Psychology

How do infants navigate their world? How do factors as diverse as genetics, socioeconomic status, social networks, mindfulness practices, and access to open spaces contribute to how people cope with the problems of living? How do technology, architecture, language, and cultural practices affect how we think? What accounts for the global epidemic of mental health issues? What has psychology contributed to understanding genocide and torture? In what ways can psychologists illuminate the mystery of the creative process in science and art? How does morality develop? What factors determine our political, economic, and moral decisions? What happens in mind and body as we experience emotions? These reflect just a few of the questions discussed in our psychology courses, a sampling of the broad range covered in the psychology curriculum.

We offer courses from the domains of biological, clinical, cognitive, community, cultural, developmental, educational, experimental, health, personality, and social psychology. Our courses emphasize the interplay of theory and observation, research and analysis, understanding and applications. Our courses are also inherently interdisciplinary, making connections between psychology and other fields such as biology, anthropology, education, linguistics, public policy, public health, women’s studies, philosophy, and the arts. Students have a variety of choices as they design their independent conference work.

Some conference projects consist of reviewing and analyzing the primary research literature on a topic of interest. Others make experiential learning central to the independent work. We will offer these as they become available over the course of the 2021-2022 academic year. ​ Opportunities open to students include: assisting at our Early Childhood Center, in local schools, or at clinics; planning and carrying out original research in one of three psychology lab spaces on campus (the Child Study Lab, the Cognition and Emotion Lab, and the Adult Experimental Psychology Lab); working with community organizations in Yonkers, New York; and participating in environmental education at our Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB). Psychology is also a core component of two focused, semester-long, community-based academic programs: the Intensive Semester in Yonkers and Sarah Lawrence College’s Study Abroad Program in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ideas and skills developed in class and in conference often play a formative role in the intellectual and professional trajectories of students who go on to pursue these ideas in a wide range of fields, including clinical and research psychology, education, medicine, law, the arts, social work, human rights, and politics. Our alums tell us that the seminar and independent conference work here prepared them well for the challenges of both graduate school and their careers.

The college has two psychology-related graduate programs: Art of Teaching and Child Development. These offer the possibility for our undergraduate students to pursue both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years of study. The college also offers a dual-degree program with the New York University Silver School of Social Work, allowing Sarah Lawrence undergraduates to obtain a BA, a Master of Social Work, and an MA in Child Development in six years.

Psychology 2021-2022 Courses

First-Year Studies: The Senses: Art and Science

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

The perceiving mind is an incarnated mind. —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1964

Sensory perception is a vital component of the creation and experience of artistic works of all types. Investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for psychologists and neuroscientists developing understanding of brains, minds, and bodies. Recent work in brain science has moved us beyond the Aristotelian notion of five discrete senses to a view of the senses as more various and interconnected—with each other and with the fundamental psychological categories of perception, attention, emotion, memory, imagination, and judgment. What we call “taste” is a multisensory construction of “flavor” that relies heavily on smell, vision, and touch (mouth feel); “vision” refers to a set of semi-independent streams that specialize in the processing of color, object identity, or spatial layout and movement; “touch” encompasses a complex system of responses to different types of contact with the largest sensory organ—the skin; and “hearing” includes aspects of perception that are thought to be quintessentially human—music and language. Many other sensations are not covered by the standard five: for example, the senses of balance, of body position (proprioception) and ownership, feelings of pain arising from within the body, and feelings of heat or cold. Perceptual psychologists have suggested that the total count is closer to 17 than five. We will investigate all of these senses, their interactions with each other, and their intimate relationships with human emotion, memory, and imagination. Some of the questions that we will address are: Why are smells such potent memory triggers? What can visual art tell us about how the brain works and vice versa? Why is a caregiver’s touch so vital for psychological development? Why do foods that taste sublime to some people evoke feelings of disgust in others? Do humans have a poor sense of smell (and have the effects of COVID-19 changed our views of its importance)? Why does the word “feeling” refer to both bodily sensations and emotions? What makes a song “catchy” or “sticky”? Can humans learn to echolocate like bats? What is the role of body perception in mindfulness meditation? This is a good course for artists who like to think about science and for scientists with a feeling for art. This is a collaborative course, with small-group meetings held weekly in addition to the individual conference meetings held every other week. The main small-group, collaborative activity is a sensory lab where students will have the opportunity to explore their own sensory perceptions in a systematic way, investigating how they relate to language, memory, and emotion. Other group activities include mindful movement and other meditation practices for stress relief and emotional regulation, as well as occasional museum visits if these can be done safely.

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First-Year Studies: The Realities of Groups

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

One of the most important aspects of our lives is the web of group affiliations in which we engage. Groups are an inescapable aspect of our existence. From the very beginning of one’s life, the idea of group pervades most dimensions of our existence—from family structures to nation states. Groups orient, guide, and shape individual perceptions, interpretations, and actions in the social world. Several classic studies in social psychology have demonstrated that an individual is essentially, if not entirely, a product of the various groups to which he or she belongs. This first-year seminar explores the defining characteristics of groups and the extent to which we are indeed shaped by our groups. We will focus, in particular, on three questions: How and why do individuals come to form specific groups? What are the dynamics operating within the group, transforming it into a cohesive unit that is more than the sum of its parts? Which processes rule the interactions between groups; in particular, the “us” vs. “them” dimension? The first two questions will be the objects of discussion during the first semester. In the course of the second semester, we shall address the third question while also highlighting how the realities of groups get transformed in the emerging cultural context of the internet and social media.

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First-Year Studies: Emotions and Decisions

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

So many of our decisions, big or small, are influenced by our emotions—at times without our explicit knowledge or conscious awareness of their influence. Becoming aware of our emotions and improving the quality of our emotions (by increasing our overall well-being) may ultimately lead to an improvement in the types of choices that we make on a daily basis. In this FYS, we will explore the relationship between emotions and decisions. During the fall semester, we will read works in popular media, English literature, psychology, and behavioral economics to explore how emotions influence decisions in a variety of contexts, including personal, social/sexual, forensic, financial, and political realms. In the spring, we will approach the relationship between emotions and decisions by looking at the brain areas involved in generating, expressing, and regulating emotions and making decisions, along with the overlap of the brain’s involvement in those processes. Throughout the year, students will meet in biweekly conferences with the instructor and weekly small-group “collaboratives” with their peers that will include creative group activities, writing workshops, book/journal clubs, screenings, guest lectures, and hands-on labs.

