Courses Designed to Meet General Education
Identity/US Cultures Studies
BORDERS AND BRIDGES IN MULTICULTURAL
Course Development and Instruction
Course Advisory Board
Masato Aoki (Director), Economics
Elaine Hagopian, Sociology
Doug Perry, English
Phyllis Moore, Nursing
Jill Taylor, Education and
Sheila Murphy, Dean for Student
Raj Thiruvengadam, Philosophy
Lowry Pei, English
Mary Jane Treacy, Foreign
Languages and Literatures
Diane Raymond, Philosophy
Special Advisor: Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogues
Sandra Williams, Biology
Simmons College--MCC101--A Pilot Course
CULTURE MATTERS for the kind of community
and society we develop. Our society
exists and changes within a constantly
shifting sea of cultural influences
which reflect multiple differences of
race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual
orientation, age, physical and intellectual
competence, and class, among others.
The philosopher J.S. Mill argues that
how well we protect and nurture different
cultures and perspectives--especially
those in the minority--is an important
measure of our civilization. Another
philosopher, John Dewey, believes that
rather than fear and suppress diversity
we should foster and celebrate it as
a source of our community's vitality
and vibrancy. For Dewey, the choice
is clear: we can either allow the diverse
cultures and communities that comprise
the United States to develop as "separate
but equal" entities--inviting an
American brand of apartheid--or we can
promote critical and constructive interaction
among diverse cultures based on the
faith that this interaction is the surest
path toward democracy and pluralism.
CULTURE MATTERS for how our society
shapes our individual identities. Each
of us is a complex hub of countless
cultural influences derived from our
society. While some of society's myriad
influences are mutually reinforcing,
others clash and contradict. For each
of us, our ability to understand our
cultural identities and to negotiate
the internal contradictions will shape
who we become.
CULTURE MATTERS for how we learn from
our past. The history of the United
States is a composite of the multicultural
histories of not-always-united peoples,
whose differences ensured the endurance
of enmity. Some immigrated voluntarily
in search of various freedoms and opportunities.
Others were forced here in chains of
slavery and indenture. And, let us not
forget, this land's native populations
did not invite any of its immigrants.
However we "Americans" got
here, we contributed diverse economic
arrangements, political practices, and
cultural traditions which sometimes
converged to create harmonies and at
other times devolved into dissonance.
CULTURE MATTERS for how each individual
actively participates in shaping society
and recreating institutions. Our society
and institutions are plagued by problems
that have various multicultural dimensions.
Our skill at applying multicultural
approaches will augment our analysis
of, for example, welfare reform, representations
of cultures in media, affirmative action,
gay/lesbian civil rights, immigration
policy, education reform, and the directions
of social research.
Individuals constitute communities,
communities identify individuals, and
together they make up our society. Our
ability to read and navigate the cross-currents
of our selves will affect our ability
to rethink and reorganize our society.
Adding to this complexity is the concatenation
of multicultural conditions that push
us together at the same time that they
pull us apart. Can we find ways of interacting
in the critical yet constructive manner
that will be necessary to fulfill the
promise of democracy and pluralism?
This challenge engenders the primary
objective of Culture Matters: to convey
the great value of multiculturalism
as an approach to understanding one's
self, one's society, and one's role
in reshaping society.
- To acquaint students with the cultural
histories of the peoples of the United
- To enable each student to analyze
how her cultural influences shape
her personal identities.
- To demonstrate the multicultural
aspects of modern policy making and
- In the process of pursuing the above
objectives, the course will help students
develop the following skills:
- Analyzing texts and other media.
- Developing and evaluating arguments
in oral and written forms.
- Conducting and reporting research.
- Using library resources and computer
- Developing communication and collaborative
The success of CULTURE MATTERS will
depend on both (1) the students? engagement
with ideas raised and inspired by the
course and (2) their development of
the skills indicated in the course objectives.
The quality of both the student's engagement
and development will be the basis for
her semester grade.
At the end of each of the three units
of the course, the instructor will review
each student's portfolio, which should
contain drafts of papers, elements of
papers-in-process, peer review comments,
article clippings collected from newspapers
and magazines, plus other relevant artifacts
of our multicultural society. In general,
emphasis will be placed on the student's
written work, which will be judged in
terms of both the quality of the work
as a product and the quality of the
student's engagement in the process
of producing those items. This means,
for example, that the written work produced
in a given unit of the course will receive
a grade for the quality of the product
and a grade for the work that went into
producing that piece of written work,
where the latter will be reflected in
the drafts, writing elements, and peer
reviews--all the work that contributed
to the final draft. Ninety percent of
the course will be based on this form
of evaluation (thirty percent per unit).
