Sophomore Seminar 2015 Programs

Sophomore Seminar 2015 Programs

Cornell TASS
Indiana TASS
Michigan TASS




Ascending Melody: Contemporary African American Creative Arts and Critical Thought


Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

June 23 – August 5, 2015


Faculty: Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Department of English, Cornell University and Dagmawi Woubshet, Department of English, Cornell University


Factota:  Rebecca Browne, Loyola University, Chicago, and Alasdair Ekpenyong, Brigham Young University


This course will examine contemporary African American creative arts and critical thought. We will consider a variety of genres including poetry, fiction, memoir, and visual art to examine African American life. Among the thematic questions we will ask in the course are: How are African Americans defining themselves and shaping our contemporary world? What is the changing meaning of race in contemporary American life and culture? How does race intersect with other markers of identity like gender, sexuality, and class in defining African American identity? We will explore the close relationship between form and content, aesthetics and politics, the individual and the collective, and other generative dyads that inform African American arts and letters.


The texts for the course will include Barack Obama’s memoir, writings by poets Elizabeth Alexander, Carl Phillips, and Sonia Sanchez as well as novels by James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. Alongside these primary texts, we will also read several critical essays in African American literary and cultural studies. The course will use an interdisciplinary approach to studying poetry and prose, reading literature alongside other art forms and against historical context. To that end, we will take advantage of Cornell’s resources and collaborate with both the Johnson Museum of Art to curate a small display of contemporary African American art from the museum’s permanent collection and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library to explore its Hip Hop Collection, the most important archive of hip hop music in the world. Our aim, ultimately, is to explore the riches of contemporary African American creative culture by creating a dynamic classroom and a range of assignments designed to hone students’ creative and critical writing skills.






Growing Up While Black: Coming of Age in Black Literature, Music, and Film

Indiana University, Bloomington

June 23 – August 4, 2015 (Note: the Indiana program will conclude on August 4th.)


Faculty: Marlo David, Departments of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Purdue University and LaMonda Horton-Stallings, Department of Gender Studies, Indiana University


Factota:  Liza Davis, University of Pennsylvania, and Keyanah Freeland, New York University


In the last decade, issues of physical and viral bullying, teen suicide, police harassment and brutality, school shootings, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence have become a daily reminder that becoming an adult is not easy, especially for African Americans. Moreover, there remain fewer places that can help deal with such issues since sex education, arts and music programs, and community centers continue to be cut and underfunded. Nevertheless, African American literature, film, and music have served as crucial art forms in which black youth can represent themselves, formulate an identity, and express a political consciousness about the issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality affecting them. Therefore, this course will examine the varied experiences of African American youth coming into adulthood through reading, discussion, and analysis of creative cultural texts, including literature, music, and film. In the course, students will read coming-of-age stories that explore themes such as gender and sexual identity, racial difference, sexual difference, friendships, love, work, family, activism, violence, spirituality, and self-esteem.


Each week students will be responsible for reading a contemporary African American novel. Each novel will be paired with a black music genre—including hip hop, funk, blues, R&B, and jazz—and films that connect with the ideas expressed in the novel. Through lectures, class discussion, group activities, on-campus field trips, and creative projects, students will work with experienced faculty specialists to learn new skills of analysis, critical thinking, and self-expression. The combination of texts is designed to expand students’ exposure to a breadth of African American art forms and provide background on contemporary issues facing African American teens. Daily classroom instruction will be enhanced with experiences visiting Indiana University’s Black Film Center/Archive, the Archives of African American Music and Culture, the Kinsey Institute, and the Herman B. Wells Library.






Dreams of Freedom and Realities of Confinement


University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

June 23 – August 5, 2015


Faculty: Diana Louis, Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Indiana University and Michael McGee, Department of African American Studies, University of California, Berkeley


Factota:  Patricia Ekpo, Brown University, and Tania Flores, Occidental College


This course will explore the complex relationship between freedom and confinement in America. We will consider how hallmarks of national freedom appear alongside varying forms of confinement from the nation’s founding to the present moment. For example, what does it mean for the Declaration of Independence, the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the two-time election of a black president to coexist with the racialized use of plantations, prisons, asylums, and neighborhoods? In this seminar, we will follow the many ways in which freedom and confinement show up in American society. Close attention will be paid to how the meaning of these two concepts change over time and how much they influence each other.


The class will engage a broad range of texts, from political documents and historical records, to contemporary music and films. We will also read a good deal of African American literature, including narratives, novels, poems, and essays. By working with such a collection of texts, the seminar will challenge us to draw critical connections between history, politics, social theory, and popular culture. By looking from multiple vantage points, we will assess the ways freedom and confinement are measured and described in sometimes vastly different ways by African American authors and artists. The works we read will show that both freedom and confinement come at significant costs. Our goal in this seminar is to ascertain these costs and understand how they impact our everyday lives.