The Association of Southwestern University Alumni


Alumni Syllabus - Fall 2017

The Southwestern University Alumni Association - Alumni Council brings to you a new biannual program, the “Alumni Syllabus,” featuring suggested readings from Southwestern faculty members.

The selections below are being taught in Fall 2017 First-Year Seminar courses. Join us back in the classroom, from the luxury of your couch!

   

Selection: I’m With the Bears. Stories from a Damaged Planet

Recommended by: Erika Berroth, Associate Professor of German, contributing to Feminist Studies, Environmental Studies and International Studies.

First-Year Seminar Course: “International Climate Fiction: Can Reading Save the Planet?”

Message from Dr. Berroth:
In the fall of 2017 I am teaching the inaugural version of a new First Year Seminar that grows out of my interdisciplinary and intersectional work in feminist studies environmental studies, and cultural studies. The seminar titled “International Climate Fiction: Can Reading Save the Planet?” asks serious questions about the role of the Humanities in current discourses on climate change.

Among the readings required for the course, I want to highlight one in particular for SU Alumni Association, a collection of ten exquisite short narratives crafted by award winning writers titled I’m With the Bears. Stories from a Damaged Planet. (London: Verso, 2011). Author, teacher, and activist Bill McKibben’s introduction to the collection reminds us of our astounding capacity as humans to compartmentalize knowledge and action. We know what is good for us, but we do not necessarily act accordingly. Communities of scientists, with “robust consensus,” provide information about climate change and issue urgent warnings of its disastrous consequences for our planet. They have done their job.

To move people to act on this body of knowledge takes new voices. As McKibben declares in the introduction “Now it’s time for the rest of us—for the economists, the psychologists, the theologians. And the artists, whose role is to help us understand what things feel like.”  Through the texts in this collection we, as readers, enter future worlds that are horrendous, bearing witness to where our current inactivity might lead. Yet, in the midst of desperate scenarios, alongside fear, there is also hope.

Research shows that reading fiction develops empathy. What I am exploring with my students, and what I encourage our alumni to ask, is: Can reading texts that build empathy around the worries, the disgust, the interest, and the hope regarding climate change be an effective way to get people to care and to act? Indeed, how can we integrate what we know with how we feel? And might the “big heart” trump the “big brain” in moving us to take action now, and to take actions seriously, if we are to save the planet? Inevitably, those questions lead us to consider the value of reading literary fiction and the value of the Humanities in facilitating the socializing influence of reading climate change fiction across cultures and geographies.

We are feeling the readings in our FYS, connecting diverse fictional representations to current climate science, and hope you will join us in the journey!

     
   

Selection: Ordinary People 

Recommended by: Bryan Neighbors, Associate Professor of Psychology

First-Year Seminar Course: “Fixing the Broken Mind: A Journey through the Treatment of Mental Illness.”

Message from Dr. Neighbors:
The book I recommend is Ordinary People by Judith Guest.  In our modern world of western comfort we are continually reminded of the fragility of life, and we must face the ever increasing levels of mental illness that are an outgrowth of this fragility.  Ordinary People is the story of a family struggling to cope with the unexpected death of a son.  It reveals much about human limitations, the need for and failure of relationships, and the power of imperfect relationships to facilitate redemption.  I hope that it helps students to see that what we call mental illness is an important part of the human condition from which we can learn a great deal about life and about ourselves.  

My recommended question is this: As you think about each member of the Jarrett family, what aspects of their personalities make them vulnerable, how does Guest reveal their vulnerabilities, and what do these vulnerabilities say about being an “ordinary person”?