Academic Core

First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminar combines academic skill development with an expansive approach to learning. Many First Year Seminars involve field trips to such destinations as the Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield in nearby Hyde Park and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Students’ classroom experience is further enriched by guest lecturers, such a talk by Survivor contestant Terry Deitz, and even by students taking a leading role in coordinating on-campus events, such as a student-run conference on JFK and his legacy. Coursework in the FYS can even lead to scholarly conference presentations, as it did for Christopher Ravosa ’21 in March 2018.

Spring 2019 First Year Seminar Courses

FYS 101: Course Titles and Descriptions

*denotes FYSH 101: Honors section available

111: Myths of Africa: Past & Present

The record-breaking movie, Black Panther, has ushered in a plethora of tweets, blogs, and videos, many focusing on the film’s success in debunking fantastical and false depictions of Africa. Examples of such myths can be found in early European literature. During the first century CE, the Roman scholar, Pliny, stated that the inhabitants of north-eastern Africa were "said to have no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts." In the early nineteenth century, the influential German philosopher, Hegel, described Africa as an "unhistorical" and "underdeveloped" continent on the "threshold" of world history.

Using films, such as Black Panther, as well as primary and secondary material, this course will challenge such myths that seek to portray an ahistorical, underdeveloped, and isolated continent. Attention will be paid to the African diaspora, particularly in the Americas, including the notion that enslaved peoples were unable to establish cultural institutions based on their African heritage. In doing so, this course will enhance your understanding of the continent and its diaspora, both past and present.

Prof. S. George


112, Honors 111*: Famine to New Frontier and Beyond

The "Kennedy years" in 20th century American politics were a time of cultural transformation, global tension, and political turbulence. How did the Kennedys carve out a place of political prominence in what historians have labeled the “American Century,” and what is their social and political legacy? This class begins with a brief consideration of the Irish Famine and traces the Kennedy family's political ascent through Joe Kennedy’s lifetime. It explores the actors and policies of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and the political priorities of Robert F. Kennedy. Topics we will examine include religion and American society, women’s activism, foreign policy and politics, environmentalism, and Civil Rights. Students can expect to enjoy ample reading, active class discussions, and opportunities to research Kennedy related themes for papers and presentations.

Prof. S. Dwyer-McNulty

113: The Human Body in Sickness & Health

This course will begin with a general refresher of the scientific method, and will progress with a description of many of the major body systems, spending time along the way on various homeostatic imbalances of those systems. We will also debate some recent controversies in health and medicine, and compare and contrast the writing styles of 2 books: The Great Cholesterol Myth, and Atherosclerosis Risk Factors. The course culminates in a 4 – 6 page research paper corresponding to a timed oral presentation.

Prof. T. Paskell

114, 115: Comedy, Tragedy, & Madness: Overcoming Everyday Nihilism

As human beings, our lives are marked by various forms of suffering. This seminar will focus on the psychological suffering associated with the experience of nihilism, and some possibilities for overcoming it. Particular emphasis will be placed on the roles that comedy, tragedy, and madness can play in responding to the crisis of meaning, value and authority characteristic of nihilism. We will examine texts from philosophy, history, literature, film and art to help provide a framework for understanding and analyzing the experience of everyday nihilism.

Prof. G. Ulary
TF9:30/F11 & TR11/F11

116, 117: Greek Myth & The Other

How do we understand myth making in contemporary times? What role might it play in shaping an understanding of ourselves and the world we live in? In this course, we will take a closer look at myths of Greek antiquity and their reception in the realm of contemporary philosophy in order to open a dialogue around the questions of myth, meaning, and otherness. Centering on the themes of creation myths, the outcast, the scapegoat, the ideal state, divine encounters, the power of masks, ethical obligation, alterity and power, students will explore how, through myth (both stories and criticism) and philosophy, an attempt to negotiate the encounter with otherness is a necessary endeavor of our times.

Prof. S. Biro

118: “You learn by living”: Showing up for Your Life

Was it ‘meant to be?’ or does ‘stuff’ just happen? Are you the driving force in your life, or are you a passenger along for the ride? Do you live in the moment appreciating that every choice you make impacts who you are becoming? Have you ever wondered how you could live more purposefully so your life is full of possibilities? This seminar focuses on learning life lessons by exploring success, failure, hopes, dreams, regrets, and redemption -- the stuff which makes life both complicated and meaningful. Using literature from the Hudson Valley, your new home, such as Eleanor Roosevelt's You learn from living and Washington Irving's Legends and lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley and the movies A Quiet Place (filmed in Ulster County), Nobody's Fool (filmed in Beacon) and Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding (filmed in Woodstock), you will develop essential 21st century skills to prepare you for “life after Marist.”

Prof. E. Quinn
M11/W8 & 9:30

119, 128: Gendered Bodies: Alien Relationships

Have you ever heard the phrase “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”? This phrase originates from the title of a book written by a relationship counselor in 1992 that sold an astonishing 50 million copies. But the success of this book, and the adoption of its title phrase as popular wisdom, posed a troubling question for American society at the end of the 20th century: after a nearly 100-year period that saw major advancements in social and political equality, why did such a large number of Americans see the opposite sex not as fellow human beings but as something akin to aliens from outer space? What were the interpersonal effects of this mutual alienation? And does this sense of gendered alienation carry on into the 21st century?