The remaining ten percent will be based
on an assessment of performance of the
student's group. Since important skills
of this course include collaboration
and communication, the criteria for
judging group performance will include
the quality of sharing of ideas and
concerns among the group members, the
level of sharing of the group's work
and responsibility, and the effort made
to work out internal group problems.
This assessment will draw on comments
made by individual students about their
group, conversations between the instructor
and the group, and the instructor's
observation of the group's dynamics
throughout the semester.
The educational experience of CULTURE
MATTERS will also depend on each student's
efforts as an active contributor to
the educational process. Regular and
consistent attendance will be crucial.
Beyond the usual reasons, the cultural
experiences and background of each individual
student comprise a unique and rich educational
resource, which is irrevocably diminished
by student absences. In addition, honoring
writing assignment due dates will help
every student, because the course's
writing instruction component has been
designed to make extensive use of peer
review and the rethinking-rewriting
process. Honoring reading assignments
and film viewing due dates will be essential
if discussions are to be fruitful and
Course Outline and Schedule
1. What are Cultures, and How do they
shape our Identities?
CULTURE MATTERS for how our society
shapes our individual identities. In
the first part of the course, we examine
the complex and contradictory ways in
which our cultural identities shape
who we are. The main goal is to develop
our ability to recognize and negotiate
the internal contradictions in our cultural
A. CULTURES, CLIQUES, AND COMMUNICATION
Focus Using films, short readings, and
short writing assignments to stimulate
critical thinking and dialogue, we begin
our examination of the interaction between
culture and self by analyzing our high
school experience--focusing on cliques--as
a microcosm of a society made up of
multiple cultures. The key questions
in this section include the following.
- How can we talk about culture? That
is, can we develop a language we can
use in constructively and critically
examining cultures and how they shape
- What are the different meanings
of "culture"? What are the
different consequences of adopting
and applying one definition over others?
Short writing assignments identifying
stereotypes and understanding culture
and its influence on self. The following
are sample exercises.
- Write 2 sentences identifying a
stereotype from The Breakfast Club
- Write a paragraph describing at
least two cliques in the film.
- What does each of the readings in
this section (see Resources below)
say about culture and its effects
on one's identities?
- How does each reading make you feel?
Resources for section A
- The Breakfast Club (film)
- Miner, Horace. 1956. "Body
Ritual among the Nacirema."
- Angelou, Maya. 1969. I Know Why
the Caged Bird Sings. (R)
- Rose, Mike. 1993. "I Just Wanna
B. COMPLEX IDENTITY FORMATION
Each of us is a complex hub of countless
cultural influences derived from our
society. There are various analytical
tools which may help us get to know
our cultural influences and hence our
selves. These analytical approaches
may help us tackle questions such as
How do cultures shape who we are? How
can we "break down," identify,
and analyze our various and complex
cultural influences? Which of our cultural
influences are dominant, and which subordinate?
Which cultural influences do we tend
to be conscious of, and which unconscious?
In what ways do our various cultural
influences conflict with each other
and thus cause internal contradictions
for our identities?
Write 2-page reflections on cliques-as-cultures
in The Breakfast Club. The following
questions comprise only a suggested
list. You may reflect on whatever other
aspects interest you.
- Why did the students fight and argue
in the beginning of the day?
- Describe the stereotypes represented
in the film.
- Which stereotypes were challenged?
Which were not challenged?
- In The Breakfast Club, how much
of a clique's identity is determined
"internally" by its members?
And how much is determined "externally"
through its interactions with other
cliques? Choose a clique from the
film and analyze it in these terms.
- Describe the interactions among
the cliques represented in the film.
Does one clique dominate? Is there
a hierarchy of cliques?
- What were the instances of solidarity
among the students in the film? Why
did they cooperate in their various
ways? Generally, under what conditions
might cliques cooperate or show solidarity?
- Toward the end of the film, a character
asks, "What will happen on Monday"?
What did he mean? What do you think
will actually happen "on Monday"
for those students? What do you wish
would happen and why?
