Zoos as Community Institutions

Zoos as Community Institutions

In my last blog, I wrote about my French class being the best class of all time. But, after this week’s incredible field trip, my “Zoos as Community Institutions” class really challenged that conviction. From the title, you can tell that it’s not a typical class. It’s taught by the Vice President of Education, Interpretation, and Volunteer Programs at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. In class, Dr. Finkelstein draws on her professional experiences to show how a Zoo functions in its many roles as a museum, a community center, an educational environment, a wildlife conservation, and more. As a change of pace last Tuesday, Dr. Finkelstein took us behind the scenes of the Maryland Zoo to bring our discussions to life.

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She made it clear that, since the zoo was not open to the public on the day we went, we probably wouldn’t see too many animals at all. Most would be getting vet check-ups, eating a meal, or sleeping indoors. This sentiment didn’t deter my enthusiasm for the trip, though. The Zoo is located in Druid Hill Park, an exceptionally beautiful area in its own right.

 

 

 

Yet, I can’t say I was disappointed when we were able to catch peeks of some animals on exhibit.

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Despite the fun of seeing some animals, it wasn’t an ordinary zoo trip. Throughout our tour, we spent time considering the administrative thought processes behind structures at the zoo, the political implications of decision-making, or the tension between conservation and commercialization.

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For example, these rocks sparked a conversation about whether putting some rocks in an exhibit was an acceptable strategy for making the area seem “natural” to visitors and to animals. We noted that the rocks were shipped to the zoo similarly to animals, a human interference which inherently defies nature.

 

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We also used a stage for a puppet show to understand the problematic nature of anthropomorphizing the animals on exhibit. While it is engaging for young learners to interact with cartoonish animals, does it undermine the zoo’s mission? Is it against the conservationist mission to encourage children to empathize with animals because human characteristics, rather than the animals’ independent worth?

 

All in all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn about these issues. This class might not change my professional trajectory, but it will certainly allow me to imagine a new set of political issues complexly.

 

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On the best class I’ve taken

On the best class I’ve taken

To be fair, I’ve only been in the class for a week. So okay, maybe it won’t end up being the best class I’ll ever take. But, as of right now, the surprising underdog French Elements II has really won me over.

There are fifteen students total in the class, all of whom have taken french at Hopkins or in high school. I fall into the latter group; from my experience in high school, I took the French Placement Exam at Hopkins my freshman year and placed out of the most introductory work. I wasn’t really planning on pursuing French when I took the exam, though. It was a requirement for my then-major in Writing Seminars, so I only considered the course out of pure obligation. After I switched into the language-free Political Science program, I didn’t plan on working on my French any further.

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Then, one of my best friends was accepted into a (very prestigious) dual degree bachelors/masters program in Paris. If Gaby accepts the offer, this semester will be her last at Hopkins. She’ll spend the next two years in the heart of French, studying advanced economics and picking up her degrees from Sciences Po. She’s fluent in English and Spanish, but didn’t know a word of French until she took her first Hopkins French class last fall.

Now, I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon and take the same classes my friends take, but the urgency of this being (perhaps) her last semester at Hopkins combined with the glowing recommendation she gave for the class led me to sign up. I emailed the professor before the first class to let her know about my background in French and my long absence from the language. Right from the beginning, I could sense how kind and enthusiastic she was. I really enjoy her teaching style so far.

Yet, I’ve had a bunch of classes with great friends and talented professors. The thing that sets this class apart from any of my other college courses is the format of daily practice. In all of my other typical classes, I patiently read essays and journals throughout an entire semester before spending dozens of hours on a paper/project/exam in the end. For French, I can casually study for brief chunks of time, scrolling through a vocabulary list or running through quick online exercises. I can be productive for the five minutes I wait for my cookies and cream frappe or veggie burger in Brody Cafe. Having a set of small, precise, accomplishable tasks really changes the tone of academics for me. This week, I turned in a handwritten assignment on loose-leaf notebook paper for the first time since high school. It’s incredibly refreshing to have small homework assignments break up my studies in a new way. I have a fresh appreciation for my friends in the humanities who take math or other quantitative classes for the familiarity of practice sets.