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Developmental, Cognitive, Neuroscience: Varying Perspectives on the Mind

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

This course will serve as a broad introduction to the topics of cognitive science, cognitive development, and cognitive neuroscience. Through the lenses of these three disciplinese, we will look at the same question: How do humans think? By the end of the course, you should have an appreciation for how these three approaches differ in methods, outlook, and conclusions about the nature of the human mind.

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International Perspectives on Psychology

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

What does psychology look like outside of the United States? How does psychology operate across multiple cultures? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions as we explore multiple international perspectives of psychology. First, we will begin with an examination of the history of psychology as a field. Next, we will grapple with arguments for and against international psychology. Our course will explore the development of psychology in multiple parts of the world. Our readings will focus on tracing the roots of specific schools of psychology, such as liberation psychology and South African psychology, and examining case studies in India, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the former Soviet Union, and El Salvador. Readings may include perspectives from theorists such as Martin-Baro (liberation psychology), Sunil Bhatia (decolonizing psychology), Frantz Fanon (postcolonial theory and psychology), and Lev Vygotsky (cultural-historical psychology). Lastly, we will explore the role of international organizations and mental health, such as the WHO and the UN. In conference work, students will be encouraged to explore international perspectives of psychology beyond the examples discussed in class. This course is open to students interested in psychology, mental health, international relations, politics, regional studies, and anthropology.

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Crossing Borders and Boundaries: The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon, whereby people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course begins with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of sociological and social psychological research on immigrants. We then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will analyze the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will look at how the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

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Sleep Health and Well-Being

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

A key, and often-overlooked aspect of recharging is also one of the most obvious: getting enough sleep. There is nothing that negatively affects my productivity and efficiency more than lack of sleep. After years of burning the candle on both ends, my eyes have been opened to the value of getting some serious shuteye. —Arianna Huffington, Sarah Lawrence College Commencement Address, 2012

Though it is often marginalized in parts of contemporary culture, sleep makes much of waking life possible. While we might think of sleep as “down time,” our sleeping mind is hard at work—consolidating new memories, processing emotions, making creative connections, and even preparing for the future. Our physical body is restored, and our immune system is strengthened. Sleep deprivation and disordered sleep can have a catastrophic impact on health and well-being. Supporting sleep health can have profound impact on productivity, cognitive functioning, mood, and creative process. This mini-lecture will provide a basic overview of current sleep science, including: the two-process model of sleep-wake regulation; functions of the sleep phase; developmental sleep patterns; dreams and dreaming (including lucid dreaming); primary sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy); and the impact of anxiety, depression, and substance use (including caffeine and alcohol) on sleep. We will further explore topics such as sleep routine; sleep environment; racial, socioeconomic, and gender inequities in sleep access; sleep in the digital age (such as the impact of blue-light on circadian rhythms and the influence of video games on dreaming); and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sleep. Historical, developmental, neuropsychological, physiological, and cross-cultural perspectives on sleep and well-being will be considered. This class will meet for one lecture section and one smaller seminar/conference section per week. Conference work will be group-based and will include the opportunity to develop sleep strategies based on your group’s literature review and observations of your own sleep patterns.

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The Psychology and Neuroscience of Addictions

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

This course is a multidisciplinary overview of addiction. Although the primary focus of the course is substance-related addictions and use, the emerging literature regarding nonsubstance addictive behaviors (food, gambling, internet, gaming) will also be discussed. Explanations for addiction—spiritual, emotional, biological—have spanned the ages and remain controversial today. This course will explore the study of addiction from its historical roots to contemporary theory. Competing theories of substance abuse/addiction will be examined, with a focus on the individual with regard to cultural and societal concerns. This course presents a framework for understanding models of substance use and addiction, including neuropsychological advances, with a critical review of the evidence and controversies regarding each.  Students will be asked to think critically and constructively about the topic, eschewing dogma of any one approach to the treatment and understanding of substance abuse.  Readings will include literature from psychology and medicine to the arts, ethics, and the press. Adequate time will be spent introducing basic social and brain science as it pertains to later, more advanced examinations of exciting neurological research.

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Educational Psychology: What We Know About learning, How We Know It, and What That Means for Teaching

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This one-semester course will focus on what psychology can tell us about how we learn and, in turn, what those findings tell us about how to teach. The first half of the course will cover research from a learner’s perspective; the second half of the course will cover research from a teacher’s perspective. Over the course of the class, you will learn how to read primary-source research papers and will exercise that knowledge on seminal research spanning the history of educational psychology from 1901 to today. By the end of the course, you will be proficient in many theories of learning and instruction, including cognitive load theory, multimedia learning theory, and theories of motivation in learning. Other discussion topics will include (but are not limited to): How do children of all ages learn reading, writing, mathematics, and science? How does learning differ by age and by topic? Are learners passive vesicles or active constructors of knowledge? What teaching methods do we know to be effective? Is there consensus among researchers about what is and is not effective? How do we know a student has learned, and how do we measure “learning”? What are the barriers to incorporating evidence-based best practices into real classrooms? While the readings each week will be seminal papers in the field, I invite discussions to be critical of these sources, to evaluate how generalizable or actionable the findings are, to compare how research recommendations differ from your own experience in your K-12 education, and to question whether the research methods used capture the complexity of the experience of learning. By the end of the course, you should have a greater appreciation for the Sarah Lawrence system of learning and instruction from a pedagogical point of view. This is an open-level course and should be equally interesting whether this is your first psychology class or whether you plan to pursue graduate school in this field.