- What did you learn about any of
the cliques that gives you new sympathy
for that clique?
- Describe the rituals of a clique
of which you were a member.
- What are the positive and the negative
aspects of membership in a particular
clique? What are the positive and
the negative aspects of nonmembership
in any clique?
Resources for sections B and C
1. Prida, Dolores. 1991. "Coser
y Cantar." (R)
2. Paik, Felicia. 1995. "Say Anything."
3. Frankenberg, Ruth. 1993. "Growing
Up White: The Social Geography of Race."
4. McIntosh, Peggy. 1992. "White
Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal
Account of Coming to See Correspondences
through Work in Women's Studies."
C. NEGOTIATING IDENTITY COMPLEXITY:
"REDUCTION VERSUS CONTRADICTION"
We cope with our complex cultural identities
in various ways, at both conscious and
unconscious levels. One method is to
emphasize certain cultural influences
while "downplaying" others.
Alternatively, we can actively try to
negotiate our internal contradictions.
In any case, we may wish to develop
our ability to cope with, handle, deal
with, and negotiate our complex identities.
Moreover, we may wish to choose from
among a menu of alternative approaches,
understanding that each approach has
its own set of consequences. Among the
criteria for selecting a coping method,
we may seek an approach that helps us
think through the following questions.
- What are the various cultures that
shape us as individuals?
- What effects do they have on us?
- In what ways are our cultural determinants
- In what ways do they contradict
- How does our ability to negotiate
the internal contradictions in our
cultural make-up condition who we
Assignment--Weeks 3 and 4
Drawing on the reflections you wrote
in the first two weeks, produce drafts
of what will eventually become a five-page
paper. In this paper you should organize
your autobiographical and analytical
reflections of identity formation during
your high school experience. Here is
an exercise to stimulate your thinking:
List as many of your cultural influences
as you can think of. Briefly describe
the three most important influences.
Explain the mutually reinforcing and
the contradictory aspects of those three.
Describe your method of negotiating
D. DIFFERENT LENSES
This last section of unit one will be
the most challenging, in that it will
require us to face certain facts: each
of us sees through certain conceptual
lenses, our lenses color what we see,
and we all use different, unique lenses.
We have to challenge our desire to cling
to the notion that there is a singular
truth that is universal to everyone,
for all time--no matter through which
lenses we look. At the same time, this
section will be crucial as a transition
to the next part of the course, in which
we will examine the fundamentally multicultural
nature of U.S. history. In this section
we take a step from the analysis of
culture's relation to self to the analysis
of culture's relation to history. We
will focus on the following questions.
- Does what one sees depend on how
- Is how one sees culturally learned?
- If so, what personal, analytical,
and communication skills will we need
if we value democracy and pluralism?
Resource for Section D
Walker, Alice. 1971. "Advancing
Luna--And Ida B. Wells."
II. HOW CULTURES CHANGE THROUGH
HISTORY: A HISTORY OF MULTICULTURAL
CULTURE MATTERS for how we learn from
our past. In this section, we see that
the histories of many different peoples,
representing different cultures, are
interwoven to comprise U.S. history.
In addition to learning about the multicultural
history of the United States, we examine
an approach to studying this history
that respects cultural borders while
offering hope that bridges can be built
for our common good. Using Ronald Takaki's
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural
America as the main text, we study the
people who make up the United States,
the journeys that brought its many populations,
and the struggles among and the tensions
within these groups.
A. BOUNDLESSNESS (Before 1800)
Takaki shows that from the very beginning
of our common past, the moment of first
contact between Native Americans and
Europeans on the Virginia shore, Americans
have been constantly redefining their
national identity. Using Shakespeare's
play The Tempest as a theme,
he argues that the distinction between
"civilized" and "salvage"
became a racial distinction, with many
moral overtones. In uncovering the crucial
complex intergroup dynamics that produced
the unstable social order of the "founding
1. View The Tempest, read the following
sections of A Different Mirror, and
write a short summary of the argument
Takaki makes in chapter 2.
- The Tempest
- Ch. 1, "A Different Mirror"
- Part One, Introduction: "Before
Columbus: Vinland" (21-23)
- Ch. 2, "The "Tempest"
in the Wilderness: The Racialization
of Savagery" (24-50)
- Ch. 3, "The "Giddy Multitude":
The Hidden Origins of Slavery"
(51-76) 2. Look ahead to the 3rd assignment
in the section called "Distances"
B. BORDERS (1800s)
With the beginning of a new nation came
the obligation to define political membership.