I’m only a week in, but I already have a good feeling that the work this spring will be challenging but very doable. Thanks, French!

Thank You, Amazon

Thank You, Amazon

This blog is inspired by An Ode to Amazon Prime! I’m also not sponsored by Amazon, however much I’d love to be. 

For my birthday earlier this week, many of my relatives gave me Amazon gift cards. I will always be grateful for an Amazon card– I can’t count the number of times Prime shipping has saved me in a pinch. Here are some of my Amazon purchases of the last year: documenting moves to different apartments, landmarks in my life, and evidence to pay the subscription fee to Prime again next year.


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An inflatable futon and pump. This may have been an exceptionally tacky addition to my Sophomore dorm, but it was genuinely useful. On one particular occasion, my friend was completely freaked out by a mouse she spotted in her apartment. She desperately wanted a mouse-free place to sleep until the problem was solved. Very handy guest-bed! However, as I was moving it to my off-campus apartment, I accidently pierced it with an earring. RIP.

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My best friend from home came to visit me over her spring break last March, and I decided to invest in some guest linens. Another buy that has been unexpectedly convenient on many occasions. (Also when I’m too lazy to wash my sheets and can just swap them out for a new set.)

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Now that I have an off-campus apartment, I finally have a TV of my own! I use this to watch Netflix basically every day of my life. I’d also like to mention that I set it up completely by myself– so adult, so competent. Over this intersession, my friends and I have streamed two entire Netflix series. Although neither of the shows were all that great, I’m still grateful to my firestick for making it possible.

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Another set of purchases for my new apartment. The curtains completely black-out all light, an absolute necessity with a street lamp right outside. The window didn’t have any way to install a curtain rod, so I picked up the command hooks to do the job instead. I, as the paranoid person I am, also installed that alarm on my apartment door . It’s 100% extraneous on a door that already has three locks, but I couldn’t beat the price.

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If the inflatable couch and midwestern upbringing didn’t clue you in already, I’m not one to shy away from tacky. Plastic dishes don’t break. 10/10 recommend.

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Visual Rhetoric is a class offered at Hopkins that everyone loves. It’s taught by a super cool professor, you learn actual Adobe and design skills that you can put on your resume, and it’s a nice break from the typical class routine. I’ve tried to take it two separate times, patiently sitting through the first class period and buying supplies. I can’t draw, though, so the first drawing assignment has made me drop the class both times. The supplies are still sitting on my desk, waiting for the day when I actually go through with the class.

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Organizational planner stickers, totally an Amy purchase. I find it hard to stick to a routine of writing everything down in my planner. These stickers help make the process much more fun and consistent.

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I’ve raved about some other purchases on this list, but this one actually takes the cake. I bought this blender with Amazon gift cards from Christmas, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I have a perfect fruit smoothie literally every single day, now. I’d love to go back in time make freshman Amy buy a blender and use dining hall fruit to make smoothies.

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In the most adult move I’ve ever made, I decided to fix my completely clogged bathroom sink all by myself. I got this bottle of Draino off of Amazon (before realizing that it was much cheaper to buy it from the grocery store), and got to work. In the most adult jolt of satisfaction of my life, I woke up on my 21st birthday with a functional sink.


If you couldn’t tell, my life is really exciting! At least I can look back on this list during my mid-life crisis and relax, knowing I’ve always been passionate about buying tremendously ordinary things!

Ubering Through Hopkins

Ubering Through Hopkins

As great as Baltimore public transportation is, my friends and I still end up Ubering all the time. Here are a few notable rides!


LATE NIGHT MCDONALD’S RUN

Back in my freshman year, Postmates didn’t exist. (EDIT: Apparently it was founded in 2011? So it did exist, but not in my version of reality.) One night my roommates and I were craving McDonald’s, so we got an Uber to take us in a loop through the Drive-Thru and back to campus. We treated the driver to a sweet tea to make up for the weirdness of the trip, so it was definitely a win-win for everyone involved.

