Public Policy

Sarah Lawrence College’s public policy program addresses the most pressing public policy issues of our time, including promoting peace, protecting the environment, providing education and health services, and safeguarding human and workers’ rights. Supported by the College’s Office of Community Partnerships, students partner with unions, community organizations, and legal groups in the New York City area as a required element of their coursework, gaining direct experience that they can relate to theoretical issues.

Students also participate in international fieldwork, including at a labor research exchange in Cuba, a health-care worker conference in the Dominican Republic, a community-organizing project to help establish a medical clinic for residents of the impoverished community of Lebrón in the Dominican Republic, and a study trip to the United States/Mexico border area of El Paso/Juarez. This combination of study and direct experience exposes students to various approaches to problems and builds an enduring commitment to activism in many forms.

2017-2018 Courses

Public Policy

The Art of Protest

Open , Seminar—Year

Contentious, collective action is everywhere. Especially now, it is easy to recall the images of undocumented youth activists staring down Immigration and Customs enforcement officials or the face-off between protestors and police in Ferguson over the shooting of Michael Brown and the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” meme launched in solidarity. Protest is (and has been) a major form of claims-making for groups that find their voices shut out of traditional institutional spaces. People take to the streets to challenge policies and systemic violence; they collectively resist in their workplaces; and they confront and assert their place in distinct organizational spheres of society. Through their activism, they create alternative social and political spaces in their efforts to effect change by reforming or dismantling dominant societal institutions. In this course, we will bridge the academic literature on social movements and protest with case studies of different movements in the United States and transnationally. We will imagine and reimagine what a just society looks like and how protest can help to create that society—but also where it fails. Students will consider questions such as: Why do people protest? What gains can be made via protest? How is protest policed, co-opted, or contained as politics-as-usual? And, finally, is there a liberatory potential to fundamentally reshape society via protest?

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Constructing Citizenship, Dismantling Hierarchies: The Immigrant and Racial Struggle for Political Equality

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

In the past few years, we have witnessed the undocumented, African Americans, and Latinos taking to the streets in protest, engaging in acts of civil disobedience, calling and writing letters to policymakers, and participating in a variety of other political activities. Meanwhile, organizations—newly created and long standing, political and nonpolitical—are joining in by organizing political actions and lobbying on behalf of marginalized groups. Still, the impetus for these demonstrations, the mixed and sometimes nativist public reactions toward marchers, and the continued passage and implementation of punitive enforcement policies are also a reminder of the political marginalization of immigrant and racial and ethnic groups in the United States. This course examines this heightened activism by situating it within historical political and social contests over citizenship in the United States. The first part of the course will draw from immigrant adaptation, minority political incorporation, and social movements to examine the political incorporation of immigrant and racial groups in the United States. The second part of the course will provide a historical overview of citizenship and its legal and social constructions at key moments throughout US history. Specifically, we will examine moments in which citizenship was being constructed, challenged, and resettled. Citizenship is a multifaceted concept that is not fixed; rather, it is constantly being negotiated, contested, and reformulated. Students will not only be engaging in theoretical and empirical debates about citizenship but also will be asked to consider their own role in its contestation.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Open , Lecture—Year

Economics has a profound impact on all of our lives—from where we live and go to school to what we do for a living, how we dress, and how we entertain ourselves. Economics is also crucially intertwined with the social and political issues that we care about, from global warming to poverty and discrimination. This yearlong course introduces a variety of approaches to economics—including neoclassical, Keynesian, behavioralist, Marxian, and feminist—and encourages students to apply these contrasting perspectives to current economic issues. We conclude with an exploration of the causes and consequences of the recent financial and economic crisis.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Open , FYS—Year

Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

In this yearlong seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolutions of a world political economy, of which the Third World is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial "development" to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation states. We will then examine globalization; and its relation to emergent international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class—the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies primarily from Africa but also from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project in the fall semester to be completed in the spring. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Geography of Contemporary China: A Political Ecology of Reform, Global Integration, and Rise to Superpower

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Some experience in the social sciences desired but not required.