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Social Development

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

Some of the most interesting and most important pieces of knowledge that a child will ever learn are not taught in school. So it is with the child’s social world. Unlike “reading, writing, and ’rithmetic,” there is no “Social Thinking 101.” Further, by the time children reach school age, they have already spent years learning the “lessons of life” and affecting those around them. This course will explore the social world of the child from birth through adolescence, focusing upon three main areas: parent-child relations, gender-role development, and moral development. Within parenting, we will examine issues such as different parenting “styles,” the long-term consequences of divorce, and the “hurrying” of children to achieve major milestones at ever-earlier ages. Within the topic of sex-role development, we will read about the role of powerful socialization forces, including the mass media, and the socialization pressures that children place upon themselves and each other. Within moral development, we will study the growth of moral emotions such as empathy, shame, and guilt, along with the role of gender and culture in shaping our sense of right and wrong. Conference work may include field placement at the Early Childhood Center or other venues, as interactions with real children will be encouraged.

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Childhood Across Cultures

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

In this seminar, we will explore child and adolescent development through a cross-cultural lens. Focusing on case studies from diverse communities around the world, we will look at the influence of cultural processes on how children learn, play, and grow. Our core readings will analyze psychological processes related to attachment and parenting, cognition and perception, social and emotional development, language acquisition, and moral development. We will ask questions like the following: Why are children in Sri Lanka fed by hand by their mothers until middle childhood, and how does that shape their relations to others through the life course? How does an Inuit toddler come to learn moral lessons through scripted play with adults, and how does such learning prepare them to navigate a challenging social and geographic environment? Is it true that Maya children don’t do pretend play at all? How does parental discipline shape the expression of emotion for children in Morocco? How does a unique family role influence the formation of identity for Latinx youth in the United States? Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, our course material will draw from developmental psychology, human development, cultural psychology, and psychological anthropology and will include peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and films that address core issues in a range of geographic and sociocultural contexts. Students will conduct conference projects related to the central topics of our course and may opt to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center.

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Play and Imagination

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

Children’s play is considered the primary mode of communication for all children. This course examines children’s embodied storytelling, imaginative drawings, toys, and free play, as children themselves rarely separate play from the arts. A sophisticated set of processes often trivialized, psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith states, “The flexibility of the imagination, of play, and of the playful is the ultimate guarantor of our survival” (1997). Topics to be addressed include: play in the time of COVID, play aggression and trauma, and access to play as a social-justice issue. The course may involve observational fieldwork and online toy study, as we examine children’s opportunities for play, learning, and development. Students will read critical works in the psychology of play and recent cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research. There will be discussions, documentaries, and class presentations. Conference projects may relate to a literature review about a topic of interest, an original study, and/or a creative piece reflecting course insights and imaginings.

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Objects and Memory

Open, Small seminar—Fall | 3 credits

Why do we hold on to certain things and not others? Why do some objects have the power to evoke personal memories, while others leave us cold? Roland Barthes described certain objects as having “punctum,” and Marie Kondo tells us that a select few “spark joy.” In this course, we will learn firsthand about the relationship between objects and memory from residents and staff at the Wartburg Nursing Home by developing a multimedia project called “A History of Wartburg in 100 Objects.” Students will work to pilot this project, partnering with Wartburg to discover how objects can help unlock memories. Working together, students in this course will create a bibliography of relevant texts on the topic of objects and memory, produce an oral history of an object with a partner at Wartburg, and contribute to the infrastructure of the larger project. While developing the project, we will read a selection of literary and theoretical works by Roland Barthes, Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf, and others to understand the role of objects in preserving, accessing, and sharing memories. We will meet once a week to discuss course readings, connect with seniors and staff, and develop the multimedia project. The location of our meetings will alternate between our classroom on campus and meetings at Wartburg in Mount Vernon. This class will include a community-based component working with an adult care community at Wartburg.

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Virtually Yours: Relating and Reality in the Digital Age

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Over the past several years, digital spaces—such as social media, messaging apps, dating apps, and online communities—have transformed the ways in which we experience ourselves and each other. As the COVID-19 pandemic sent much of daily life online, this process was accelerated and amplified—providing the benefits of connection for some, challenges for others, and highlighting disparities in access for many. This semester, we will discuss this impact and process the path forward through emerging research and relevant observations. This seminar will consider how various digital platforms (e.g., social media, gaming communities, dating apps, messaging and video chats, virtual reality) impact the ways in which people navigate identity, build and maintain important relationships, form communities, and create a shared reality. Classes will be both discussion-based and experiential, with opportunities for observation and in-class activities related to weekly topics. Class reading will include psychological perspectives on social media and video games; gender, sexuality, and race in the digital age; developmental, neuropsychological, and clinical psychology and related fields. Reading assignments will include both academic literature and relevant popular media. Supplemental material will include films, TedTalks, and podcasts. Conference projects may include a range of topics and may be completed in the form of an extended, APA-style literature review or as an APA-style literature review along with a related podcast, fieldwork observations, and/or another original creative piece. Students who are interested in completing a semester-long, weekly fieldwork placement in the SLC Early Childhood Center (ECC) as part of their conference work (e.g. observing children in a screen-free environment over time) may have the opportunity to do so. NOTE: ECC fieldwork positions are limited due to COVID-19 precautions. If you are interested in a potential ECC placement, you will need to contact the ECC Director, Lorayne Carbon, as soon as you are registered for this class and prior to classes beginning. If you are able to secure an ECC fieldwork placement, please note that this will be a semester-long commitment. You will be expected to attend your scheduled ECC placement for four hours each week, work closely with your classroom teacher, and actively engage in your role as a classroom assistant.

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Psychocinematics: Film, Psychology, and Neuroscience

Open, Small seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Why are movies so compelling to us? When you think about it, it is odd to spend so much time sitting still in a chair, in the dark, staring at a flat screen and watching flickering light, without the possibility of interacting with the depicted characters or affecting their actions in any way. Philosophers posit that movies tap into our dream mechanisms. Psychologist Ed Tan calls films “emotion machines.” Neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks claims that movies hijack evolutionary mechanisms of mind that evolved for other purposes. In this perceptual psychology course, our focus will be on how study of fundamental faculties of mind and body—perception, attention, emotion, and memory—can inform our experience of viewing and, perhaps, making movies. Switching point of view, we will also investigate how study of film can advance our understanding of the workings of perception, attention, emotion, and memory. We will watch some films together and discuss examples from many others that you select and present to the seminar group. This is a good course for people who are interested in interdisciplinary work that integrates artistic and scientific approaches to the material at hand.