BACK FROM PROTESTING

My friends and I participated in a huge march through Baltimore in 2015. It was an eye-opening experience which I’ll always remember as my first political protest. However, at the end of the march, my friends and I found ourselves in an unfamiliar neighborhood with dying phones and no cash. Thankfully, we managed to call an Uber just before our batteries gave out.

MY FIRST APARTMENT

My parents didn’t have time for a trip to Baltimore when I had to move from the dorms into my first apartment. Instead of lugging all of my stuff across Charles Village by hand, I ordered an SUV Uber to help. I loaded up everything I owned into that car, rode a mile up the road, and dumped it all into the lobby of the apartment building. It cost me $25, but saved me sore arms and hours of moving.

COLD FINALS TRIP

I spent enough time in the library before a final this semester that the weather completely changed by the time the exam finished. I’d walked into the library the day before in breezy sweatshirt weather, and left the exam room in, according to my weather app, “feels like 2 degrees” weather. I couldn’t muster the energy and grit to walk back to my apartment in those conditions, so I opted for a convenient (read: silly) Uber ride back home.

FORGOTTEN TEXTBOOK

For a change of scenery last semester, I traveled down to Peabody Library for an afternoon of studying. I managed to totally forget to bring an important textbook, and I couldn’t face traveling back to campus without any work done. My amazing roommate called an Uber, gave the book to the driver, and had him drive it over to me. That perfect solution enabled a perfect study session.


An Exciting Month

An Exciting Month

I made it through finals! I’m jotting this blog off before boarding a plane to go back home. Last blog, I made a list looking back at moments I could draw on for finals inspiration. For this blog, here’s a list of what I’m most excited about for the month to come.

  • Two weeks without any class or homework. I plan to rest my eyes and do exactly zero academic reading during this period.
  • Enjoying home perks. My parents, friends from high school I don’t see much anymore, my dog, my bed, home cooking, and every other very typical thing college students complain about missing during the semester.
  • Intersession fun. My best friend and I are taking the same intersession courses, and we plan to take advantage of the relaxed schedule. We spent our first intersessions freshman year together, so it’ll also have a fun nostalgia factor for me.
  • Intersession classes. I’m taking two classes: No Man’s Land: Organized Crime Across the US-Mexican Border and The Existence of God in Modern Philosophy. Both of these classes violate one of my standard rules: don’t register for classes with long names. Yet, it is intersession, and they both sound too great to pass up. I’ll take the gamble.
  • Getting back into French. I’m taking French next semester for the first time since high school. I think that breaking up my political science workload with a language will be rewarding when papers are bogging me down late in the semester. I’ll definitely have to brush up on my French a bit before the first class, though.
  • Starting a fresh semester. For me, I often hit a point near the end of the semester where I’m more stressed about learning material than excited about it. I really appreciate the beginning of semesters- less pressure, more freedom.
  • My new job. After a long semester of training, I’m officially a tutor at the JHU Writing Center. This position has been a dream for a long while now—I’m beyond excited to get started.

See you soon, Hopkins!

Refocusing for Finals

Refocusing for Finals

I’m not excited to go to class this week. It’s Monday. A Thanksgiving break full of rest and without deadlines is over. I’ve fallen out of my daily routines. Finals are real and scary and soon. I’m not looking forward to writing one of my term papers. It’s a hard month to confront any political science.

To pump myself up for the week, I recalled some engaging academic stuff I’ve only considered deeply because of my classes here.


  • The WHO’s monitoring of Ebola in Sierra Leone
  • Biomedical construction and social construction of infertility
  • The political hierarchy within the Occupy Wall Street movement
  • Bioethics of DNRs
  • Philosophy of Epistemic Relativism
  • Pathologies of bureaucracy
  • Pregnancy in U.S. correctional facilities

Out-of-context evocative class notes:

  • There are decisions we must make under the condition of uncertainty.
  • Come to terms with the change in scale.
  • We make a star as we make a constellation, by putting its parts together and marking off its boundaries.
  • Favorite changes are incremental ones.
  • How does your relationship with the past impact your affair with possibility?
  • This end is not only a personal closure to a narrative, but a larger political end.