Some, like Benjamin Franklin, wanted
to keep America beautiful by reserving
it for the "lovely White."
But, owing primarily to economic factors,
many new groups entered the United States
in a complicated mosaic of interdependent
relationships. This influx led to an
increasing "need to reinforce interior
borders" in order to "preserve
1. The whole class reads Introduction:
"Prospero Unbound: The Market Revolution"
2. Each group is assigned one of the
populations represented in chapters
4 through 8 of Takaki. Each student
writes her own summary of her group's
assigned chapter. This summary should
state as clearly as possible the thesis
of Takaki's main argument and how he
develops that argument. The students
discuss their summaries with their group.
(Someone should take notes of this discussion.)
Then each group reports to the class
what it thinks is especially important
to everyone to understand and why it
is important. Group assignments:
- Native American Group: Ch. 4, "Toward
the Stony Mountains: From Removal
to Reservation" (84-105)
- African American Group: Ch. 5, "No
More Peck o" Corn: Slavery and
Its Discontents" (106-38)
- European American Group: Ch. 6 (Irish),
"Emigrants from Erin: Ethnicity
and Class within White America"
- Mexican American Group: Ch. 7, "Foreigners
in Their Native Land: Manifest Destiny
in the Southwest" (166-90)
- Asian American Group: Ch. 8 (Chinese),
"Searching for Gold Mountain:
Strangers from a Pacific Shore"
C. DISTANCES (1900 to World War II)
The existence of the "frontier"
was central to the American identity
because it presented the opportunity
for "perennial birth." The
American self-understanding was founded
upon making a new beginning and bringing
civilization to the savage wilderness.
At the same time this engagement with
the wilderness transformed Europeans
into something that was not European
but rather a distinctively American
form of civility. Once the frontier
disappeared the racial and class hierarchy
faced an even greater crisis than before,
since, lacking an ultimate horizon against
which to judge difference, Americans
sought to redefine "distance"
in terms of each other.
1. The whole class reads Part Three
Introduction: "The End of the Frontier"
2. Each group continues to focus on
the population assigned to them in the
previous week and reads, summarizes,
discusses, and reports as done previously.
The reports should summarize Takaki's
analysis of the following questions:
What changes has this population undergone?
How has that population's perception
of itself changed? How has the larger
society's perception of it changed?
- Native American Group: Ch. 9, "The
"Indian Question" from Reservation
to Reorganization" (228-45)
- African American Group: Ch. 13,
"To the Promised Land: Blacks
in the Urban North" (340-69)
- European American Group: Ch. 11
(Jewish), "Between "Two
Endless Days": The Continuous
Journey to the Promised Land"
- Mexican American Group: Ch. 12,
"El Norte: The Borderland of
Chicano America" (311-39)
- Asian American Group: ch. 10 (Japanese),
"Pacific Crossings: Seeking the
Land of Money Trees" (246-76)
3. How does our modern imagination
of these histories contrast with Takaki's
interpretation? To the extent that our
images of history are shaped by depictions
by artists and filmmakers, we should
question how these interpreters of history
envision that history. In this assignment,
the student draws on the summaries she
will have written int he previous two
weeks and writes a five-page paper in
which she compares and contrasts Takaki's
interpretation with a modern filmmaker's.
Group film assignments:
- Native American Group: It Started
with a Whisper
- African American Group: Raisin in
- European American Group: Hester
- Mexican American Group: Zoot Suit
- Asian American Group: Picture Bride
D. CROSSINGS (AFTER WWII)
World War II marks a turning point in
the continuing process of developing
American identity. The Nazi doctrine
of Aryan racial superiority forces a
crucial self-examination of race relations,
and while groups like the Chinese were
for the first time validating their
status as Americans by fighting for
America, at the same moment the Japanese
were invalidated by being forced into
internment camps. Through these trials
America's traditional emphasis on the
value of freedom and equality becomes
a "democratic and anti-racist mission."
Finally, Takaki, taking us from the
civil rights movement to the Rodney
King uprisings, leaves us with the question
of how we might achieve this mission.