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Urban Health

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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.

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Food Environments, Health, and Social Justice

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

With a growing awareness of health disparities and inequity in food access, researchers and policymakers are rethinking the role of the environment in shaping our diets and health. This course takes a collaborative approach to investigating some of the key issues guiding this area of research and action. Students will critically review literature on food environments, food access, and health inequities and explore how modes of food production and distribution shape patterns of food availability and consumption in cities. Students will use photography and video to examine foods available in the neighborhoods where they live, review news articles and media related to the course themes, and reflect on the ways that their own eating habits are influenced by the social and material settings of their day-to-day lives. The course concludes with students writing letters to the editor/op-eds to a news outlet of their choice, with suggestions about how to move forward with action to improve food access, public health, and social justice in the places where they live.

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Finding Happiness and Keeping It: Insights From Psychology and Neuroscience

Open, Large seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Happiness is more than a feeling; rather, it is a state of well-being that should ideally last a lifetime. We all want happy lives filled with meaning and satisfaction. Yet, for many of us, happiness can be hard to obtain with regularity or to sustain over a long period of time. Why is that? We can look to years of evidence from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, which tell us that, on average, we are mentally unprepared to: (1) predict what will make us happy, and (2) engage in behaviors that are known to make us happier. Like exercising to improve physical health, it takes sustained cognitive effort to overcome those tendencies in order to improve our mental health. This course will cover the psychological and brain-based factors for why happiness feels so fleeting and what we can do to build better and more productive habits that have been shown to lead to longer-term maintenance of a positive mood and well-being. Students will read foundational work in the field of positive psychology by Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Edward Diener, Daniel Kahneman, and others. We will also discuss studies in neuroscience that show how behavioral interventions like those and others work by altering the brain’s structure and function (just like building stronger muscles after exercising). Through weekly, small-group conferences, students will apply evidence-based practices, such as bringing order and organization to their daily lives, expressing gratitude, and building social bonds (i.e., “cross training” for the mind) in activities called “Re-wirements.” For the final project, called “Unlearning Yourself,” students will learn to undo or replace a negative habit (e.g., overspending, social-media use, poor sleep hygiene, complaining, procrastinating) by establishing a plan to introduce evidence-based practices for sustained well-being in their daily lives. By the end of this course, students will have gained the ability to sift through the ever-booming literature on positive psychology and neuroscience to identify the practices that work best for them, as well as an appreciation for the notion that deriving and sustaining happiness and well-being requires intentional practice and maintenance.

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Mental Health and the Global Pandemic

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

The COVID-19 pandemic and the related impact has greatly affected many people’s mental health. The pandemic has widened already existing disparities in access to therapeutic services and supports. Therapy, schools, and work largely went virtual (yet, unequally). Systematic oppression was on full display, with an outpouring of public action and unrest. The death toll mounted and, with it, many were personally affected by the grief that ensued. Many of us have been glued to our screens as much of this tragedy has unfolded, with journalists, bloggers, and therapists writing poignantly about this last year of challenge, loss, and grief. This course will explore the research in psychology regarding the above issues and questions. As 2021 advances to 2022, academics and clinicians alike are starting to investigate and publish regarding these concerns, with the tools of research beyond individual observation. Students in this course will undertake an in-depth exploration of this research as it is unfolding.

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Immigration and Identity

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This course asks how contemporary immigration shapes individual and collective identity across the life course. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach that bridges cross-cultural psychology, human development, and psychological anthropology, we will ask how people’s movement across borders and boundaries transforms their senses of self, as well as their interpersonal relations and connections to community. We will analyze how the experience of immigration is affected by the particular intersections of racial, ethnic, class, gender, generational, and other boundaries that immigrants cross. For example, how do 1.5-generation undocumented youth navigate the constraints imposed by “illegalized” identities, and how do they come to construct new self-perceptions? How might immigrants acculturate or adapt to new environments, and how does the process of moving from home or living “in between” two or more places impact mental health? Through our close readings and seminar discussions on this topic, we seek to understand how different forms of power—implemented across realms, including state-sponsored surveillance and immigration enforcement, language and educational policy, health and social services—shape and constrain immigrants’ understanding of their place in the world and their experience of exclusion and belonging. In our exploration of identity, we will attend to the ways in which immigrants are left out of national narratives, as well as the ways in which people who move across borders draw on cultural resources to create spaces and practices of connection, protection, and continuity despite the disruptive effects of immigration. In tandem with our readings, we will welcome scholar/activist guest speakers, who will present their current work in the field.

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Theories of the Creative Process

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

The creative process is paradoxical. It involves freedom and spontaneity yet requires expertise and hard work. The creative process is self-expressive yet tends to unfold most easily when the creator forgets about self. The creative process brings joy yet is fraught with fear, frustration, and even terror.The creative process is its own reward yet depends on social support and encouragement. In this class, we look at how various thinkers conceptualize the creative process—chiefly in the arts but in other domains, as well. We see how various psychological theorists describe the process, its source, its motivation, its roots in a particular domain or skill, its cultural context, and its developmental history in the life of the individual. Among the thinkers that we will consider are Freud, Jung, Arnheim, Franklin, and Gardner. Different theorists emphasize different aspects of the process. In particular, we see how some thinkers emphasize persistent work and expert knowledge as essential features while others emphasize the need for the psychic freedom to “let it happen” and speculate on what emerges when the creative person “lets go.” Still others identify cultural context or biological factors as critical. To concretize theoretical approaches, we look at how various ideas can contribute to understanding specific creative people and their work. In particular, we will consider works written by or about Picasso, Woolf, Welty, Darwin, and some contemporary artists and writers. Though creativity is most frequently explored in individuals, we also consider group improvisation in music and theatre. Some past conference projects have involved interviewing people engaged in creative work. Others consisted of library studies centering on the life and work of a particular creative person. Some students chose to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and focus on an aspect of creative activity in young children.

