Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies (LGBT) is an interdisciplinary field that engages questions extending across a number of areas of study. Sarah Lawrence College offers students the opportunity to explore a range of theories and issues concerning gender and sexuality across cultures, categories, and historical periods. This can be accomplished through seminar course work and discussion and/or individual conference research.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies 2021-2022 Courses

Queer Americans: Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, and James Baldwin

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Queer Americans certainly, James, Stein, Cather, and Baldwin each fled “America.” James (1843-1916) and Stein (1874-1946) spent their adult lives in Europe. Cather (1873-1947) left Nebraska for Greenwich Village after a decade in Pittsburgh, with a judge’s daughter along the way. Baldwin (1924-1987) left Harlem for Greenwich Village, then the Village for Paris. As sexual subjects and as writers, these four could hardly appear more different; yet, Stein described James as “the first person in literature to find the way to the literary methods of the 20th century,” Cather rewrote James to develop her own subjects and methods, and Baldwin found in James’s writings frameworks for his own. In the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, James, Stein, and Cather witnessed the emergence of modern understandings of homosexuality and made modern literature, each pushing boundaries, always in subtle or dramatic ways. (Stein, for example, managed to parlay the story of her Paris life with Alice B. Toklas into an American bestseller in 1933.) In the second half of the 20th century, Baldwin began to dismantle modern understandings of sexuality and of literature. Examining the development of their works side by side will allow us to push the boundaries of lesbian/gay/queer cultural analyses by pursuing different meanings of “queer” and “American” through an extraordinary range of subjects and forms. Beginning with James on gender, vulnerability, and ruthlessness, this course will range from Cather’s pioneers and plantations to Stein on art and atom bombs and Baldwin on sex and civil rights. We will read novels, novellas, stories, essays, and memoirs by James, Cather, and Baldwin, plus Stein’s portraits, geographical histories, lectures, plays, operas, and autobiographies. Literary and social forms were both inextricable and inseparable from the gender and cross-gender affiliations and the class, race, and ethnic differences that were all urgent matters for these four. James’s, Stein’s, Cather’s, and Baldwin’s lives and works challenge most conventional assumptions about what it meant—and what it might mean—to be a queer American. Conference projects may include historical and political, as well as literary, studies, focusing on any period from the mid-19th century to the present.

Faculty

Perverts in Groups: Queer Social Lives

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Contradictory assumptions about the relation of homosexuals to groups have dominated accounts of modern LGBT life. In Western Europe and the United States, from the late-19th century onward, queers have been presented as profoundly isolated persons—burdened by the conviction that they are the only ones ever to have had such feelings when they first realize their deviant desires and immediately separated by those desires from the families and cultures into which they were born. Yet, at the same time, these isolated individuals have been seen as inseparable from one another, part of a worldwide network, always able to recognize their peers by means of mysterious signs decipherable only by other group members. Homosexuals were denounced as persons who did not contribute to society; homosexuality was presented as the hedonistic choice of reckless, self-indulgent individualism over sober social good. Nevertheless, all homosexuals were implicated in a nefarious conspiracy, stealthily working through their web of connections to one another to take over the world—or the political establishment of the United States, for example, its art world, theatre, or film industries. Such contradictions could still be seen in the battles that have raged since the 1970s, when queers began seeking public recognition of their lives within existing social institutions, from the military to marriage. LGBT persons were routinely attacked as threats (whether to unit cohesion or the family) intent on destroying the groups they were working to openly join. In this class, we will use these contradictions as a framework for studying the complex social roles that queers have occupied and some of the complex social worlds they have created—at different times and places, shaped by different understandings of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality—within the United States over the past century and a half. Our sources will include histories, sociological and anthropological studies, the writings of political activists, fiction, and film.

Faculty

Pretty, Witty, and Gay

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Are you ready to review your cultural map? As Gertrude Stein once said, “Literature—creative literature—unconnected with sex is inconceivable. But not literary sex, because sex is a part of something of which the other parts are not sex at all.” More recently, Fran Leibowitz observed, “If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would be pretty much left with Let’s Make a Deal.” We do not have to limit ourselves to America, however. The only question is, where to begin: in the pantheon, in prison, or “in the family”; in London, Paris, Berlin, or New York; with the “friends of Dorothy” or “the twilight women.” There are novels, plays, poems, essays, films, and critics to be read and read about, listened to or watched. There are dark hints, delicate suggestions, “positive images,” “negative images,” and sympathy-grabbing melodramas to be reviewed. There are high culture and high camp, tragedies and comedies, the good, the bad, and the awful to be enjoyed and assessed. How has modern culture thought about sexuality and art, love and literature? How might we think again? Conference work may be focused on a particular artist, set of texts, or genre or some aspect of the historical background of the materials that we will be considering.

