First Year Seminar

    Washington College’s First-Year Seminar program introduces new college students to critical inquiry, college writing, and research and other academic skills vital for collegiate success. FY seminars explore a wide range of topics, but all share three essential elements:

    • the passion of a dedicated instructor
    • a small-seminar format where students learn from each other
    • a sustained focus on the ‘habits of critical inquiry’ at the heart of liberal education

    Examples of prior year FYS:

    FYS 101-11 Close to the Edge: Hip-Hop at 40 - Prof. Sufiya Abdur-Rahman, English

    Forty years after the Sugarhill Gang released the first commercially successful rap song, hip-hop still has to justify its cultural relevance and fight for recognition of its artistic contributions. But by addressing issues of race, class, gender, justice, self-perception, and community, hip-hop has literally changed the rhythm of American lives and how we’re perceived around the world. In this course, we’ll examine some of the musical and cultural contributions hip-hop has made, beginning in 1979, to distill why, as a genre, hip-hop has had to and often still needs to demand respect. After closely listening to the music, watching the videos, and reading criticism and academic articles, students will be able to question, research, analyze, and make their own arguments about whether hip-hop should remain at society's edge. 

    FYS 101-13 and 14 Feminism and the #MeToo Movement - Prof Jen Benson, Philosophy

    n October of 2017 the project of preventing and healing from sexual assault went viral in the form of the #MeToo movement. The Me Too project had long been underway as community activism, especially activism undertaken by women of color working to address sexual assault and violence in the lives of children. In this course we will examine the feminist concepts that made the #MeToo movement possible and the ongoing effort to alter campus communities so as to prevent and heal from sexual assault. What do we mean by terms like oppression, sexual harassment, and rape culture? How has the Federal Title IX Policy made it possible for students to hold their colleges and universities accountable in the work to address and prevent harassment and assault? How can we be allies to those who are harmed in sexual assault and harassment? What must we do in order to promote healing? In this course we will examine the feminist foundations of the #MeToo Movement, the practical goals of the Movement, and consider how the #MeToo Movement may help us improve our own Washington College Community. 

    FYS 101-15 Enemies, Terror, and Paranoia - Prof. Clayton Black, History

    The modern world is a dangerous place, filled with threats both real and imagined. As if to compound that reality, modern societies seem to thrive on horror movies, murder tales, and representations of ghastly violence. What roles do enemies and terror play in the cultures of the modern world from the nineteenth century to the present? What are the connections between fictional representations of enemies, terror, and paranoia and the ways we perceive our actual world? This course will explore such themes through examinations of fictional works, films, and scholarly analysis. Students will hone their writing skills through a series of short papers and will give oral presentations based on original research. 

    FYS 101-17 Jane Austen and Fan Culture - Prof. Katie Charles, English

    Upon the two-hundredth anniversary of the author’s death, the Jane Austen brand has never been stronger: her novels and the literary tourism, fan fiction, film adaptations, and associated merch they inspire, together generate some hundreds of millions of dollars annually. How did Austen help create the modern novel? And what factors contribute to her novels’ enduring popularity and adaptability? This course will combine an intensive study of select texts by Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, her teenage writing) with a critical approach to the popular adaptations (Clueless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) that hook many of her new fans.

    FYS 101-20 Religious Freedom - Prof. Joseph Prud'homme, Political Science

    The protection of religious liberty is enshrined in both the American Constitution and in international law, yet challenges to the meaning and exercise of religious liberty are increasingly common. This course explores the theological, philosophical, political, and geopolitical questions surrounding religious freedom. We will study a range of texts, including primary domestic and international statutes and legal texts, key court cases,
    the sacred books of many of the world’s great religions, and contemporary reports on the global state of religious liberty. Special co-curricular trips will be arranged to prominent organizations in Washington, D.C. that work to defend religious freedom.

    FYS 101-21 King Arthur from Myth to Modernity - Prof. Courtney Rydel, English

    The legend of King Arthur and his Round Table has inspired poets, historians, visual artists, and filmmakers from around the world.  From the tragic love of Guinevere and Lancelot to exciting exploits defeating giants and finding the Holy Grail, from stories of Merlin constructing Stonehenge to Monty Python's "Spamalot," from American invocations of Camelot in the 1960s to the present-day re-imagining of the Fisher King myth in She-Ra: Princesses of Power, we continue to find meaning in Arthurian lore. This class will introduce you to Arthurian literature and its modern adaptations.  We will examine how representations of King Arthur and his court reflect changing ideas about national identity, honor, masculinity, romantic love, power, religion, race, and destiny.  You will become skilled in writing argumentative essays, and the class will culminate in an extended research project on a modern Arthurian adaptation of your choice.  Success in removing sword from stone not guaranteed.  

    FYS 101-22 Food, People, and the Planet - Prof. Bill Schindler, Anthropology & Eastern Shore Food Lab

    Food: we all eat it, and without it we would die. But, have you ever stopped to consider how important food is to us beyond merely keeping us alive? Food is embedded within our culture; our food choices say a lot about who we are. The manner in which we select, prepare, and consume food is based upon culturally transmitted notions of taste, nutrition, social regulations, and religious meaning. This course will use food - and the many ways in which people utilize food for nutritional and cultural purposes - to better understand different societies throughout time and place. To accomplish this goal, students will make use of primary and secondary source materials from fields such as cultural anthropology, evolution, archaeology, and nutrition. In addition to group exercises, discussions, research, and writing assignments, the course will culminate in the preparation and presentation of a multi-course meal representing the research students completed throughout the semester.