Despite widespread daily reporting on China’s rise to superpower status—and both its challenge to and its necessary partnership with the United States—what do we really know about the country? In this seminar, we will explore China’s evolving place in the world through political-economic integration and globalization processes. We will consistently focus our efforts on reframing debates, both academic and in mass media, to enable new insights and analyses. We will begin with an overview of contemporary China, discussing the unique aspects of China’s modern history and the changes and continuities from one era to the next. We will explore Revolutionary China and the subsequent socialist period to ground the seminar’s focus: post-1978 reform and transformation to the present day. Rooted in the questions of agrarian change and rural development, we will also study seismic shifts in urban and industrial form and China’s emergence as a global superpower on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy. We will analyze the complex intertwining of the environmental, political-economic, and sociocultural aspects of these processes as we interpret the geography of contemporary China. Using a variety of theoretical perspectives, we will analyze a series of contemporary global debates: Is there a fundamental conflict between the environment and rapid development? What is the role of the peasantry in the modern world? What is the impact of different forms of state power and practice? How does globalization shape China’s regional transformation? And, on the other hand, how does China’s global integration impact development in every other country and region of the world? Modern China provides immense opportunities for exploring key theoretical and substantive questions of our time. A product first and foremost of its own complex history, other nation states and international actors and institutions—such as the World Bank, transnational corporations, and civil society—have also heavily influenced China. The “China model” of rapid growth is widely debated in terms of its efficacy as a development pathway, and yet it defies simple understandings and labels. Termed everything from neoliberalism to market socialism to authoritarian Keynesian capitalism, it is a model full of paradoxes and contradictions. Not least of these is its impact on global climate change. Other challenges include changing gender relations, rapid urbanization, and massive internal migration. In China today, contentious debates continue on land reform, the pros and cons of global market integration, the role of popular culture and the arts in society, how to define ethical behavior, the roots of China’s social movements—from Tian’anmen to current widespread social unrest and discontent amongst workers, peasants, students, and intellectuals—and the meaning and potential resolution of minority conflicts in China’s hinterlands. Land and resource grabs in China and abroad are central to China’s rapid growth and its role as an industrial platform for the world. But resulting social inequality and environmental degradation challenge the legitimacy of China’s leadership like never before. As China borders many of the most volatile places in the contemporary world and increasingly projects its power to the far corners of the planet, we will conclude our seminar with a discussion of security issues, geopolitics, and potential scenarios for China’s future. Throughout the seminar, there will be comparisons with other areas of the world within the context of the broader theoretical and thematic questions mentioned above. Weekly selected readings, films, mass media, and books will be used to inform debate and discussion. A structured conference project will integrate closely with one of the diverse topics of the seminar.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: In the Tradition: An Introduction to African American History

Open , FYS—Year

African American history is an important window into the history of the United States and the rise of the modern world. This course explores classic narratives and examines major developments. The classic narratives are stories of self-emancipation and self-determination. The major developments range from the Atlantic Slave Trade to the Black Renaissance. On the one hand, students examine the dynamics of modern racism; on the other hand, students explore the contours of African American social, cultural, and intellectual history.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

International Law

Open , Lecture—Fall

In a global landscape pocked by genocide, wars of choice, piracy, and international terrorism, what good is international law? Can it mean anything without a global police force and a universal judiciary? Is “might makes right” the only law that works? Or is it true that “most states comply with most of their obligations most of the time”? These essential questions frame the contemporary practice of law across borders. This lecture provides an overview of international law—its doctrine, theory, and practice. It addresses a wide range of issues, including the bases and norms of international law, the law of war, human-rights claims, domestic implementation of international norms, treaty interpretation, and state formation/succession.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Human Rights

Open , Lecture—Spring

History is replete with rabid pogroms, merciless religious wars, tragic show trials, and even genocide. For as long as people have congregated, they have defined themselves, in part, as against an other—and have persecuted that other. But history has also yielded systems of constraints. So how can we hope to achieve a meaningful understanding of the human experience without examining both the wrongs and the rights? Should the human story be left to so-called realists, who claim that power wins out over ideals every time? Or is there a logic of mutual respect that offers better solutions? This lecture examines the history of international human rights. It focuses on the claims that individuals and groups make against states in which they live.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Crossing Borders and Boundaries: The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open , Lecture—Spring

Remember, remember always, that all of us…are descended from immigrants and revolutionists. —Franklin D. Roosevelt

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon where 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 the intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.​

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Food Environments, Health, and Social Justice

Open , Seminar—Fall

With obesity and diabetes rising at alarming rates and growing awareness of the social determinants of health and disparities 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 inequalities and explore how modes of food production and distribution shape patterns of food availability and inequities in the food system. Students will use photography and video to examine foods available in the neighborhoods where they live, review media related to the course themes, and use a time/space food diary to reflect on the ways in which 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. Students may have the opportunity to engage in community-based service learning and/or research, with the possibility of conference projects resulting from that experience.

Faculty
Related Disciplines