Faculty

Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

Faculty

Faking Families

Open, Seminar—Spring

In her study of transnational adoptees, Eleana Kim noted the profound differences between discourses about the immigration of Chinese brides to the United States and those describing the arrival of adopted Chinese baby girls: the former with suspicion and the latter with joy. Two ways that families form are by bringing in spouses and by having children. We tend to assume that family-building involves deeply personal, intimate, and even “natural” acts; but, in actual practice, the pragmatics of forming (and disbanding) families are much more complex. There are many instances where biological pregnancy is not possible or not chosen, and there are biological parents who are unable to rear their offspring. Social rules govern the acceptance or rejection of children in particular social groups, depending on factors such as the marital status of their parents or the enactment of appropriate rituals. Western notions of marriage prioritize compatibility between two individuals, who choose each other based on love; but, in many parts of the world, selecting a suitable spouse and contracting a marriage is the business of entire kin networks. There is great variability, too, in what constitutes “suitable.” To marry a close relative or someone of the same gender may be deemed unnaturally close in some societies; but marriage across great difference such as age, race, nation, culture, or class can also be problematic. And beyond the intimacies of couples and the interests of extended kin are the interests of the nation state. This seminar, then, examines the makings and meanings of kinship connections of parent and spouse at multiple levels, from small communities to global movements.

Faculty

Home/Nation: 20th-Century Asian Art–via New York

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The course takes its title from Indian artist Rummana Hussain’s “Home/Nation” (1996), a multimedia installation reflecting on rising political violence in India at the end of the century—especially against minority groups. In 1998, Hussain completed a residency at Art in General in New York and was one of numerous artists from across Asia showing in the City during the “global” and “multicultural” 1990s. This seminar elaborates on this global turn by tracing prior histories of Asian art in the City; however, our discussion and reading will also spend equal time in Asian and New York-based histories of modern and contemporary art, looking across continents to consider parallels, inversions, connections, and disconnections between and among them. We will, therefore, examine artists like Hussain, who might have visited New York only briefly, along with those who have lived in the City for all or most of their lives. Artists examined will include Toshi Shumizu, Rabindranath Tagore, Chao Chung-hsiang, F. N. Souza, Isamu Noguchi, Zainul Abedin, Yoko Ono, Tehching Hsieh, Zarina Hashmi, and Shahzia Sikander. We will consider how artists grappled with splits between “home” and “nation,” both in Asia and in the United States, during the 20th century, taking into account major events in Asian history that include decolonization, the Cold War, and neoliberal globalization. We will also explore the impact of World War I and World War II on Asian minorities in the United States, the civil rights movement and related passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the Vietnam War, and, more recently, the aftermaths of 9/11 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Artistically, we will examine diverse trajectories of realism and abstraction, photography and performance, and new media and avant-garde strategies. Students will have the opportunity to visit New York-based museums, galleries, and archival collections, including the Asia Art Archive, as part of in-class and individual assignments. Seminar discussion and final papers will focus on primary documents: institutional correspondences and historical newspaper and magazine reviews, artist writings and interviews, and archival photographs, among other documentary forms. These records will be used to build on existing histories of Asian art in/via New York and, if possible, to rediscover new or forgotten ones.

Faculty

Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, from the Indian Penal Code after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India, as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts—such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and BR Ambedkar—as well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997), and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

Faculty

Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, First Nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how queer is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, queer itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals, not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).
 

Faculty

Visions of Social Justice

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will collaborate with local nonprofit organizations and/or individual activists to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects are a combination of advertising, research, and social justice, providing valuable content for underresourced efforts while centering the powerful work of people challenging destructive paradigms. The class members will work in teams to produce their films and, ultimately, deliver material to their partner organizations to be used online and beyond. When appropriate, limited local travel will be involved, along with an opportunity to collaborate with organizers, activists, and community partners. Students will be encouraged to create social-engagement strategies in partnership with the organization or subjects that elevate their mission and work. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History

Open, FYS—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course in which we use literature and other cultural texts to illuminate a history of ideas, culture, and politics in the United States. The course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; they do, both intentionally and unintentionally, “political work” in revealing the world in the way that they shore up, modify, or work to change power structures. Second, this course assumes that you, the reader, have some sense of context for these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, hence, have some sense of how the stories reflect the material world that they seek to change; novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and, therefore, need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources  that are always paired with a secondary-source chapter, article, or introduction; this pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves, to write history as well as read it. Themes of particular significance will include the construction of national identity, class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery and particularly race, and the political significance of gender and sexuality. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1900; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on student needs and the progress of their conference projects.

