WRI 101 helps students develop the skills of writing in the liberal arts: critical analysis of texts, exploration of and deliberation about public and intellectual issues; familiarity with research strategies; understanding the conventions for using with integrity the work of others; and crafting inventive, correct, and rhetorically sophisticated prose. The subjects for writing in the course vary by instructors.
Fall 2021 Sections
WRI 101 [A]: Justice and Piety
MWF 8:30 - 9:20
The course offers students a chance to investigate a venerable question of political life: What is the relationship between political justice and religious faith? While most of us in twenty-first century liberal democracies assume that politics and religion have nothing in common-and that they should have nothing in common-political philosophers have long acknowledged their intimate and mutually implicative relationship.
We'll explore this relationship by reading and discussing writings that span several genres (philosophy, epic poetry, historical narrative, rhetoric, and dramatic dialogue) by four ancient Greek authors: Homer, Thucydides, Sophocles, and Plato. We'll attempt this task as well by writing often and in a variety of formats. In all assignments students will be encouraged to articulate and defend their own interpretations and points of view.
WRI 101 [AA]: Buddhism and Violence
MWF 1:10 - 2:00
Buddhism evokes images of meditation, monks, and peace in the popular imagination. Indeed, "non-harm" (Skt. ahimsa) is one of the fundamental tenets of the religion. And yet, in recent decades, there has been a rise in cases of what the media has termed "Buddhist" forms of nationalism and violence. How can the members of a religion based on compassion for all sentient beings engage in ethnic intolerance, extreme nationalism and violence?
In this course, we will explore a variety of perspectives on this issue, including ethnographies, academic articles, writings by public intellectuals, and journal articles from the New York Times, the Economist, the Atlantic, and other news sources. In conjunction with developing an informed understanding of this issue, we will learn to craft robust and compelling arguments that will serve as the foundation of strong argumentative writing at the college level.
WRI 101 [B]: American Family Memoir
MWF 12:00 - 12:50
This course focuses on the nature and diversity of American family experience as it shows itself in selected literary memoirs. In doing so, it will ask throughout about the process of recollecting a life and writing about it, how the story we tell of ourselves is also a story of others, especially those we know as kin; and, it will probe these stories for what they tell us about the impact of gender, race, class, generation, and ethnicity in the shaping of family experience. These are big questions. We get at them by the smaller tasks of reading good texts well day after day and writing clearly about them. The smaller tasks add up and may be the greater endeavor after all.
The writing assignments include a number of short essays (in the vicinity of 5-6) that may range from a paragraph to 4-5 pages. These may involve matters of style (the power of a well-chosen word, a paragraph that does what a paragraph ought to), questions of interpretation (explanation, analysis), or thematic concerns (back to that family and why everyone is talking about his or her father). As a final project, each student will write an episode of family narrative (7-8 pages) with commentary (2-3pages) relating the narrative to two other works read in the course. We will focus less on how much we write than how well.
Texts for the course include: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home; Mary Karr, The Liars' Club; Li-Young Lee, The Winged Seed; Tracy Smith, Ordinary Light; and Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life.
WRI 101 [C]: Read, Listen, Observe
TR 11:35 - 12:50
This course is designed for a thirteen-week semester, the typical four-project model pared down to three projects, each taking four weeks to complete. In addition, rather than holding primarily whole-class seminars, small groups of students cycled through weekly meetings, some devoted to discussing readings and planning approach to arguments, others devoted to commenting upon drafts and revising.