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Speaking the Unspeakable: Trauma, Emotion, Cognition, and Language

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Psychological trauma has been described as unspeakable—so cognitively disorganizing and intense that it is difficult to put the experience and the emotions it evokes into words. Yet, the language that survivors use to describe their traumas provides insight into the impact of trauma and the process of recovery. This course will begin with an overview of theories of trauma, resilience, and post-traumatic growth, as well as an introduction to the study of trauma narratives and how language reflects emotional and cognitive functioning. We will then explore the cognitive, emotional, and biological impact of undergoing a trauma and how those changes are reflected in the language that trauma survivors use as they speak and write about their experiences. We will consider works by experts on trauma and language, including Judith Herman, Bessel van der Kolk, and James Pennebaker, as well as current research in the field of trauma and trauma narratives. Through these readings, we will address topics such as what makes an experience traumatic, how representations of trauma in popular culture color our perceptions of trauma and recovery, the role of resilience and growth following a trauma, and what we can learn from attending to the content and structure of language. This course will be of interest to students who are curious about how the words that we use reflect our cognitive and emotional functioning—and especially for students interested in pursuing topics such as these at an advanced or graduate level.

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Care Work

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

What kind of work is care work? Is it a form of labor? Of love? Is caretaking a social or individual responsibility? And who pays for it? This course questions the role of caretaking in modern societies through a range of literary and sociological texts. We begin with the premise that caretaking is both fundamental to a functioning society and also grossly devalued. This devaluation is marked by the poor pay associated with caretaking professions, as well as the gendering and racializing of caretaking responsibilities. This course will draw on recent writing in disability studies, gender studies, political theory, and ethnic studies, as well as literary works such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, to consider the experience of both the individuals performing care work and those who require their care. We will discuss terms, like self-care and prenatal care, that have become commonplace but that we often encounter as marketing concepts that have been stripped of their origins. This course aims to situate the concept of caring into historical, political, and aesthetic contexts. Reading work by Audre Lorde, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Silvia Federici, and others, students are encouraged to imagine the future of care work in a changing society. This is a five-credit seminar that includes a community-based component working with an adult care community at Wartburg Nursing Home in Mount Vernon. As part of the course, you will partner with a senior at Wartburg to complete an oral history, podcast, and catalogue entry for a digital exhibition.

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Perspectives on Child Development

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

A noted psychologist once said, “What you see depends on how you look.” Our subject is the worlds of childhood; and, in this class, we try out the lenses of different psychological theories to highlight different aspects of those worlds. Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, and Stern provide differing perspectives on emotional development. Skinner, Bandura, Piaget, and Vygotsky present various approaches to the problems of learning and cognition. Chess and her colleagues take up the issues of temperament and its interaction with experience. Chomsky and others deal with the development of language. We will read the theorists closely for their answers but also for their questions, asking which aspects of childhood each theory throws into focus. We will also examine some systematic studies that developmental psychologists have carried out to confirm, test, and critique various theories: studies of mother-infant relationships, the development of cognition and language, and the emergence of intersubjectivity. In several of these domains, studies done in cultures other than our own cast light on the question of universality versus cultural specificity in development. Direct observation is an important complement to theoretical readings. All students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or find some other opportunity for observing and interacting with children. As part of the seminar, we will at times draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts. The fieldwork will also provide the basis for developing conference work. Ideally, conference projects combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the many diverse projects students have designed in the past are topics such as children’s friendships, the meanings of block building, and how young children use language.

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Doing Research With Young People

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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.

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Art and Visual Perception

Open, Large seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience. In this large seminar, you will meet weekly in small groups (five-to-seven students) to design a collaborative conference work that curates an in-depth perceptual museum tour. Individual conference meetings will be held only twice over the course of the semester.

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Environmental Psychology: An Exploration of Space and Place

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This course explores human-environment interactions and the relationships between and among natural, social, and built environments in shaping us as individuals. We will critically explore human interactions from the body, the home, and the local to the globalized world, with a return to the individual experience of our physical and social environments. As a survey course, we will cover myriad topics, which may include informal family caregiving, urban/rural/suburban relationships, gentrification, urban planning, environmental sustainability, globalization, and social justice, as well as varying conceptualizations and experiences of “home,” based on gender, race, class, and age and for people with disabilities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will give special consideration to public space and home environments. As a discussion-based seminar, topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Several films will be incorporated into class.

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Emerging Adulthood

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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.

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Moral Development

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits | Remote

For thousands of years, philosophers have struggled with the questions surrounding the issue of morality. Over the past hundred years, psychologists have joined the fray. While many theories exist, a unifying theme centers upon the notion that childhood is the crucible in which morality is formed and forged. In this course, we will explore the major theories dealing with three aspects of the development of morality: moral thought, or reasoning (e.g., Piaget, Kohlberg); moral feelings (psychoanalytic approaches, including Freud, and the modern work on the importance of empathy and mirror neurons); and moral actions, or behavior (behaviorism, social-learning theory). In addition, we will investigate the possible relations among these three aspects of moral development. For example: How is moral thought connected to moral action? Throughout the course, we will relate moral development theory to the results of research investigations into this crucial aspect of child development. Conference work may include direct experience with children or adolescents in the form of either detailed observations or direct interaction (interviews, etc.).

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The Psychology of Social Influence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Individuals are often influenced by others and by the social situations in which they find themselves. Social influence refers to the processes by which a person or group changes, or attempts to change, the opinions, beliefs, and/or behaviors of another person or group. This process can be either intentional or unintentional. In this seminar, we will examine the basic concepts, theories, and applications of social influence by reviewing four of its key areas: conformity, innovation, compliance, and obedience. Additionally, we will explore some related topics to demonstrate the pervasive nature of social influence. The topics to be addressed include attitude measurement and attitude change, propaganda, cults, subliminal persuasion, and the use and abuse of persuasion in our current social context. The seminar will make use of case studies and situations in daily life to better illustrate how social influence works.