Faculty

Social Protest and Cultural Critique: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States

Advanced, Small seminar—Year

“I pray you, then,” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, “receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for the sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there.” In this yearlong course, we will study the words of American activists, who used story, memoir, and cultural criticism to create social change. From Thomas Paine’s brash Common Sense and a (seemingly) conservative seduction novel intended to protect young women, Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, in the late 18th century, through narratives of enslavement meant to awaken somnolent Americans to the moral tragedy in their midst, to critiques of the ills of capitalism in the 19th century, to revealing the profound injustices meted on immigrants, as well as migrants, in the early 20th century, to James Baldwin and other critics of racial prejudice in the 1960s, to the feminists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we will analyze the “faith” and seek the “grain of truth” in these passionate cries for social justice.

Faculty

Reconstructing Womanhood I: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1830–1930

Open, Seminar—Fall

“But if you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will,” Margaret Fuller wrote in Woman in the 19th Century in 1845. Not 10 years later, Fanny Fern’s autobiographical protagonist tells her daughter, when asked if she would write books when a woman, “God forbid,” because “no happy woman ever writes.” In this small seminar, we will discuss what US women writers imagined they could be and why they wrote (happy or not). We will read both major and forgotten works of literary activism from women writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

Faculty

Reconstructing Womanhood II: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1930–1990

Sophomore and Above, Small seminar—Spring

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you,” begins Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1976 memoir of a girlhood among ghosts. This course will be a continuation of the work of the fall, as well as a stand-alone seminar. In this semester, we will explore the stories that women writers have not always told—focusing, in particular, on women writers from outside the mainstream of the time, women who chronicled and critiqued an American world that sought to silence them in some way. As in the fall, we will focus around issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and the legacy of enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

Faculty

Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, from the Indian Penal Code after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India, as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to these hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts, such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and BR Ambedkar—as well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997), and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

Faculty

Cold War Black Feminism

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

When Black feminist writing boomed in the 1970s, the United States was squarely in the middle of the Cold War. Accordingly, Audre Lorde decried the United States invasion of Grenada, June Jordan railed against the Vietnam War, and Assata Shakur penned her autobiography in asylum in Cuba. Yet, Black feminism has primarily been considered a domestic affair. How might we better understand Black feminist literature by reading it in the context of the Cold War? This course aims to answer this question first by reading proto-Black-feminist authors writing in the early Cold War and then returning to the famous authors of Black feminism to consider their portrait of international affairs. Authors may include Ann Petry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, and others. Along the way, we will read recent scholarship to understand the historical context in which those texts were written. In so doing, we aim to better understand the Cold War’s effect on Black feminism and what those canonical texts of Black feminism can tell us about American foreign policy. Short assignments may include brief historical essays, short close readings, and response papers.

Faculty

Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how queer is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, queer itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals, not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

Faculty

Women Philosophers in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Open, Seminar—Year

Western philosophy originated in Ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago, addressing fundamental questions about being and time, about the human condition, about ethics and politics, about science and religion. Despite the fundamental and universal nature of these questions, philosophy was practiced (at least publicly) mostly by men for the majority of those 2,000 years. It was not until the 20th century that this convention began to be significantly challenged, both practically (by the fact that more and more women entered the forefront of philosophical discussion) and theoretically (by questioning the validity and scope of this male-dominant tradition). This yearlong course is a survey of 20th-century continental philosophy that, countering the aforementioned tradition, focuses exclusively on the work of women in philosophy. Among the authors we may read are Sarah Ahmed, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Talia Bettcher, Judith Butler, bell hooks, Luce Irigaray, Melany Klein, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Maria Lugones, Simone Weil, Sylvia Winter, and Virginia Woolf. Some of these philosophers are feminists or consider the issue of sexual difference as central to their work or to philosophy in general; some are not. More importantly for our purposes, surveying their thought will be our means of acquiring a comprehensive view of the key developments in continental philosophy of the 20th and 21st centuries and the relations between them, including phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, critical theory, structuralism and poststructuralism, feminism, black feminism, and trans-feminism, decolonial and queer theories. During the fall semester, in addition to biweekly individual conferences, first-year students will have a biweekly group conference, in which we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

Faculty

Urban Health

Open, Seminar—Fall

This community partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness; and we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. We will work with local agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