Entitled "Read, Listen, Observe," the course invites students to read social scientific literature about a particular social group, listen to interviews conducted by students with members of that group, and observe in a physical setting interactions of that group in order to analyze emerging dynamics of a particular identity or community. Drawing on Erving Goffman's classic work on impression management, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, students will examine the systematic behaviors of an on-campus community/identity that are common and publicly accessed and gain, over time, the ability to document social action and apply an interpretive theoretical lens to recorded behaviors. With a major conceptual framework under their belts, students will observe the typical structures of social interaction in use by a particular identity or community on campus and indicate mental structures (internalized scripts) and material settings (immediate physical context) that channel human action, especially those actions that have implications for economic, racial, and/or gendered consequences circulated yet often hidden in day to day life. The ability to summarize key concepts, closely document empirical social action, and then apply concepts to interpret social action provides a means to understand the usual approaches to social scientific writing that focuses in micro-interactional behavior. This opens analytical conversations grounded in empirical observations yet focused on dynamics that come into view through intentional use of social scientific theory.
The structure of the semester is as follows: By drawing on Goffman's work, students will generate narratives about the nature of the self and the structure of roles and responsibilities in everyday settings, which will more generally contribute to each student's understanding of the dynamics of power to structure everyday behavior. The first project will involve a close reading, annotating, and essentializing of the concepts and arguments found in Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The second project asks students to isolate an identity or community on campus, construct a set of interview questions, and interview a small number of members of that group. Interviews will be annotated and essentialized so as to summarize significant patterns found in their statements in light of Goffman's conceptual framework. The third project asks students to select a setting in which the identity/community is typically found, and to record observations of these groups in a public setting. The field notes are then annotated and essentialized, highlighting social patterns in relation to Goffman's conceptual framework.
No special software will be used, and no technical materials will be required for reading beyond Goffman's text.
WRI 101 [D]: Writing China
MWF 8:30 - 9:20
The rise of China from self-isolation to global economic, political, and cultural influence is one of the most powerful developments of our age. It is a fast-changing story; it seizes our attention and doesn't let go. Easy answers elude us; complexity overwhelms certainty. Developing a comprehensive understanding of contemporary China is not our goal; rather, we will dive into this fascinating nation to discover as much as we can and to challenge what we discover. Students will ask what "the rise of China" means, both for China and for the world. They will weigh the costs and benefits of China's rapid economic and social change. And they will make arguments about the causes and consequences of China' rise. In this course, you will develop the skills and practices of good writing by reading good writing that takes China as its subject. Our texts will include the work of Chinese authors (in translation) as well as writing about China by non-Chinese authors. We will read multiple genres and styles, including fiction, memoir, opinion, social science, and journalism. Through a sequence of writing assignments, students will cultivate skills in reading, argumentation, research, revision, and editing.
This course is most suitable for students who are able attend synchronously. Some required course materials are not available in some geographic areas. If you are planning to take the course from outside the US, please consult the professor to make sure you will be able to access the required course materials.
WRI 101 [E]: Ain't What It Used To Be
TR 9:50 - 11:05
WRI 101 [F]: Ain't What It Used To Be
TR 11:35 - 12:50
In the midst of our polarized America, how can our national theatre advocate for a more nuanced understanding of our society? Theatre has excelled as a civic tool throughout human history, but in current times, we often forget about its potency, considering it instead as a niche storytelling form that struggles to compete with film and TV. On the contrary, theatre has a singular magnetism. With its unique ability to realize long conversations between intricately developed characters in live, communal gathering spaces, we could argue that theatre is the sharpest artistic answer to a country that struggles mightily to understand itself.
This course will engage in close readings of four major plays from the past decade that articulate the disquieting uncertainty about future America and the fascinating, contradictory people who occupy it. For each of the plays, you will select one character, plot point, idea, or conceptual choice to unpack in a writing assignment, striving throughout the drafting process for deeper intellectual and emotional understanding of how the theatrical form nudges its audience toward more compassionate citizenry. The play selections will look expansively at identity, both with regards to the playwrights and their character creations, so that we may consider how contemporary theatre is capturing an abundance of lived experiences.