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The Mind-Body Connection: Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, and your pupils dilate—all at once. Is this because you are exercising? Or did someone you really like just enter the room? Psychophysiology is the experimental study of these bodily, or peripheral, signals, which are theorized to be important “read-outs” of a person’s emotional state (e.g., fear, happiness, anger). In this course, students will gain a foundational understanding of the biological processes that give rise to peripheral autonomic arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses, brain activity) and how those responses are naturally regulated by the brain and body in a process called homeostasis. We will also survey the brain areas that may be responsible for “catching,” or incorporating, signals from the periphery and ascribing meaning to those signals, which can often happen much later than the time of the event that provoked those bodily responses. We will focus on studies of individuals with brain damage, specifically in brain areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (from work by Antonio Damasio and others) and the insula (from work by Sahib Khalsa and others). In so doing, we will discuss major theories of emotion and the mind-body connection, including the James-Lange Theory, the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (Damasio), and the Neurovisceral Integration Model (Thayer & Lane), among others. Through in-class labs and conference work, students will learn how to measure the peripheral markers of arousal and relate those signals to emotionally provocative events and brain activity. Toward the latter third of the class, students will be in charge of leading discussions around applications of psychophysiology in social interactions, sleep and dreaming, decision-making and consumerism, psychopathology (mental health), and social justice.

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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.

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Childhood Across Cultures

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will explore child and adolescent development through a cross-cultural lens. Focusing on case studies from diverse communities around the world, we will look at the influence of cultural processes on how children learn, play, and grow. Our core readings will analyze psychological processes related to attachment and parenting, cognition and perception, social and emotional development, language acquisition, and moral development. We will ask questions like the following: Why are children in Sri Lanka fed by hand by their mothers until middle childhood, and how does that shape their relations to others through the life course? How does an Inuit toddler come to learn moral lessons through scripted play with adults, and how does such learning prepare them to navigate a challenging social and geographic environment? Is it true that Maya children don’t do pretend play at all? How does parental discipline shape the expression of emotion for children in Morocco? How does a unique family role influence the formation of identity for Latinx youth in the United States? Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, our course material will draw from developmental psychology, human development, cultural psychology, and psychological anthropology and will include peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and films that address core issues in a range of geographic and sociocultural contexts. Students will conduct conference projects related to the central topics of our course and may opt to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center.

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Telling Lives: Life History in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

Through studying life-history narratives (one person’s life as narrated to another), autobiographical memoir, archival documents, and more experimental forms in print and on screen, we will explore the diverse ways that life courses are experienced and represented. Throughout our readings, we will carefully examine the narratives themselves, paying attention to the techniques of life-history construction and familiarizing ourselves with ethical, methodological, and theoretical challenges. We will consider a number of questions about telling lives: What is the relationship between the narrator and his or her interlocutor(s)? How does a life-history approach inform debates about representation? What can the account of one person’s life tell us about the wider culture of which he or she is a part? How can individual life narratives shed light on issues such as poverty, sexuality, colonialism, disability, racism, and aging? The selected texts attend to lives in various parts of the world, including Australia, Great Britain, the Caribbean, East Africa, and the United States. Students will also analyze primary sources and create a life history as part of their work for the course.

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Immigration and Identity

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This course asks how contemporary immigration shapes individual and collective identity across the life course. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach that bridges cross-cultural psychology, human development, and psychological anthropology, we will ask how people’s movement across borders and boundaries transforms their sense of self, as well as their interpersonal relations and connections to community. We will analyze how the experience of immigration is affected by the particular intersections of racial, ethnic, class, gender, generational, and other boundaries that immigrants cross. For example, how do 1.5-generation undocumented youth navigate the constraints imposed by “illegalized” identities, and how do they come to construct new self-perceptions? How might immigrants acculturate or adapt to new environments, and how does the process of moving from home or living “in between” two or more places impact mental health? Through our close readings and seminar discussions on this topic, we seek to understand how different forms of power—implemented across realms including state-sponsored surveillance and immigration enforcement, language and educational policy, health and social services—shape and constrain immigrants’ understanding of their place in the world and their experience of exclusion and belonging. In our exploration of identity, we will attend to the ways in which immigrants are left out of national narratives, as well as the ways in which people who move across borders draw on cultural resources to create spaces and practices of connection, protection, and continuity despite the disruptive effects of immigration. In tandem with our readings, we will welcome scholar/activist guest speakers, who will present their current work in the field.

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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.

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Children, Families, and Identity

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Many factors contribute to the socialization of children. Teachers’ understandings of family culture and the interconnections between identity and learning are crucial to children’s success in the classroom and central to the content of this course. We will study how families affect the development of children, for no other unit of analysis more richly displays gender, social, and cultural factors and their influence on individual behavior and development. Today, children spend more time than ever before in early childhood programs and grade schools. We will investigate how families and schools provide a framework for the exploration of the social world and socialize children according to cultural norms. Adverse childhood experiences, trauma, and learning are intertwined in the context of the child’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development. In order for teachers to be equipped to help their students in the areas of stress regulation and safety, we will review the impact of toxic stress as well as the range of environmental factors that inhibit children’s development and learning (including poverty and violence). We will also examine racial and gender identity development in young children. Through readings and case-study analyses, students will explore the importance of teachers’ understanding of the complexities of the lives of children and families in order to better prepare for the challenges of the classroom.

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Foundations of Education

Intermediate, Large seminar—Fall

This course will explore multiple lenses through which we view the concept of education, including theoretical, historical, political, sociological, and cultural perspectives. We will begin by considering the historical roots of contemporary education, with particular emphasis on the history of public education in the United States. Drawing on a variety of readings, films, and in-class projects, we will examine constructs of diversity including race, class, culture, language, ability, gender, and sexual identity and discover ways to create an inclusive learning environment for students and their families. The work of John Dewey and other progressive educators will provide a basis for looking at democratic ideals and “pendulum swings” in American education, including current debates concerning standards, testing practices, and political agendas. Throughout the course, students will be asked to reflect on their own school experiences and fieldwork observations in order to make connections between historical and current educational practices.