Ambitious arguments I’ve made:

Three Noteworthy Papers


Hopefully focusing on how lectures and readings can lead to cool epiphanies will help me get through the next couple of weeks. Here’s to renewed academic excitement!

Questionable Tour Facts

Questionable Tour Facts

I spent the entire summer of 2016 giving campus tours. There were days when I gave over four hours of tours in the Baltimore heat. If you don’t know, the summer weather here averages a million degrees with a million percent humidity. This is all to say: I got really blunt by the end. Here are a few thoughts inspired by heat exhaustion that I shared on tours.


“A political moment in Charleston is a fight in a Walmart.”

Pretty accurate. There was a fist fight between a few women in my hometown Walmart the year I left for college. Everyone involved was caught, the Charleston Police Department sent out a notice on their Facebook page, no damages, no biggie. For some reason that this political science major can’t figure out, this event caused Charleston citizens to rage about neighborhood crime like no other.

The contrast I was making between the chance to study Baltimore Real Politics instead of Charleston ~politics~ got lost with giggles about my ridiculous hometown.


“You don’t even have to be smart to be safe here! I left my backpack in an open foyer with cash, apartment keys, office keys, my student ID, my driver’s license, my credit cards, prescription meds, and my phone. When I came back for it an hour later, security had sent out an alert for me and was about to call my mom to tell her that I’d been kidnapped or something since no one would purposefully leave a bag like that unattended.”

My point telling this mess of a story was: security has your back even if you actively do dumb things! even you were raised in the rural midwest! security is so great, right?!

But from that point on, I could tell that everyone on the tour just thought i was a moron. So it goes.


In response to a question about my least favorite thing about JHU: “The administration took away covered grades for the class of 2021. As someone who did not come from a fancy private school, I found this choice poor…”

I’ll spare you from the rest of the speech. It was apparently pretty passionate and persuasive, though. Later in the tour, we passed JHU President Ron Daniels outside of his office building. I pointed President Daniels out to the group and exchanged pleasantries with him. As I made to continue the tour, a man from my group shouts, “Hey, so what’s the deal with taking away covered grades??”

My rant about covered grades made a guy heckle the President of Johns Hopkins.


Finally, here’s a bit of an email I got from a student on one of my tours.

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Once I’m inevitably fired from tour guiding for some future departure from script, at least I’ll be able to say that I was honest?

Ravens Game

Ravens Game

I went to a Ravens game today! My friends and I stumbled into some free tickets, and made an awesome day out of it.

Diversity of my Hopkins friend group, through the lens of football

Me: I’d been going to college and high school football games since I could walk. Tony Romo was the QB at the university a couple miles from my house in Illinois, so my parents have scrapbook of young Amy’s many Tony Romo autographs.

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Frannie: couldn’t even count all the Super Bowl games she’d attended over the years, a true super fan.

Maggie: grew up in Paris and London, and had never even watched a football game on TV before. She asked a bunch of questions about the rules, and I was in the rare position of being more knowledgeable than someone about the game.

Gaby: had been to a couple of high school games, but never tuned into professional football. She’s an avid watcher of the Olympics, though, so she can get pumped for a good sporting event.

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The last football game I went to was back in high school. That time, I spent most of the game walking around the stadium, not really paying attention, and just being there because it was the cool place to be on a Friday night. I admit to being part of the homogenous glob of apathetic teenagers going through the motions of local football.

 

This time, I got to hear stories from Frannie about her family’s love of the game, I could talk through the strategy with Maggie’s fresh eyes, and Gaby chatted with me about the politics of military displays at halftime shows. Just going to a game reminds me that my daily experience with diversity at Hopkins is actually really meaningful, not just some administrative checklist.

Thanks Hopkins for the company, Baltimore for the energy, fate for the tickets, and Ravens for the win.

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On Underachieving

On Underachieving

Inspired by Alyssa’s blog about the differences between high school and college. Especially her spot-on #1, living off campus means my life is spent walking walking walking.