WRI 101 [G]: Bad Art
MWF 9:40 - 10:30
WRI 101 [H]: Bad Art
MWF 10:50 - 11:40
This writing course examines "bad art": cultural productions that raise questions about censorship and freedom of expression, the ethics of representation, kitsch and camp, and good art made by bad people. We will consider a variety of cultural forms, including literary texts (poems, fiction); music, television and film; and the visual arts. We will work to develop criteria for engaging with these forms; to develop these criteria, we will read critical theory, popular journalism, and literary and art criticism. We will also occasionally make use of the College's art collection, and our own practices of cultural consumption. Student writing will include shorter, low-stakes assignments, informal presentations, and a series of essays (four) executed through a sequence of individual and group-oriented activities (e.g. conferences, peer-review, drafting and revision).
WRI 101 [I]: Religion and the Public Square
MWF 9:40 - 10:30
WRI 101 [J]: Religion and the Public Square
MWF 1:10 - 2:00
WRI 101 [K]: Religion and the Public Square
MWF 10:50 - 11:40
The ideal of democracy is a society in which well-informed citizens who disagree with each other engage in free and reasoned debate, guided by the shared aim of cultivating a flourishing society. The role of religion in this ideal has always been a contentious topic, and in recent years it has reemerged as a matter of dispute. This class poses the question: What role shall religion play in public discourse? The class will draw on contrasting perspectives that speak to fundamental questions about the rights, freedoms, and responsibilities that citizens have, and the role that religion plays in those challenging questions. Students will write three major paper, in addition to a number of smaller, lower-stakes writing assignments.
WRI 101 [M]: American Dreams
MWF 9:40 - 10:30
Whether you consider the American Dream to be a promise or a goal, the term is used frequently; one assumes the concept means the same thing to everyone. Today Americans perceive many challenges to this "American Dream," a belief that upward mobility can result from hard work and determination. Beginning in the 1930s, the phrase "The American Dream" found its way into our political, cultural, and popular discussion. Without a doubt, America's economic crisis has compromised our "American Dream of Success." Many scholars are skeptical about the accessibility of this dream to all Americans. What are consequences of this loss as a centerpiece of our national culture? As sociologist Barry Glassner explains, "You want to hold to your dream when times are hard. For the vast majority of Americans at every point in history, the prospect of achieving the American Dream has been slim, but the promise has been huge." An analysis of the American Dream allows us to explore a number of different disciplines so as to unpack what political scientist Carl Jilson has called "one of the most evocative phrases in our national lexicon." Through looking at legislation and political discourse, we will come to understand how the concept has become embedded in our collective psyche.
WRI 101 [N]: Claiming Disability: Identity, Creativity, and Justice
TR 9:50 - 11:05
In the United States today, we see amazing forces being marshalled for social change. Yet disability too often remains an afterthought at best--or meets outright hostility at worst--when we speak about diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are many reasons for this: the long history of disability being regarded only as the province of doctors and other medical practitioners; resistance to understanding disability as a lived identity intersecting with race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class; the fact that disability has been used by majority communities against minority communities in order to justify oppression; and the ableism, both casual and overt, that generally pervades our society. COVID-19 has made thinking about disability all the more urgent; all bodies were suddenly vulnerable and needed accommodations. But of course, all bodies were always contingent, and the global pandemic simply made that more visible. And because all our bodies can be oppressed by ableist ideas, claiming disability as an identity, a creative force, and a justice movement matters for everyone.
This first-year writing course will be premised on exploring the following questions:
What does it mean to think about disability as an identity in 21st century America?
Here, we'll consider the history of disability as a community and activist movement.
How has disability representation shaped reality?
We'll consider how language and popular culture influence our ideas about disability.
How is disability a force for artistic creation and innovation?
We will consider how disability as an embodied, relational, and social experience has creative potential for art and design.
How is the disability justice movement an essential part of social justice work?
We examine how the principles of disability justice teach us the ways ableism snarls into and mutually constitutes other kinds of oppression. You will make intellectual arguments of your own stemming from our discussions about each of these critical questions.