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Genetics

Open, Seminar—Fall

At the biological core of all life on Earth is the gene. The unique combination of genes in each individual ultimately forms the basis for that person’s physical appearance, metabolic capacity, thought processes, and behavior. Therefore, in order to understand how life develops and functions, it is critical to understand what genes are, how they work, and how they are passed on from parents to offspring. In this course, we will begin by investigating the theories of inheritance first put forth by Mendel and then progress to our current concepts of how genes are transmitted through individuals, families, and whole populations. We will also examine chromosome structure, the molecular functions of genes and DNA, and how mutations in DNA can lead to physical abnormalities and diseases such as Down and Turner syndromes or hemophilia. Finally, we will discuss the role of genetics in influencing such complex phenotypes as behavior and intelligence. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Neurological Disorders

Open, Seminar—Fall

Disorders of the brain are often devastating. They can disrupt key characteristics of life, from memory formation and retrieval to communication and personality to execution of movements, including those necessary for breathing. In this course, we will learn about the brain in health and disease by exploring the neuroscience of neurological disorders. We will study Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, lytico-bodig, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and autism spectrum disorder. We will consider these disorders holistically and from a biological point of view. We will explore the lived experience of the affected and their loved ones. We will see how symptoms of the disorders can be understood by studying what is known about the neural tissues, cells, and molecules that are dysfunctional in the disease state. We will explore what is known about the genetic or environmental underpinnings of the disorders and any current treatments available. Readings will be drawn from the writings of the prominent neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, in addition to magazine articles, scientific studies, and relevant films that complement and expand upon Sacks’ descriptions of brain function.

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Clinical Perspectives: Challenges to Child and Adolescent Development

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This seminar will focus on challenges that arise in child and adolescent development, drawing upon approaches in clinical psychology, developmental psychology, and cultural psychology/clinical ethnography. We will analyze how particular psychological experiences and behaviors have been typically understood as abnormal or pathological. We will also explore critical commentaries on clinical diagnosis and treatment in order to analyze the merits and drawbacks of the common approaches to these issues. Students will learn about the clinical categories of conditions such as ADHD, autism, depression, and anxiety, as compiled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). We will look at case studies to illuminate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, course, and treatment of such psychological conditions in childhood and adolescence. Through reading firsthand accounts written by patients, families, and advocates, as well as cross-cultural studies that examine the neurodiversity of psychological experience, students will also be invited to question the universal applicability of Western clinical approaches that rest on particular assumptions about normality, behavior, social relations, human rights, and health. We will also explore how diagnostic processes and psychological and psychiatric care are, at times, differentially applied in the United States according to the client’s race/ethnicity, class, and gender and how clinicians might effectively address such disparities in diagnosis and care. Students will complete conference projects related to the central themes of our course and may opt to work at the Early Childhood Center or a local community program that serves children or adolescents.

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Artificial Intelligence and Society

Open, Seminar—Spring

In recent years, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) has made astonishing technical progress and has begun to assume an increasingly widespread and important role in society. AI systems can now (at least to some extent) drive cars; recognize human faces, speech, and gestures; diagnose diseases; control autonomous robots; instantly translate text from one language to another; beat world-champion human players at chess, Go, and other games; and perform many other amazing feats that just a few decades ago were only possible within the realm of science fiction. This progress has led to extravagant expectations, claims, hopes, and fears about the future of AI technology and its potential impact on society. In this course, we will attempt to peer beyond the hype and to come to grips with both the promise and the peril of AI. We will consider AI from many angles, including historical, philosophical, ethical, and public-policy perspectives. We will also examine many of the technical concepts and achievements of the field in detail, as well as its many failures and setbacks. Throughout the course, students will be asked to read texts, write responses, do follow-up research, and participate in classroom discussions. This is not a programming course, and no background in computer programming is expected or required.

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Psychopathology

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This course is designed to provide students with a base of knowledge in psychopathology and to familiarize students with current conceptions and empirical findings in psychopathology research. Beginning with the question of how abnormality is defined, we will explore contemporary perspectives on psychopathology and focus more specifically on psychological disorders, their development and treatment, and controversies within the field. Additionally, this course will focus on the physiologic and motoric manifestations of illness, the role of dance/movement therapy in treatment, and challenges particular to dance/movement therapy intervention. This course will use the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. Reading of the current manual will include discussion of recent changes and the impact on diagnostic understanding and treatment formulation.

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Human Growth and Development

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This course will focus on select features of development in infancy and early childhood. In particular, students will explore the developmental basis of mirroring; attunement and kinesthetic empathy; and the implications for social, cognitive, and emotional functioning. Students will gain a broader understanding of the relationships between early childhood experiences and behavior, which will provide a foundation for the use of developmental intervention in the practice of dance/movement therapy.

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The Environmental Imagination: Perspectives From the Social Sciences, Environmental Humanities, and the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

“Climate change” covers a variety of hydrological, thermal, geological, and atmospheric crises that are intersecting and accelerating in scope and intensity. Inspired by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOvBv8RLmo) performing her poem Earthrise, this course invites a conversation that draws together the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts: a journey through the global climate crisis on a variety of scales, in specific contexts, and through diverse media. Fiction and nonfiction writing, history, and film will be drawn upon to investigate understandings of an epoch controversially called “the Anthropocene.”  What do these different perspectives, methods, and insights bring to our perceptions of specific environments? How do different rhetorical formations, imaginaries, narratives, and visual images inform cognitive and affective responses to the Anthropocene?  What do they bring to our understanding of the global environmental emergency that is the signature of this moment in planetary history? How do interventions in the arts and humanities constitute acts of “world-making”—new ways of seeing, feeling, and imagining human ways of caring for this planet? In conjunction with the literatures of political ecology and cultural anthropology, we will read fiction by authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Stanislas Lem; nonfiction by Robert MacFarlane (Underlands), Ben Ehrenreich (Desert Notebooks), Joseph Masco (irradiated landscapes in the American West), Kate Brown (Plutopia), and Madeleine Watts (The Inland Sea).