Part Four: Crossings (373-428)
III. CULTURE MATTERS FOR INSTITUTIONS
CULTURE MATTERS for how each individual
actively participates in shaping society
and recreating institutions. In this
final section, we will apply what we
have learned previously to a current
national policy debate or area of scholarly
research. In short research papers,
students will be asked to reflect on
issues such as the following.
A. Cultural Maintenance: Institutionalization
1. What mechanisms exist that advance
the cultural maintenance of stereotypes?
2. How do stereotypes function in
institutions and policy making?
B. What is the history of the "issue"
(policy debate and institutions)
C. How does the earlier issue regarding
lenses show up in a current debate or
research area? D. What can we learn
about prospects for pluralistic living
in the United States? Who are we, who
are we going to be, and why do we care?
Each section of the course will focus
on one of the following debates.
1. "Gay Rights" and the
"Religious Right": Conflicting
Movements in American Politics
2. Picture This: Contesting Identities
and Self-Representation in Avant Garde
3. The Bell Curve: Enlightened Policy
Intervention or Recycled Racism?
4. Can We Talk? Missing Discourses
in Urban Education
5. Copyrighting Color: Literary License
and the Slave Experience
THE BELL CURVE: ENLIGHTENED
POLICY INTERVENTION OR RECYCLED RACISM?
Murray and Herrnstein advocate a certain
policy position regarding various social
policies, including affirmative action
and welfare programs. According to Murray
and Herrnstein, current social policies
are misguided in that they misunderstand
the social dynamics involving race,
class, and cognitive ability. They base
their position on an interpretation
of the "demographics of cognitive
ability." We will read and discuss
writings by the principal authors and
their various critics. After examining
various texts and listening to our guest
speakers, write your reflections on
the following questions and others which
may occur to you. These short writings
you will use as resources in writing
your main paper for this unit (see below).
1. What is Herrnstein and Murray's
2. How can we disaggregate the biological,
political, cultural, and economic
dimensions of their argument?
3. What cultural assumptions do they
make about themselves and their subjects?
4. What cultural representations
do they challenge or reproduce?
5. What social policies do they advocate?
6. How can we evaluate the scientific
content of Herrnstein and Murray's
7. Is science culturally and politically
8. How can we evaluate the statistical
analysis in The Bell Curve? Are correlation
and causation the same thing?
9. What do the various critiques
of Herrnstein and Murray say about
the critics? What are their political
and cultural commitments and biases?
B. Main unit assignment
Drawing from the readings, the guest
lectures, and supplementary research,
write an essay that centers on Herrnstein
and Murray's social analysis. The essay
can focus on any of the topics stated
in the preamble above. Alternatively,
the essay can discuss how Herrnstein
and Murray's social analysis supports
an element of their policy prescription.
1. Texts [(R): on reserve in the Beatley
Library; (H): handout provided in class]
a. Business Week. 1995. "Rewriting
the Social Contract," Nov. 20:
b. Devlin, Bernie, S.E. Fienberg,
D.P. Resnick, and K. Roeder. 1995.
"Writing The Bell Curve: A Cautionary
Tale About the Relationships among
Race, Genes, and IQ." in chance.
8(3): 27-36. (H)
c. Fraser, Steven. 1995. The Bell
Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and
the Future of America. New York: Basic
d. Gardner, Howard. 1995. "Brainchild."
In The Boston Globe Magazine. Nov.
5: 22, 38-42, 45-48. (R)
e. Gould, Stephen Jay. 1994. "Curveball."
in The New Yorker. Nov. 28: 139-49.
f. Gould, Stephen Jay. 1981. The
Mismeasure of Man. New York: W.W.
g. Herrnstein, Richard and Charles
Murray. 1994. The Bell Curve: Intelligence
and Class Structure in American Life.
New York: Free Press. (R)
h. Jacoby, Russell and Naomi Glauberman.
Eds. 1995. The Bell Curve Debate:
History, Documents, Opinions. New
York: Times Books.
2. Guest Speakers
a. Professor Robert Goldman, Department
of Mathematics and Statistics. On
the basics of evaluating the statistical
elements of the Bell Curve argument.
Background reading: the Chance
article by Devlin, et al.
b. Professor Sandy Williams, Department
of Biology. On the history of biological
determinism in social policy debates.
Background reading: Gould's "Curveball"
essay and the first two chapters of
The Mismeasure of Man.