WRI 101 [O]: Resiliency and Health
MW 8:05 - 9:20
This course addresses the intersection of resiliency (the ability to adapt to change) and health, primarily drawing from the fields of psychology and public health. We will investigate this topic through the discussion of empirical articles, memoirs, case studies, and videos. In addition, there are five major writing projects: (1) personal reflection on how you or someone you know experienced resilience in a health context, (2) textual analysis of how resiliency concepts map onto a patient memoir, (3) argument paper about resiliency from a healthcare provider perspective, (4) research paper on a specific resilience and health topic of your choice, and (5) synthesis paper of the major themes across the course and an extension into what the field should prioritize in the future.
WRI 101 [P]: Why Write?
MW 7:30 - 8:45
This course is designed to explore the various facets of writing: its origins, the nature of this medium of communication and its teleology and function (and even its theology). So why do we write and why should we? When did we begin writing and why? But first of all, what is writing and how does it compare to other medium(s) of communication such as orality? What has writing replaced/displaced, and to what benefit or loss? Is writing indispensable? Is it a tool, and if so, a tool to what end? Why do we share what we write and should we? We will explore these questions by reading selections from prominent thinkers and authors, think through the questions together, and most importantly, learn how to write as we explore writing itself.
There are three units of study and associated writing assignments: 1) The medium of writing (what it is, its origins and its contrast to orality); 2) The evolution of writing across the centuries, from handwriting (and calligraphy) to the printing press and on to the digital word; and 3) The purpose of writing (why and why not write?) and sharing (even beyond writing).
WRI 101 [Q]: Staging Diversity
TR 11:35 - 12:50
There are many problems plaguing the arts at the moment. Arts organizations aren't only struggling financially, they are also coping with an intense push to contend with diversity and inclusion on stage. For example, the League of Orchestras wrote a searing denouncement of inequality within the arts, saying: "The field has allowed injurious practices and tropes to persist, such as the unfounded and disrespectful belief that diversity of personnel and/or programming can only be achieved at the expense of quality. The field has also played an active role in excluding Black musicians, composers, administrative staff, community members, and audience members from auditioning, creating, performing, managing, governing, and even listening to orchestral music."
This writing course will address questions of equality and diversity in the arts (music, film, theatre, fine arts, etc.). We will ask: What are the common myths of diversity and how can we persuasively dispel them? What are the barriers to entry for underrepresented people? What are the pitfalls and benefits of "colorblind" casting? What about the role of "blind" auditions? We will address these questions in relation to contemporary responses such as #OscarsSoWhite and #OrchestraIsRacist. The major writing assignments will constitute performance reviews, engagement with archival materials pertaining to a BIPOC artist, an annotation of a foundational text within critical race theory, and a debate essay centered on a work of the student's choosing.
WRI 101 [R]: Vicious Ignorance
TR 9:50 - 11:05
Ignorance, strictly speaking, is the lack of knowledge. That in itself isn't a bad thing. You and I can be ignorant about the variety of fonts available in a word processor, and the world would keep turning. But other forms of ignorance aren't so innocent. Take for instance a politician's willful ignorance about the needs of their constituents: It may result in harmful policies that deprive people of affordable housing, access to healthcare, safety from violence, or other basic needs. This raises an important question: To what extent do various harmful social institutions, practices, or events involve vicious ignorance, or ignorance that results from personal vice?
The course confronts this question through four writing projects. In the first project, we shall reflect on the nature and cognitive origins of vicious ignorance by engaging with philosopher Quassim Cassam's Vices of the Mind. In the second project, we shall examine discourse on the role of vicious ignorance in empty talk. In the third project, we shall examine discourse on the role of vicious ignorance in tokenism (racial, sex-based, class-based). In the fourth project, each of us shall use the vicious ignorance model to help explain a given harmful social institution, practice, or event such as warmongering, squandering, or profiteering.