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Media Lab: Youth Education and Community Engagement

Open, Seminar—Year

This yearlong course is designed for students with a strong interest in community work and digital-media production. We’ll explore new forms of research creation and pedagogical, performative mode of engagement by considering the role of digital media in making new connections, building friendships, and forging communities. We’ll begin the year by examining the relation of aesthetics to politics and exploring the myriad ways in which theory and praxis can inform one another—with special attention to digital-media pedagogy. Students will engage in a series of short exercises that will equip them with the basic skills needed for digital-media production. Students will then have the opportunity to put those skills into practice, as we design a new kind of after-school program and host a digital-media workshop for youth in consultation with the College’s community partners in Westchester (schedules and groups TBD). This course asks students to play the role of teaching artists, integrating their art form, perspectives, and skills into the community setting. Students will team up to teach and support youth participants to create short audio (fall) and multimedia pieces (spring) through which they show and tell stories about themselves and their communities. All workshops will take place on campus for four Saturdays in the first semester (in October and November) and possibly more in the second semester. This format will allow us to cultivate emerging moments of coming together that vitalize creative making, as well as to find innovative ways to share what was learned from the teaching experience. This interdisciplinary and practice-based course invites students from all disciplines. No prior experience in teaching and/or media production is required.

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Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and storytelling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all of the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tale, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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The Philosophy of Music

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

Music is central to most of our lives. How can we understand the experience of music? What does music express? If it expresses emotions, how do those emotions relate to the emotions that we experience in everyday life? Can music without words express emotions with as much clarity as music with words? As a background to these questions, we will look at issues concerning the nature and experience of art in general. We will examine the views of writers such as Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, Dewey, and Adorno and compare how they understand the role of art in society, as well as our own experiences. The musical repertory will include medieval and Renaissance music, music by Bach, songs by Schubert, and examples from the symphonic repertory by composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. We will study those works using the techniques of formal analysis that are generally used in music-history classes but also attempt to draw out the many contextual threads: How are they embedded in a culture, and how do they reflect the temperament and orientation of the composers? While most of our musical examples will be from the classical repertory, other styles will occasionally be relevant. The goals of the class are to understand how musical and philosophical thought can illuminate each other and to deepen our awareness of the range and power of music. No prior knowledge of music theory or history is required; we will introduce and define the terms we need as the class proceeds.

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Buddhist Meditation

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

Throughout history, most branches of the Buddhist tradition have embraced the idea that a deluded apprehension of one’s “self” and of the “things” that make up one’s world is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsara). On a more mundane level, Buddhists have generally held that regulating the “mind”—the deep-seated nexus of habitual responses, proclivities, and beliefs that filters our perceptions and directs our actions—is the key to achieving individual satisfaction and social harmony and justice. Thus, whether the aim is ultimate salvation, happiness in this life, or simply the attainment of material benefits, Buddhists have often prescribed some program of sustained mental discipline—some kind of “meditation” practice—as the best means of working toward the goal. But “Buddhist meditation” is only a loose rubric that covers a wide range of different practices—as, for example, techniques for calming the mind and entering into trance; procedures for the systematic philosophical analysis of ultimate reality; mental exercises meant to suppress negative emotions (e.g., anger) and foster positive ones (e.g., loving kindness); the cultivation of “mindfulness,” in which one strives to maintain a constant, detached awareness of one’s own physical and mental states without trying to change them; mental exercises for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; the visualization of deities, performed in conjunction with devotional prayer; the “investigation of words” attributed to Zen masters, also known as koan practice; and so on. In this course, we examine a selection of texts deriving from the Indian, Southeast Asian, East Asian, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions that treat these different types of meditation. Readings are in English translation.

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Theories of Agency and Action in Science Studies

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course surveys a rich historical debate in science, technology, and society studies on the nature of agency—or the motivation behind, and responsibility for, action. The lecture course begins with an exploration of the nature of scientific fact, including how discoveries are made and how they become accepted in society. We will pay special attention to the concepts of co-production, the idea that humans and technologies work together, and situated action, the reality that actions are rooted in social context, to study how technologies become central to social interaction. This grounding theory will lay a foundation for students to consider an ongoing debate on the distinction between human and nonhuman action. The course culminates with an exploration of three contemporary discussions on the nature of agency with respect to automated weapons systems, assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and the use of algorithms to order social life. For each topic, we will consider how technologies influence social interaction and who or what is responsible when things go wrong. In group conference, students will practice analyzing how technologies shape social interaction through a series of “object readings,” short analyses of a single technological object. These assignments are designed to prepare students for a final group analysis of a technology of their choice.

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Site/Situation

Open, Seminar—Spring

Like the body, a sculpture is always somewhere. Movable or fixed, permanent or ephemeral, sculptural work is indivisible from the space in which it is experienced—a space that we, too, inhabit. Over the semester, students in this course will engage in progressively complex interactions with object, space, and site. Our first site will be a sheet of paper for “conversational” works with a partner. The course will end with students engaging in independently conceived interactions with a specific site (thinking of “site,” broadly, as the place where the work “resides”). Throughout, we will look at diverse examples of “installation” from throughout art history and a range of texts that take on the relationship of artist and site. And we will make at least one trip to museums and galleries in New York City. We will also discuss the process and possibilities of documentation (through photography, video, writing, and even speaking) as a part of the life and experience of the work.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Two Lenses on Writing

Open, FYS—Year

The first semester of this FYS course will be focused on words and pictures, with its central lens on stories: how to find them, tell them, and make your listener, viewer, or reader come along with you. The course includes adding a visual element, photography, drawing, paste-ups, collage, animations, anime. We will read and then make a few of the following: a collective graphic novel, some children's books, adult books with pictures, illuminated manuscripts, comics. Your conference work will be a finished version of a project of your choice. The second semester of the course will be a class in episodes: pieces of a continuing story that follow a thread but may have different leading characters in each episode; or a frame, with many peoples' stories inside; or movement from one time, place, and set of characters to another. We will bring in and discuss episodes that we love in books, TV, podcasts. We will do exercises until we come upon something that engages us and then start our conference work, which will involve six episodes, more or less. In both semesters, we will have an extra meeting every other week to discuss whatever comes up: paper writing, social issues, food, procrastination. These sessions may be led by the professor, outside speakers, or a rotating group of students.

Faculty