Critical Conversations

In recent years, our national climate has brought us to a reckoning moment in history, where we are talking deeper about racism, inclusion, and equity. For many, dealing with the effects of systemic racism are a part of everyday life. It is essential that we have honest and productive conversations about race, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the impact not only on individuals, but our institution. " Critical Conversations" grapple specifically with these topics, as well as the impacts of COVID-19, the elections, and the U.S. borders.

As part of a special call for proposals, FYE faculty created courses around these conversations and below you can see some showcases of the students' hard work.

Black Lives (LC1)

Instructors: Don Polite and Chris Day

About the Course

This FYE will investigate and explain the concept of “Black Lives” from the combined perspective of African American Studies and African Studies. The effort to explore this important intersection will build upon a key component of our collective identity at the College of Charleston, which is the unique and essential vantage point from which to study the historical, cultural, and material connections between Africa, the particular experience of the Carolina Lowcountry, and the African American experience more generally.

Race, Gender, and the Body

Instructor: Kelly Jakes

About the Course

This course introduces students to the idea of the body as a cultural construction and site of power formation. In recent years, the body has become increasingly significant across various disciplines, including Sociology, History, and Communication. Scholars from across these fields have shown that identity is constituted and performed through the body, and that the meanings that are ascribed to traits like skin color, hair, beauty, fitness, fatness/thinness, etc. have changed over time. Despite their constructed nature, these meanings appear to us as “natural” and become central to our own sense of who we are. During the semester, we will trouble these assumptions, examining the ways that various social institutions (the media, medicine, capitalism, religion, etc.) have used bodily norms to discipline us to behave as ideal men and women, citizens, and consumers.

The 1967 Legacy and Beyond

Instructor: Valerie Frazier

About the Course

CofC’s first black graduate Eddie Ganaway once said of his experience, “It was almost like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I did get the sense that I was being looked through.” (College of Charleston Magazine, 2007). In this class, students will ask: “How can we increase visibility and shine a light on black student trailblazers so that the community can better acknowledge and appreciate their contributions?” The course will introduce students to the significance of the year 1967 (the year of desegregation), black student contributions at the College, and the history of black Charleston. The course also connects students with the Charleston area through lectures, workshops, and community engagement activities.

legacy scholars

On Saturday, October 23 students visited Joseph Fields Farm on Johns Island for a Gullah Geechee food experience with celebrity chef BJ Dennis from Netflix's High on the Hog. BJ Dennis is also the curator of the International African American Museum menu. Students enjoyed food, toured the farm, and learned about Gullah Geechee foodways. You can view photos from this experience here.

Deconstructing the Nation: Politics, Identity and Race in Modern Times

Instructor: Joshua Shanes

About the course

Nations today seem to be a self-evident reality. The nation is the core unit of political legitimacy for a sovereign state, while the “United Nations” is the platform for humanity’s cooperative decision-making. Yet nations are neither ancient nor self-evident entities; they are modern constructions that compete with other forms of community and identities for legitimacy and loyalty. Even the basic question, “what is a nation,” brings no uniform answer. Nation-states and nationalism can bond communities, but they are also sources of violent conflict and oppression and have facilitated some of the most barbaric acts in human history. This seminar will explore the origins and development of nations and nationalism, comparing various versions of the phenomenon and consider what all of this means for us today, as Americans at a time of heightened nationalist feelings and growing awareness of racial oppression. The course will raise basic questions about identity, community, religion, ethnicity, and the human condition


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Race and Ethnicity in American Comedic Fiction

Instructor: Larry Krasnoff

About the Course

Discussions of systemic racism sometimes suggest that our culture has been constructed in ways that exclude Black contributions. In this class, we will study the ways in which American comedy has always been obsessed with Black voices. By examining works of comedic literature by white, Black, and Jewish-American authors, together with video and audio of other forms of comedic performance, we will come to understand that American comedy is the expression of a kind of cultural anxiety that returns again and again to the instability of racial hierarchies.

Student work:


Beyond Narcos and Latin Lovers: Studies in Film

Instructor: Liana Hakobyan

About the Course

Although Hispanics make up 18% of the U.S. population, they continue to be underrepresented in mainstream cinema. Historically, cinematic representation has often been limited to a commodification of stereotypical characters such as narcos, Latin lovers, and curvy Latinas. This course, on the other hand, will provide a study of contemporary filmmaking by and about Hispanics and Hispanic-Americans with the aim of challenging such stereotypical representations by looking into various aspects of the Hispanic experience in the U.S. From stories of love and coming of age to immigrant mothers and diverse identities, these films will introduce you to the Hispanic experience in our country and the conditions that have contributed to the formation of Hispanic-American identities. We will learn to view films through an analytical and critical eye, in order to understand the relationship between images and societal constructions of Hispanic identities, as well as the issues facing these and other minoritized populations across the US.

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Queer Questions: LGBTQ+ Historical Identities

Instructor: Sandy Slater

About the Course

Increased attention and activism surrounding queer communities (LGBTQ+) has stimulated vigorous conversations related to collective and individual identities within the community, as well as in relation to larger social issues.  This course, with its grounding in historical understanding of queer life and resistance, offers an opportunity to understand the contemporary debates and calls for equity and inclusion through an historical lens. Course materials include a variety of interdisciplinary materials including memoirs, literature, music, and oral histories. Focus will be on an Atlantic narrative of queerness, as much of the material focuses on American narratives, history, and debates.

Student work:
slater student media

Schooled: Exploring Anti-Racism, Inclusion, and Equity Through Children's Literature

Instructor: Margaret Hagood

hagood presentation

About the Course

Reading literature is a staple of K-12 education. Which children’s books about American history did you read in K-12 schooling? How did they influence your understanding of history, race, bias, and stereotypes? Children’s books reflect societal attitudes about diversity, power relations, and various identities (racial, ethnic, gender, class, ability). This course examines perspectives from American history often omitted in K-12 schooling using children’s literature. Topics covered include ethnic cleansing, reconstruction, assimilation of “immigrants,” the juvenile justice system, eugenics, Jim Crow and segregation, internment camps, Freedom schools, standardized testing, and the school to prison pipeline. Participants will learn to critically analyze children’s literature and reflect on their own educational experiences and understanding of history from literature read.

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