Fact: I was an underachiever in high school. This is a pretty rare characteristic among Hopkins students; I don’t think I’ve met a single friend here who can’t tell a story of caffeine-driven high school research papers or insane tests.

I was undeniably an underachiever in high school, but I also graduated in style with a valedictory speech and a perfect GPA. I was a speech state finalist. I played violin in a university orchestra. I had six letters to show off from volleyball and swimming. The list goes on.

Deceptive high school accomplishment collage?
Deceptive high school accomplishment collage?

However.

That valedictorian speech? I wrote it in less than two hours.

Since math homework was optional at CHS (yeah, crazy), I did not complete one single math problem set ever.

I only skimmed or read Sparknotes for every single book assigned to me in English class.

I’d answer one or two questions on physics finals because I knew I only needed a mid-range F to get my A in the class.

I never paid any mind to academic argument; my naturally flowery writing always covered up the unread books, the shaky understandings of chemistry.

I was an underachiever in high school because I did not need to try. The standards of my underfunded rural public high school were low enough that I could completely disengage. I hated it, I thought the lack of challenge was suffocating. So, I applied to the hardest colleges I could think of. I saw Johns Hopkins as a place where I would need to produce genuinely original work, something that was never asked of me at CHS. I knew it would be hard, so I accepted my admissions offer.

I was right. All I could ever think during my freshman year was Hopkins is so hard.

Okay, three years later. Some days, it’s still an adjustment. Two weeks ago, I was reviewing for my Foreign Policy midterm and I kept catching myself glossing over material. I had to repeatedly remind myself that it was going to be a serious test, that I had to know every concept. My default is to question the point of studying hard. This blog is being posted in the middle of the night because procrastination was once acceptable. There are days when I still struggle to balance old-Amy habits with college expectations.

I still scoff at how impractical it is to spend hours learning tiny details of Wilsonian democracy. But I actually have to learn the stuff, now that I’m in college. I do the readings. I don’t turn in rough drafts. I engage.

In class this week, I had an unironically excited conversation about dependent clauses with a professor. That’s not something I could pretend as a high school student. I was only able to have that so academic moment because I poured myself into the homework and reading. Caring and paying attention matters, it’s better than the very high school alternative.

I have to try here. I want to try here. That’s the big difference between JHU and CHS for me, and I’m grateful for it.

(Most days)

Fall 2016 Class Schedule

Fall 2016 Class Schedule

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My schedule this semester is, as expected for a junior political science major, very social science heavy. I’ve never had class all five days of the week before, but I’ve also never taken a full schedule of such Amy classes. All in all, I’ve been loving it so far! Here’s each class I’m taking at a glance.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Course Description:

This course will provide and analysis of US foreign policy with a focus on the interests, institutions, and ideas underpinning its development. While the course will offer a broader survey, the emphasis will be on important developments during the Cold War, such as the articulation of containnment strategies and nuclear deterrence, and the analysis of contemporary foreign policy questions, including the problems of terrorism and failed states. In addition to security issues, attention will also be paid to significant developments in international trade policy.

Grading Breakdown:

Participation in sections: 10%, Two midterms: 25% each, Final: 40%

First Impression:

This class seems like it’ll be just fine. The professor is really charismatic and energetic, my TA structures sections very efficiently, and the readings have been a breeze so far. It is technically a 200-level class, but it seems to be taught as an introduction. It satisfies requirements across Political Science, International Studies, and even GECS, so there’s a diverse body of students in every lecture. I’m a little concerned about the lack of papers in this class, though. Expository political writing is definitely my forte; I’ll be golden if the tests are made up of essays, but very nervous if it’s all short answer/multiple choice. Oh well, I’ll manage either way.

Training/Writing/Consulting

Course Description:

A one credit course for those undergrads who have been nominated as Writing Center tutors. Permission required.

Grading Breakdown:

Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory grades are earned on a holistic basis.

First Impression:

I could not be more pumped for this class. Since just four students are taking it, the professor has already paid close attention to my writing style and habits. This is only a one credit class, but I’d still enroll if JHU offered an 18 credit version. I’m down to think meaningfully about expository writing any day of the week.