    FYS 101-23 Genius: Deconstructing Intelligence - Prof. Emerald Stacy, Mathematics & Computer Science

    Each year, millions of teenagers take standardized tests, aiming for a score high enough for college admission. Colleges look at these scores, and hope that high scores are predictive of a student’s success in college, but what are we really testing? In this course, we will deconstruct the idea of intelligence, and investigate how what “counts” as knowledge, and therefore learning, depends on the cultural context. In particular, we will critique the concept of “Genius,” and explore how it is constructed through race, class, and gender. Throughout the term, we will develop problem solving strategies through games and puzzles, and students will engage in personal reflection on their own journey as a learner, viewed through the lens of learning theories.

    FYS 101-24 Liberation: What Imprisons Us and How Do We Get Free? - Prof. Emily Steinmetz, Anthropology

    What is liberation? To answer this question, we must also consider the ways that we and other beings might be unfree. What imprisons us, individually and collectively? What are the barriers to freedom? In this course, we will explore some of the spiritual, physical, psychological, political, economic, and other dimensions of liberation. How are liberation struggles and liberation dreams rooted in histories of violence, inequality, and oppression? What can particular metaphysical traditions, like Buddhism and liberation theology, tell us about liberation and our deep interconnectedness? In addition to human liberation, we will also consider non-human experiences as we ask: Are humans, non-human animals, plants, and artificial intelligence equally entitled to liberation, and who gets to decide? We will draw from a variety of genres and interdisciplinary texts as we explore these questions and others. Washington College students enrolled in this FYS will have the opportunity to exchange their written work and collaborate on a project with incarcerated women who will be enrolled in a separate section of the course at a Delaware prison. These collaborations and exchanges will deepen our understanding of liberation as we consider the spatial (college vs. prison) and experiential perspectives that we bring to our inquiry. 

    FYS 101-25 Consider the Tree - Prof. Ben Tilghman, Art & Art History

    In many parts of the world, including the Eastern Shore of Maryland, trees are so common that people often don’t give them much thought. But trees also pervade our lives and culture in many ways, as crucial parts of the biosphere, as sources of raw material, and as symbols of ideas and institutions. In this course we will consider trees from many different perspectives, exploring how we can understand them better through such disciplines as history, economics, ecology, art history and anthropology. In the process, we will also explore the idea of a liberal arts education itself, developing an appreciation for how an interdisciplinary inquiry entailing careful reading, precise writing, and open dialogue can lead us to a richer understanding of any topic. 

    FYS 101-26 Neuroethics and the Price of Progress - Prof. Audrey Weil, Psychology

    Should students be able to take prescription drugs like Adderall to improve their grades? Should parents be allowed to electrically stimulate their child’s brain if it might improve their cognitive abilities? Is it right to modify another person’s memory if it can help them recover from trauma? In this class, we will think critically about these kinds of ethical issues facing neuroscience today as well as the possible ethical quandaries neuroscience  research may face in the future. Through readings, class discussions, writing  assignments, presentations, and independent research projects, students will delve into ethical issues on how the brain works, how it can fail, how it can be manipulated, and how we can use information from recording brain activity.

    FYS 101-27 Experiments in Wonder - Prof. Julie Wills, Art & Art History

    Through the lens of contemporary visual art, this course will look at the experience of the magical or wondrous and ask critical questions about the nature of such experiences. What role does wonder play, in life, in curiosity, and in interdisciplinary research? What value lies in experiencing wonder through the visual arts? And, how have our society’s expectations for art’s role shifted, in an interdisciplinary era? Students will encounter a variety of contemporary art works through research, presentation and field trips. Coursework will include both written assignments and creative (studio) projects. 

    FYS 101-30 Empathy and Agency in Dystopia - Prof. Brendon Fox, Theatre & Dance

    In plays, short stories, novels and films, we will explore how characters tackle issues of empathy, identity, race, gender, power and their own agency in worlds that are far from ideal. For all of the dysfunction and challenges in any dystopia, the class will focus on stories that highlight how a character’s resourcefulness, empathy and sense of humor help them survive and sometimes change their environment for the better. 

    FYS 101-31 Imagining Leadership - Prof. Michael Harvey, Business Management

    This seminar explores leadership from ancient times to the modern world. What do leaders do? Who is authorized to lead? Do men and women lead in distinctive ways? What pressures do leaders face? What moral responsibilities do they bear? How do leaders rise and fall? To explore these questions, students will participate in lively discussion, write formal and informal assignments, conduct an interview and other research, and make class presentations. By the end, we will have sharpened our critical understanding of  leadership and the complex dynamics between leaders and groups. 

    FYS 101-32 Breathe and Listen: Music and Mindfulness Practices - Prof. Jon McCollum, Music 

    Mindfulness—attending to the present moment without judgment or distraction—is an ancient Buddhist concept enjoying newfound popularity in Western culture. A range of studies suggest that the practice of mindfulness can bring positive changes in health, attitude, and behavior. In this course we will explore how music can stimulate mindfulness. We will explore how listeners and performers of music from a variety of world cultures use sound as a conduit for the alleviation of stress and anxiety in an increasingly overstimulated world.