Faculty

Doing Research With Young People

Open, Seminar—Spring

How is research conducted with young people? What are the ethical dilemmas when working with children, adolescents, and young adults? Instead of focusing on traditional research methods on subjects, this course will explore the possibilities of conducting research with, or alongside, young people. This is an interdisciplinary course, and our readings will be pulled from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, education, criminal justice, and critical childhood studies. First, we will examine the sociohistorical context of children, adolescents, and youth. Next, we will investigate the rights of young people and the policies that designate them as protected populations. This course will survey a number of different research methods with youth participants, including but not limited to interviews, mapping, narrative analysis, youth participatory action research, and visual and performative research. We will apply a critical eye to a number of case studies of young people dismantling systemic oppression and working toward racial, immigration, and environmental justice. Students will develop their own conference project, focusing on how to conduct research with young people. Fieldwork in partnership with the Early Childhood Center or Community Partnerships is also possible.

Faculty

Emerging Adulthood

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

We have time, energy, questions, and few responsibilities. We want to push the envelope, resist compromise, lead revolutions, and turn the world upside down. Because we do not yet know quite how to be, we have not settled and will not let the dust settle around us. —Karlin & Borofsky, 2003

Many traditional psychological theories of development posit a brief transition from adolescence to adulthood; however, many people moving into their 20s experience anything but a brief transition to “feeling like an adult,” pondering questions such as: How many SLC alums can live in a Brooklyn sublet? What will I do when I finish the Peace Corps next year? In this course, we will explore the psychological literature concerning emerging adulthood, the period from the late teens through the 20s. We will examine this period of life from a unified biopsychosocial and intersectional perspective.

Faculty

Both Public and Private: The Social Construction of Family Life

Open, Seminar—Year

Many of us take for granted the dichotomy between public and private life. The former is frequently understood as abstract, distant, and a key site of power; the latter, as the site of warmth, intimacy and emotional sustenance. In this seminar, we will critically examine the assumptions underlying such idealized distinctions between public and private domains. Through such revisioning, it is hoped that we will better understand the public and private dimensions of the family, its complexity, and its historical variability. In particular, our analysis will enable us to critically examine notions that posit the inevitability of the nuclear, heterosexual family as a universal and “natural” institution. Through historical, cross-cultural materials and oral histories, we will look at the myriad ways in which personal and social reproduction occur; the relationship between distinct family forms and different systems of social organization and social movements; and the expression of class, gender, racial relations, and sexual relations in diverse familial settings. Throughout, we will be attentive to shifting boundaries between the private domain (often erroneously and transhistorically understood in familial terms) and public institutions and practices. The “private” domain of the family will be problematized as a site for the construction of identity and caring and, simultaneously, as a location that engenders compulsion and violence. In this latter context, we will examine how relations of domination and subordination are produced through the institution of the “family” and how resistance is generated to such dominant relations and constructions. The course will conclude with an examination of family forms in contemporary societies (single-parent, same-sex, fictive-kin based) and of public struggles over these various forms.

Faculty

Measuring Difference: Constructing Race, Gender, and Ability

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will explore the sociology of classification, a subfield that critiques the ways in which society measures differences like race, gender, ability, and other social categories that communicate social worth. Three questions guide our inquiry: How does society construct and understand categories of difference? How do people experience and resist categories of social difference in themselves? How does social difference shape institutions like the family, education, employment, and government? Each week, students will engage a selection of texts that put theory, substantive research on social categories, and critical responses to them in conversation with one another. For a final class project, students will explore one area of social difference through individual and group writing assignments. Those assignments will provide training in documentary analysis, a qualitative method often used in historical and ethnographic research. Students will leave the course with the ability to identify areas of social difference, the practices through which these are produced, and a systematic critique of the ways in which measurement creates inequality in the social world.

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Lineages of Utopia

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Utopias have existed in human history for centuries. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, utopias have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different socio-spatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of socio-spatial formations—both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements, to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias which, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs is meant to get us to interrogate the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might, both individually and collectively, work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices or be based on creative projects and/or fictional utopias frequently encountered in science-fiction novels and film. Particular activist movements—such as Black Lives Matter, LGNTQ+ activism, and feminist movements—can also be seen as ways of visualizing futures that depart from the historical present, out of which such movements emerge and in which they are embedded. As such, these, too, have a vision of the future that is at odds with the present and will provide fertile ground for conference work. Finally, while the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopias and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for student projects.

