Mary Paster Critical Inquiry

Prof. Mary Paster's Critical Inquiry class, Language and Food. 

Call it Sagehen submersion. Twice a week, first-year students participate in one of 30 Critical Inquiry (ID1) sections – intensive classes that introduce the new students to both the joy and rigor of academia at Pomona. This year there are 30 sections with 10 brand new courses. Read to learn a bit about the stories behind a handful of the new classes and the professors’ hopes for what their students will take away from the course.

iSubmit to iSpy

Media Studies Professor Mark Andrejevic says the inspiration for this course came from the recognition that this group of students will be part of the most comprehensively monitored, tracked and data-mined generation in history. Technology is outstripping our understanding of the society it is creating, and the transformations associated with this level of monitoring are dramatic and affect every sphere of public and private life, he says.

“We need to educate students about how to make sense of these changes so as to ensure they are equipped to shape a society in which the technology is used in ways that uphold commitments to democracy and civil rights.”

Into Desert Oneness

Professor of Geology Jade Star Lackey has crisscrossed the American West for years for his geology research, observing the quirky places in the deserts and the people who embrace these environments. One person’s wasteland may be another’s wonderland, he says, making for subtle complexities in interactions between humans and the natural desert throughout time.

“I sensed that this topic would reward my students with many surprises and discoveries about human nature, as well as appreciation for these beautiful places. The global distribution of deserts ensures that we gain our perspectives from many cultures.”

Language and Food

In Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science Mary Paster’s course, students will examine similarities, differences and connections between language and food. Just as non-standard dialects of English, can be considered to be inferior versions of standard English, there are food practices, like eating lard, that are looked down upon. Paster wants her students to look at whether the food judgments actually reflect cultural prejudices more than reasoned opinions. According to Paster, both food and language have communicative functions.

“On a really basic level, food can communicate a lot of things symbolically— like what is done in advertising all the time. For example, chocolate may represent decadence, temptation or sexuality. But a culture's entire way of thinking about and interacting with food can communicate much more complicated things, like values, religious beliefs and social hierarchies.”

The First Crusade: Monks of War

Around 1130, the abbot Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a controversial tract that essentially promoted the arming of monks for warfare in the Holy Land. Professor of History and Classics Kenneth Wolf and his students will trace the history of medieval European monastic involvement in warfare before, during and after the First Crusade. Wolf conceived of this “monastic mentality” approach to the First Crusade in conjunction with the Pomona alumni trip to France that occurred this past summer, “Burgundy: The Cradle of the Crusades.”

“This ID1 section is inspired by the same concern to locate a distinctive form of Latin Christian ‘holy violence’ in the symbiotic relationship that developed between monks and warriors in Europe between the years 900 and 1150.” 

Say It in A Letter

Professor of Art Mercedes Teixido says letters are interesting because they are vehicles for our voices. In this course, students will look across history and read and research a vast range of letters that have been used as a means of personal connection, reflection, protest and dialogue.

“There is so much to learn from letters of the past. As artifacts they are an extension of the hand of the writer, as a document they capture the writer’s mind in a moment of time.” 

In this course, her hope is that students will find their writing voice in several ways as they read and write letters that are personal and public, local and global.

Running for Office

Last fall, Politics Professor Amanda Hollis-Brusky assigned a book to her senior seminar politics majors: “Running from Office: Why Young People are Turned Off to Politics.” The book surveyed young people and found that few saw running for office as a viable means for change in the political system. Students found the book gripping in light of the presidential campaign and election, says Hollis-Brusky. But she says the book raised more questions than it answered regarding what is driving the lack of political ambition among young people. 

“I thought it would be a great exercise to dig deeper into the reasons why we have the elected officials we have and, more importantly, what would need to happen to change our politics by changing who runs for elected office. And, who knows, maybe one or two of [the students] will decide to run for office down the line.”