WRI 101 [S]: Writing Criticism
MWF 10:50 - 11:40
This section of WRI 101 considers criticism broadly, from online reviews to professional scholarship. Pushing beyond simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down assessments, this section focuses on criticism as writing that deepens our understandings of cultural texts-literature, theater, visual art, film, and more. By the end of the semester, students will have developed skills for analyzing those cultural texts, including their own writing.
The semester begins with minute attention to one of the most influential rhetorical performances of American history, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Our discussions will emphasize King's style and will explore what his famous "Letter" can teach us academic writers. Next, we will study the novel recognized by the 2020 National Book Award, Charles Yu's genre-defying satire Interior Chinatown. Even Yu's title raises questions (what does it mean to call a neighborhood "a Chinatown"?), and we will pursue those questions through the resources of the library. Finally, near the end of the semester, students will choose a film for our last exercises in analysis and research, as they undertake their transition out of WRI 101 and into a world of texts waiting for alert readers.
WRI 101 [T]: From Scroll to Screen
MWF 9:40 - 10:30
Where do "sacred books" come from? How do they grow and change over time? How does their form-handwritten, then printed, and now digital-affect their meaning? These questions lie at the heart of the course, and we'll explore them by looking at the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, and the Qur'an. Along the way, we'll create our own handwritten manuscript with papyrus and reed pens; we'll set type and print documents in the letterpress shop in order to understand the printing revolution, and work with artifacts in the Rare Book Room. In the course of exploring the use of images in scripture, we'll go to the Visual Arts Center and make woodblock prints. Finally, we'll consider what happens when scriptures are digitized and move into "the cloud." How do these new digital forms influence the meaning, interpretation and authority of scripture?
The course features four writing projects, each of which passes through distinct stages that will prepare you for every paper you'll write in college: finding and assimilating reliable sources, citing them; capturing your ideas, drafting, revising, and revising again. Along the way, we'll form a collaborative community of writers and editors, learning how to comment helpfully on the work of others and to benefit from the comments of our fellow writers.
WRI 101 [U]: The Opioid Epidemic (and Other Drugs of Abuse)
T 7:00 - 9:50 p.m.
NOTE: Priority for this course is given to Quest Bridge Students. Students who select this course will be assigned the course instructor, Dr. Nicole L. Snyder, as their holistic advisor. Students in this course commit to meet with Dr. Snyder for 30-40 minutes once every two weeks during their first two years at Davidson.
This course will explore the medical, social, and economic consequence of the opioid epidemic and other drugs of abuse. Over the course of the semester, you will read, analyze, and interpret different styles of literature centered on the opioid epidemic. In the process you will learn the basics of how these drugs function, how they are used both legally and illegally, and the global impacts their use and misuse. You will then use what you learn from our work together to write two pieces focused on the opioid epidemic including a narrative non-fiction article and a research review article. In addition to these two articles, you will also write several short (250-500 word) responses pieces and infographics as we work our way through the readings.
WRI 101 [V]: #MeToo
TR 2:45 - 4:00
This course examines the rhetoric of #MeToo, the most recent iteration of the movement against gender-based violence, in the context of earlier representations of sexual harassment and assault. We will begin by studying recent historical flashpoints in the national dialogue about sexual abuse, including the Anita Hill hearings (1991); David Mamet's controversial play Oleana (1992); President Bill Clinton's impeachment (1998); and the Boston Globe's exposé on the Catholic Church (2002). Approaching #MeToo as a genre of storytelling still taking shape , we will uncover emerging tropes and patterns in the narration of experiences of sexual abuse, in media portrayals thereof, and in the critical backlash. Based on our investigations, we will attempt to answer the questions, "Whose and what kinds of stories of sexual violence are likeliest to capture a national audience? Whose and what kinds are likeliest to be silenced or ignored, and why" Our rhetorical analyses will follow the method advanced in David Rosenwasser's and Jill Stephens' Writing Analytically. The first assignment asks students to analyze the organizing themes and contrasts of a popularly circulated #MeToo story of their own choosing. In the second, we will uncover assumptions about who and what constitutes an "ideal victim" in our class readings. The third assignment asks students to use a theoretical text on narratives of sexual abuse as a lens through which to interpret characters' actions and motivations in a fictional work on the topic. For their final project, students will perform close textual analysis of interviews with women faculty about their experiences of workplace sexual harassment and situate them with respect to the narrative priorities, possibilities, and limitations we have identified as shaping the broader movement.