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Beginning Spanish: A Glimpse Into the Hispanic World through its Language and Culture

Open, Seminar—Year

This course aims to introduce students to the language and culture of the Spanish-speaking world and to promote the development of students’ communicative competence in Spanish. Additionally, the objective is to improve students’ intercultural understanding of—and social conscience about—problems that affect this cultural complex. From the beginning, students will be in touch with authentic Spanish-language films, TV shows, comics, and poems, as well as short literary and nonliterary texts. Throughout the semester, we will actively implement a wide range of techniques aimed at creating an atmosphere of dynamic oral exchanges. Grammatical structures will be taught by resorting to everyday situations and by the incorporation of a wide set of functional-contextual activities. Group conferences will help hone conversational skills, focusing on individual needs. Watching films, documentaries, and episodes of popular TV shows, as well as listening to podcasts and reading blogs and digital publications, will take place outside the seminar meetings and serve as material for class discussions and debates. Weekly conversation sessions with the language assistant are an integral part of the course, since the emphasis of the course is on the communicative approach.

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Intermediate Spanish I: Latin American and Spanish Visual Culture

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for students who have had at least one year of college-level Spanish or the equivalent and who wish to review and expand the fundamentals of the Spanish language. With this, Latin American and Spanish comics, films, and TV shows—such as La casa de las Flores from Mexico, Paco Roca’s Los surcos del Azar, or Luis Ortega’s El Ángel—will provide the cultural and historical background for discussion in class. Films and TV shows work especially well for teaching language, because they can be used to quickly introduce or reinforce vocabulary or a grammatical point and also show their use, in context, by native speakers. Besides, space restrictions force comic-strip writers to get to the point, making comics a perfect source of useful vocabulary. The goal that most comic writers have of appealing to as many readers as possible also means that comics are a perfect source of basic, everyday terms and expressions. Students will gain key vocabulary for discussing cultural objects, write descriptive profiles, and even make their own comic book or record a podcast in Spanish. In addition, students will watch films, TV shows, and read comics outside the seminar meetings in order to reinforce the work that we do in class. Individual conference meetings will offer students an opportunity to complete independent research projects and to address individual language-acquisition needs. Weekly conversation sessions with a language assistant are also an integral part of the course.

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Performance Art

Open, Seminar—Spring

Since the early 20th century, artists have explored performance art as a radical means of expression. In both form and function, performance art pushes the boundaries of contemporary art. Through this form of expression, artists have produced powerful works about the body and the politics of gender, sexuality, and race. This course surveys performance art as a porous, transdisciplinary medium open to students from all disciplines, including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, sculpture, video, filmmaking, theatre, dance, music, creative writing, and digital art. Students will learn about the history of performance art and explore some of the concepts and aesthetic strategies used to create works of performance. Drawing on historical and critical texts, artists’ writings, video screenings, and slide lectures, students will use a series of simple prompts to help shape their own performances. Artists and art movements surveyed in this class include Dada, Happenings, Fluxus, Viennese Actionism, Gutai Group, Act-Up, Joseph Beuys, Judson Church, Ana Mendieta, Gina Pane, Helio Oiticica, Jack Smith, Leigh Bowery, Rachel Rosenthal, Jo Spence, Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Bas Jan Ader, Terry Adkins and the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, Carolee Schneemann, Martha Wilson, Adrian Piper, Martha Rosler, Lorraine O’Grady, Joan Jonas, Karen Finley, Janine Antoni, Patty Chang, Papo Colo, Paul McCarthy, Matthew Barney, Ron Athey, Orlan, Guillermo Gomez Pena, Narcissister, Annie Sprinkle, Vaginal Davis, Kris Grey, Carlos Martiel, Autumn Knight, Amanda Alfieri, Hennessey Youngman, Savannah Knoop, Shaun Leonardo, Francis Alys, Andrea Fraser, Tania Bruguera, Zhang Huan, Regina Jose Galindo, Aki Sasamoto, Pope.L, and many more.

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Edgy Memoirs

Open, Seminar—Fall

There are memoirs that people write when they’ve had a great acting career or been president of a large country. We read these for their historic/cultural value. Our interest is in the story of their lives. But another kind of memoir tries to tell another kind of truth. Those are more personal stories of dysfunction, addiction, oppression, and overcoming the odds. These stories may take us on alcoholic journeys or tales of abuse into scary families and scarier souls. They can also be funny, uplifting, and redemptive. In this workshop, we attempt to uncover that kind of truth; but this isn’t a class in autobiography; rather, it’s a class in telling a story. What differentiates these stories from other tales of grief and woe is that they are, quite simply, well-told. We will read memoirs by authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Kathryn Harrison, Garred Conley, Cathy Hong Park, David Sedaris, Nick Flynn, James McBride, and Jeanette Taylor, as well as memoirs by recent Sarah Lawrence graduates such as T Kira Madden and Anna Qu. And we will attempt to write one of our own. The emphasis will be on how to tell our stories. Exercises and prompts will be designed to help jumpstart you.

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