philosophy of Existenz, Bataille's notion of excess, and Derrida's "non-concept" of différance. Beginning with an exploration of Dionysian poetics in Ancient Greece, this course will attempt to show what thinkers like these found so inspiring in this ancient god, and what the writers and thinkers of our own time might yet find in him still. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 19: Rhythm and Rhetoric: New Formal Poetry
Prof. Ara Corbett
In this course, students will study the various ways that formal poetry is unique in its ability to heighten awareness and shape understanding. Focusing on newly published criticism and poems (including new translations of work by North Korean poet Kim Ok and Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva), we will explore how the cadence of everyday speech and the formal rules of meter, rhyme, and stanza work together to generate a wide range of expressive and rhetorical possibilities. Along the way, students will be given intensive training in academic writing at the college level, with assignments designed to build critical reading and writing skills, including the use of evidence, rhetorical strategies, and matters of form, clarity, and style. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 20: Isn't It Romantic? Lovers, Knights, Sorcerers and Superheroes Through the Ages
Prof. Q. Sarah Ostendorf
While the term "romance novel" today often calls to mind tawdry love stories featuring heaving bosoms and uncontrollable passions, the genre of romance is much more complex than these stereotypes would make it seem. Early examples of romance are sprawling adventure narratives of chivalry, crusades, the supernatural, and yes, occasionally even love. Today, these tales' descendants include not only the love stories we associate with the genre of romance, but also fantasy novels, Westerns, superhero narratives, and more. In this course we will explore the genealogy of romance from the Middle Ages through modern day, asking not only what constitutes a romance, but also what the continuously popular genre can teach us about readers' desires and discontents across history. Open only to first year frosh.
Asian/American Feminisms in U.S. Literature
Prof. Charlyne Sarmiento
In this class, we will read and discuss narratives by Asian/American women through the lens of race and gender in order to examine how Asian/American women disrupt and counter stereotypes that impact them in the workplace, school, and family. Reading literary fiction, non-fiction essays, and spoken word, we will explore topics such as the labor of care, the sexualization of Asian women in the media, and coalitional organizing and activism with other women of color and queer communities. Some texts include Mine Okubo’s graphic novel Citizen 13660; spoken-word performances by feminist artists Anida Yoeu Ali and Yellow Rage; and the collection of essays Asian American Feminism and Women of Color Politics. The course includes a field trip to the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles and guest speakers throughout the semester. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 22: Psychosocial Determinants of Health Disparities
Prof. Patty Cabral
Disease prevalence, severity, and treatment varies across sociodemographic groups. Understanding why health disparities occur is key to determining how inequalities might be alleviated. Central to detangling health disparities are psychological, socio-cultural, cognitive processes, and behaviors that are related to ethnic, cultural, and gender identity experiences. The focus of this course is on research that a) describes health disparities, b) investigates factors that explain differences, and c) proposes interventions to treat at-risk populations. This course will emphasize the theme of equity in health across multicultural groups. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 23: Animal Intelligence
Prof. Zach Silver
From our pets to the animals that we see in popular media, nonhuman animals represent a central component of the human experience. The prevalence of animals in our daily lives invites questions surrounding how animals think and reason about the world around them. This course will provide an overview of the many perspectives on animal intelligence and the scientific frameworks used to explore how animals think. Our discussions of animal intelligence will feature species traditionally thought to be highly intelligent, such as dolphins and whales, as well species whose intelligence is often overlooked, such as ants and bees. We will also explore the intersection between research on animal intelligence and debates surrounding animal ethics. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 24: Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM)
Prof. Daryl Barker
Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) are sites of knowledge, memory and meaning making. This course will explore the evolving nature of these institutions looking at the impact of professional practices in these spaces, the growing use of digital technologies and the theories of knowledge production that underlie them. The course will engage students in theoretical reading on these subjects with accompanying lectures, provide space for classroom discussion, and contain weekly case studies where the class will investigate a particular institution and its practices. Students will also have the opportunity to engage with an embedded librarian in the course to do hands-on course related work in the Oxy library and with primary materials in the Oxy Special Collections. Assignments will include four 1000-1250 word expository essays, one in each of the four subject areas covered (Theories of Knowledge, Galleries/Museums, Archives, and Libraries) which will be displayed on a google site created by the student as a digital portfolio of their expository writing capabilities. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 26: Spinning Science: How Storytelling Drives the Perception and Progress of Science
Prof. Natalie Muren
MWF 11:45 - 12:40
In this course students will develop a sophisticated understanding of the nature and process of scientific inquiry and communication, tracing the development of scientific information from original measurements to online broadcasts. Students will hone the skills necessary to evaluate and utilize scientific information reported in both peer-reviewed journals and popular media sources. Practice in reading primary scientific articles for comprehension, writing clearly about scientific topics for a broad audience, and delivering engaging scientific presentations will be a major focus of this course. Overall, students will gain perspective on how scientific knowledge is established and communicated to inform the actions we take as a society and in our personal lives. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 27: Los Angeles Cultures and Subcultures
Prof. Jan Lin
