CORE Conversations Professors Discuss Curriculum Ideas for New Course

CORE Conversations Professors Discuss Curriculum Ideas for New Course

Colgate University students and faculty gathered to discuss one of the proposed slates of curriculum for the new CORE Conversations course on Tuesday, April 25. The colloquium, titled “Our Relations,” was the third in a series where professors discuss the texts they worked with while teaching CORE Conversations this semester. The panel consisted of Assistant Professors of English Dana Cypress and Ben Child, Senior Lecturer in University Studies and Writing and Rhetoric Jeff Spires, Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Rob Mills and Lecturer in University Studies Nagesh Rao.

This slate of texts consisted of Aristotle’s “Politics,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Discourse on the Origin of Inequity,” the 1973 film “Touki Bouki,” Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved” and the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning.” While each professor taught these five texts, some also added texts of their own choosing, ranging from W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” to Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America.” 

First-year student Stephanie Zuaznabar found this system to positively impact her experience in CORE Conversations.

“I like that they incorporated texts different from the ones they had in [previous CORE classes]. I think it brings up new topics of discourse that are relevant to the world today while still having the capacity to refer back to the past and spark comparisons and contrasts. I also like that no matter what area of study you pursue at Colgate, there is at least one text that will relate to what you’re learning in those courses which provokes a diverse and insightful conversation,” Zuaznabar said. 

By centering their courses on the same five texts, the professors hoped to create a shared experience across their sections of CORE Conversations. 

“My hope would be that a student from any one section could go to another section and just get right into it,” Mills said. “That there’s enough similarity with what they’ve read, they’ve got enough common background knowledge, that they could just participate in the conversation even if it’s about a text that isn’t in their section.”

Child opened the colloquium with an overview of why they chose each text for the new syllabus. 

“[‘Politics’] is a good place to start because the texts that follow are grappling with the Aristotelian world, so that’s the first one,” Child said. “Our next text is Rousseau’s ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequity’ — you can see we’re skipping ahead just a little bit in time. [Rousseau] suggests we go back to an imaginary state of nature, [so] it’s a really interesting conversation between these two texts between space and time.”

In this vein, Professor Cypress created the “Perfect Polus Project,” where she challenged her students to create their version of an ideal city. She shared that many students came to the conclusions of Rousseau before they had read his work.

“I said, ‘Okay, you have a lot of critiques of Aristotle, what would your perfect polis look like?’ The most brilliant thing that happened with this assignment is that my students were trying to imagine a world with no inequality — so, in many ways, they were preemptively thinking about the questions that Rousseau was going to be thinking about in the Second Discourse,” Cypress said.

When choosing texts for their new course, Spires discussed how they did not shy away from older texts or long novels as they felt it provided a better learning experience for the students overall.

“These texts almost demand close reading, which is a skill, right? It’s a skill that incoming first-years, even second-years, are still developing; we wanted students to work on close reading and to see the pay-off of putting in hard work, of actually engaging with the texts, of seeing the different perspectives and hearing the spectrum of voices in each text. We thought this perseverance and attention to detail is really important in this pilot group,” Spires explained.

The unique part of this slate was the inclusion of films “Touki Bouki” and “Paris is Burning” in the central texts. Professor Mills felt the films provided a more accessible medium for the range of students in his class. 

“I think the legibility of film is important— that it’s legible in a different way than reading something in a language. And I think there’s utility in that, especially as our classrooms become more diverse,” Mills said. 

Additionally, Professor Spires’ students found “Paris is Burning” relevant to events happening both on campus and in the world at large, which inspired him to continue teaching the film.

“The students are responding well to ‘Paris is Burning.’ They’re linking it to today, the current backlash against trans people, the legislation being passed, and also all that is playing out on campus […] I’ve had trans students in my classes who have said, ‘Finally, something that talks about me.’ And my thought was, ‘Well, yeah, that should be every class, but that’s just me’ — but it can be my class. So, ‘Paris is Burning’ is in my future long-term,” Spires said. 

Professor Rao spoke about the contemporaneity of the chosen texts, sharing that he found himself moving both backward and forward in time while teaching.

“Some of these texts come into the world at transition moments, while others are set during transition moments, so they allow you to look back and look forward at the same time, and you learn how to historicize texts,” Rao said. 

Stephanie Zuaznabar, who was a student of this pilot program, shared that she enjoyed her overall experience with this slate. 

“I’m genuinely glad I was in this pilot group because I found each of the selected texts to be interesting and beneficial to my growth outside of the course. I like that we’re able to discuss different points in time and analyze what they meant [and] how they can be tied to occurrences in the present,” Zuaznabar said.