Democracy and Elections

Course Description:

An examination of most aspects of democratic elections with the exception of the behavior of voters. Topics include the impact of various electoral systems and administrative reforms on the outcome of elections, standards for evaluations of electoral systems, and the impact of the Arrow problem on normative theories of democratic elections.

Grading Breakdown:

For those who obsess about such things, initial grades will be based on the first test (20%), the final (30%), the paper (40%), and section participation (10%)

First Impression:

The grading breakdown above is taken word-for-word from the syllabus. As a sheep who does “obsess about such things,” I was a little taken-aback at the Professor’s outward snark on the first day. But that’s just how he likes to lighten the room, and I really do appreciate it on a long Monday afternoon. By December, I will have written a 20 page paper about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its intersection with democracy/federalism. I’m exactly 0% excited for it. Though other students seem genuinely eager about trudging through all those pages of writing, so hopefully some of their enthusiasm will rub off on me.

Parties and Elections in America

Course Description:

Considers how parties and elections structure political conflict, and facilitate (or not) democratic control of government. Topics include campaigns, voting behavior, election administration, money in politics, presidential nomination, and party coalitions.

Grading Breakdown:

Participation: 15 percent. Midterm: 20 percent, Paper: 35 percent, Final Exam: 30 percent

First Impression:

I’m here for U.S. Politics, so this class is right up my alley. So far, the professor has blown me away with his ability to list every major political figure in any election in U.S. history. He’s a really bright guy who clearly enjoys his work. We are encouraged to bring in any daily news from the current election to chat about at the beginning of class, which makes the theory come to life.

Italy Off the Beaten Path

Course Description:

For centuries, Italy has attracted countless visitors in search of culture and beauty. This one-credit course is an invitation to a journey from South to North across some of the most stunning – and perhaps lesser-known – treasures of Italian cities, regions, and communities. The course is taught in English. No knowledge of Italian is required, but those who can read in Italian will have an opportunity to do so. Everyone will learn some Italian words and expressions.

Grading Breakdown: 

20%: Attendance  40% Group presentation  40% Final take-home exam.

First Impression:

This is entirely a wild-card for me. I don’t need to take this class for any kind of degree requirement whatsoever, I don’t speak Italian, and I’ve never been outside of North America. I’m taking it because my best friend from high school is studying abroad in Rome this semester, so hopefully I’ll be able to use this class to engage with her new home. So far, I’ve loved how the professor uses Italian art to guide the narrative of his presentations. It’s been such a refreshing way to end my week.

Sociology of Health and Illness

Course Description:

This course introduces students to medical sociology, which is the application of the sociological perspective to health and health care. Major topics include stress, social epidemiology, and the social organization of health care.

Grading Breakdown:

Course grades will be based on in-class quizzes (20%), two take home essays (10% each), a team presentation (20%), and a final exam (25%) as well as class participation, which includes lecture and discussion section attendance and engagement (15%).

First Impression:

It’s a miracle I even got into this class, it’s (understandably) very popular. The material lends itself to engaging lectures and substantive discussions. Most of the students in my class are Public Health majors, who really are taught to think differently than Political Science majors. So, my peers always think I’m saying something super novel. Absolutely no complaints here.

Introduction to Social Policy: Baltimore and Beyond

Course Description:

This course will introduce students to basic concepts in economics, political science and sociology relevant to the study of social problems and the programs designed to remedy them. It will address the many inequalities in access to education and health care, unequal treatment in the criminal justice system, disparities in income and wealth, and differential access to political power.

Grading Breakdown:

4 papers (70%), Participation (30%)

First Impression:

Economics will never be my cup of tea. I can’t believe I’m taking a course cross-listed in econ when my degree doesn’t require it. However, the social policy lens here was too enticing to pass up. It’s co-taught by three professors, one from each department of Sociology, Political Science, and Economics. Though I’ve been dragging my feet through the first portion of the course focused on econ, next week will be a welcome transition to sociology. The environment of the class lends itself debate, devil’s advocate stances, and criticism of established works. All in all, a welcome addition to my schedule.