This course explores LA urban cultures and subcultures in the last 150 years in defining, elaborating, and staging an alternative to the region’s sociological and cultural norms. We emphasize urban neighborhoods as crucibles of a bold and controversial multiculturalism as the course takes us from the railroad era and Arroyo Culture through the mid-20th century freeway era to more recent trends in downtown redevelopment and gentrification. We examine a series of bohemian revolts against increasingly oppressive and conformist norms and the development of a counter-hegemonic political aesthetics particularly expressed through music and the visual arts that have informed and inspired movements for liberation and expression by African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 28: The Invisible Hand: Understanding Free Markets
Prof. Daron Djerdjian
This course aims to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of free markets and the role of the invisible hand in regulating them. Through the exploration of various topics, including self-interest, cooperation, competition, resource allocation, and economic growth, students will gain a deeper appreciation for the benefits of free markets and the potential impacts of government intervention. By the end of the course, students will have a better understanding of the invisible hand and its function in promoting social harmony and economic prosperity in free market economies. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 29: Navigating the Global Energy Revolution
Prof. Igor Logvinenko
Navigating the Global Energy Revolutions is an interdisciplinary seminar for incoming Occidental College students. This course, led by Professor Igor Logvinenko, explores the complex interplay between politics, economics, and the energy sector as nations and regions transition toward sustainable and renewable power sources. We will explore the history and evolution of global energy systems; the role of state and markets in shaping energy policy; technological innovation and its impact on energy transitions; the geopolitics of energy; and the environmental and social implications of energy transitions. Students will develop critical thinking and writing skills while examining the historical, social, and geopolitical factors shaping energy policy and driving new energy technologies' development and adoption. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 30: Pandemics, Publics, and the Pursuit of Health
Prof. Alex Fine
Two sections: MWF 11:45-12:40 or MWF 12:55-1:45
Pandemics, Publics, and the Pursuit of Health” examines the social and cultural dimensions of pandemics, epidemics, and disease outbreaks as they impact both the U.S specifically, and the U.S. as part of a world where viruses travel despite national, political, or otherwise constructed borders. This critical health studies course, informed by fields of medical humanities and disability studies, focuses on the social and cultural ways in which diseases have been framed and understood over time. The social and cultural contexts in which pandemics and epidemics emerge, through language, cultural representations, and media framing, produce meaning as much as the biological and scientific ways in which diseases carry and transmit meaning. Beginning with our common knowledge of the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 as a starting point, we will continue to consider the U.S. perspective to various other pandemics throughout history including: the plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, polio, HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and drug epidemics such as those of crack cocaine and opioids. We will conclude the course by thinking more deeply about COVID-19 and about monkeypox. Our theoretical and analytic approach will be informed from ongoing social justice movements and activism, including harm reduction, mutual aid, and disability justice. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 31: “The White Man’s Burden”: Foreign Aid, Development and Neo-Imperialism
Prof. ShahBano Ijaz
This course will provide an overview of foreign aid as a key global fiscal flow and its role in the development of the global south. Beginning from the origins of foreign aid and its strategic use by donors during the Cold War, it will reflect on how foreign aid has been used for multiple objectives, from propping up autocratic regimes to furthering donors’ goals of promoting democracy. The course will highlight some of the macroeconomic changes that are driven by aid’s transnational nature, including the emergence of a large NGO economy in the global south. Students will also be familiarized with the domestic consequences of foreign aid: what does aid mean for different groups in recipient countries (politicians might engage in corruption; voters might engage in accountability) and what agency they have in ensuring the efficient use of aid money. Finally, it will inspire students to think of what the best uses of aid might be in a post-pandemic world where it continues to remain relevant (and, as evidenced by vaccination flows, useful in some ways). Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to question the ethics of foreign aid and the positionality of the “white men” in determining who gets aid and how. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 32: Writing Fiction, Finding Facts: Honest Stories and How They’re Told
Prof. Maura Roosevelt
Two sections: MWF 11:45-12:40 or MWF 12:50-1:45
"Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that dignity,” says novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This course will examine the power of storytelling in its various forms, spanning from Sophocles to Megan Thee Stallion. Through the investigation of a diverse breadth of texts—short stories, memoirs, reportage, performances, essays, podcasts, and music videos, among others—we will spend the semester considering how truth is communicated and/or falsehood perpetuated through different narrative structures. Our inquiries will be guided by a set of fundamental questions: What is a fact? Is it ever ethical to tell a false narrative? How does the selfhood or identity of an author impact the truth of a tale? Students will be asked to write in both creative and expository forms as they actively develop their own voice as a critic, writer, and thinker. Open only to first year frosh.
FYS 33: Fascism in Transnational Perspective
Prof. Marla Stone
This First Year Seminar examines the causes of the rise of authoritarianism and dictatorship in interwar Europe and its characteristics in the two nations which experienced extended fascist rule, as well focusing on their legacy in modern politics. We assess how the elevation of the state and the nation promoted by these regimes impacted the societies involved. We study the political, social, economic, and cultural aspects of Fascism and Nazism and the ramifications -- war and genocide -- of the embrace of fascist dictatorship. We also study the less-emphasized Fascist and nationalist regimes in Hungary, Poland, Romania, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. We will also analyze the contemporary far right in Europe and the United States and ask what these movements and parties have borrowed from their predecessors in the 1920s to 1940s. Class meetings focus on intensive discussion of assigned readings of secondary sources and primary sources, including texts, images, and films. Lectures will supplement the readings and discussions, but class discussion and student presentations are central to the class. Open only to first year frosh.