WRI 101 [W]: Democracy In America
TR 11:35 - 12:50
Is American democracy healthy? If so, what are the determinants of democratic strength and resilience? If not, are there specific remedies that might address the present challenges that we face? To explore these contemporary questions, we will situate the American democratic experience within an historical and comparative perspective. As we embark upon the final months of the 2020 election cycle, students in this seminar will consider how the nation has arrived at this especially precarious moment and closely scrutinize possible proposals for democratic reform. Topics to be examined in written assignments include: democratic norms and traditions, persistent inequalities in American life, the erosion of public trust and faith in institutions, and the prospects for multiracial democracy and civic renewal.
WRI 101 [Y]: The American West
MW 2:20 - 3:35
What is the American West? Where is the American West? And why does discussion of the ways in which its diverse people, places, and spaces have changes over time ignite passionate debate among historians and the public alike? In this writing seminar, we will pursue answers to questions about this region raised since the nineteenth century. A series of writing projects will help students gain broader and more nuanced understandings of the West by pursuing three key themes: race, environment, and representation. Each of these writing projects will take the form of a multi-week sequence of activities aimed at encouraging critical and close engagement with a wide range of texts, including: journalistic writing, creative non-fiction, scholarly articles, historical monographs, and visual material such as painting, photography, public art, and the landscape itself. By the end of the course, students will emerge with a portfolio of five essays that should, as a set, offer a unique perspective on how and why the American West remains a relevant topic and site of debate in the early twenty-first century.
WRI 101 [Z]: Democracy and Difference
MWF 9:40 - 10:30
This class focuses (generally but not exclusively) on the United States to explore the challenges of building a society in which all human beings are recognized as free, equal and different. What would have to happen for such a society to emerge and survive? Would such a society be desirable? Course materials come from a variety of genres, including political theory, short stories, court cases, essays, journalism and film. We'll talk about how different writers understand words like freedom, equality, inequality and identity. We'll read different ideas about how power works in different contexts. We'll explore how different writers and storytellers make their voices heard and challenge dominant views. Participants in the class will create several short, low-stakes, ungraded, unrevised responses (written and spoken) to the course material. They will also write three graded essays of increasing complexity, each drafted and revised in advance of submission.
Spring 2022 Sections
WRI 101 [J]: Politics of Solitary Confinement
MWF 9:40 - 10:30
Currently, there are nearly 100,000 people being held in solitary confinement in prisons across the United States. This number does not take into account people who are being held in jails, juvenile halls, and immigration detention centers. Because there is no federal reporting system that tracks how many people are isolated at any given time, the number is an undercount based on statistics gathered from the Bureau of Justice nearly a decade ago. Incarcerated people who are confined to solitary are often placed there for months if not decades. People of color are disproportionately represented in isolation units. Despite recognition of the negative psychological and physical consequences of forced isolation, it remains constitutional in the United States.
In this class, we will explore the politics of solitary confinement through socio-legal lens and the questions this practice prompts: Why was solitary confinement first introduced in the United States, and what did it seek to accomplish? How has the public perception and practice of solitary confinement changed since it was first introduced? To what extent does the legacy of slavery and the convict lease system continue to shape incarceration practices and patterns in the U.S.? What are some of the strategies incarcerated people have developed to resist solitary confinement?
We will primarily engage the work of Black scholars such as Angela Davis, Albert Woodfox, Nelson Mandela, Assata Shakur, and more.
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Time 0950 - 1105am