Students in this first year seminar will explore questions about gender definitions and roles both historically and today through study of what is commonly termed “speculative fiction.” These speculative works (novels, stories, films, television shows, and other cultural products) will provide us strange and often provocative lenses through which to examine gender issues in American society. By introducing us to alien peoples, genderless cultures, third sexes, advanced technologies, alternate histories, and both utopian and dystopian worlds, this literature will reveal to us the potential detriments of a rigidly gendered society as well as the possibility of a future free from gender's restrictive influence. Readings extend from the late 19th century to the beginning of the 21st, with selections from major speculative authors like H. G. Wells (The Island of Dr. Moreau), Joanna Russ (The Female Man), and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale).

Prof. J. Canino
MR8/W2 & MR9:30/W2

120, 121, Honors 112*: Murder, Madness & Mental Mayhem

This seminar will focus on the recurring motif of madness and mental illness in literature, film, television and society in general, and address the question of how madness challenges traditional assumptions regarding individual identity. Through an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore the nature of the human mind and cultural representations of madness in a variety of contexts. Students in this course will consider how madness is a very ordinary human possibility which can be creative and/or destructive, which can be a breakdown and/or a breakthrough. We will examine the significant presence of madness in society and question how central madness is to human life. Students will study both social/intellectual components and cultural/emotional/expressive aspects of mental illness.

Prof. L. Neilson
MR12:30/W2 & MR9:30/W2

122: Vital Signs: Exploring Medical Ethics

This course explores questions and problems related to medical practice. Students will learn about the three major ethical theories – Virtue Ethics, Deontology, and Utilitarianism – and apply them to medical practices today. In addition to learning about the theories, this class will focus on case studies in medical ethics, with a special focus on emergency room care. Students will be asked to analyze case studies, and thereby to sharpen their understanding of the ethical complexity of medical care today. We will also discuss inequalities and injustices in access to and the quality of heath care today.

Prof. J. Snyder

123, 124: Greening America

We will consider how a range of American writers frame human interactions with “Nature,” and explore their various representations of the natural world. How have cultural values shaped conceptions of nature? How has “Wilderness” been imagined? How do authors construct language to shape the way readers think about the environment? What vision do these texts offer about the relationship of individuals to society, and about progress, industrialism, and technology?

As a multi-disciplinary course, we will ask: What occurs when findings from Natural History are combined with notions from Literary Transcendentalism and Romanticism? We will examine Native American stories, early accounts of natural history, diverse representations of flora and fauna, memoirs of the local, essays on urban nature, and narratives of exploration. “Nature Writing,” often combines rhapsody and science and runs the gamut of the scientific, philosophical, psychological, aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual.

We will consider authors such as Gilbert White, William Bartram, John James Audubon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Leslie Marmon Silko, Joseph Bruchac, Julia Butterfly Hill, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, and Terry Tempest Williams. In this class you will construct essays based upon the course readings, your own observations, and your classmates’ presentations. The texts we will analyze directly consider the relationship between human beings and their environments over a range of diverse habitats and places, from deserts to rainforests to Alaska, to dorm rooms and malls and cityscapes. Many species and natural phenomena are represented.

Prof. S. Mercier

125, 126: Happiness Embodied

The search for happiness gives rise to humanity’s basest behaviors and its noblest pursuits. This religious studies and philosophy course examines the connection between happiness, identity, and belonging through the lens of the active human body.  We examine how our physicality influences religious depictions of human excellence and the construction of our relationships and groups. More specifically, we will discuss topics ranging from gender and sexuality to martial arts, communal prayer, and ritual practice.

While this course focuses on examining religious and philosophical texts, students in this class will also be invited to participate in physical forms of experiential learning, such as breath meditation or taichi. This experiential learning culminates with the creation of a choreographed flashmob as a way of understanding how ritual functions to transform gathered individuals into bonded groups.

Prof. B. Loh

127, 131: Nostalgia

The word “nostalgia” was first coined in the 17th century to describe a homesickness so severe it required medical treatment. Today, we more often think of nostalgia as a mild, even pleasant, desire for a better time, whether one that we’ve actually lived through or one we've only imagined. In this course, we will read works about nostalgia by historians, psychologists, political scientists, and literary critics. Some of these theorists write about nostalgia as a personal way of engaging with the world, while others argue for nostalgia as a societal ill. We will also read fiction, personal essays, and poetry, watch films, and analyze current forms of media that enact nostalgic desire. Along the way, we will develop our own theories of nostalgia and deepen our understanding of nostalgia as a complex aspect of contemporary life.

Prof. J. Kotzin
TF9:30/M8 & TF12:30/M8

129, 130: The Haunted 19th Century

In this course, we will read, discuss, and do research about nineteenth-century American Gothic literature. In addition to learning about the conventions of the genre, we will examine the social and historical issues that writers used dark, mysterious tales to expose and critique. We will read works by authors such as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Henry James. We will also consider film adaptations of several works that we will read. Our analyses will focus on issues of race, gender, class, and religion and will touch on themes such as marginalization, imagination, and social injustice.

Prof. P. Tarantello
M11/W9:30/F1 & MW3:30/F11

132: Comics, Graphic Novels, and American Culture

American graphic narratives are one of the most exciting cultural products today and have influenced literature, art, television, video games, and movies. This class will use graphic narratives to develop skills of creating, understanding, and utilizing argumentation via discussions, presentations, and writing.  The class will include a history of the medium, readings of several important articles about graphic novels, and close readings of many of the seminal American graphic narrative works. The skills developed will go beyond applications in academia and will be useful in the workplace, on social media, and in life.

Prof. G. Carr

A Message From Robyn Rosen, Director of First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminars we offer at Marist are designed with you in mind--a brand new college student. These classes not only broach topics, ideas, theories, systems, ideologies, cultures, time periods, and literary genres that you may never have had the opportunity to explore in high school, but they also provide support to you as you adjust to a new set of academic standards and expectations.

With your help, we create a dynamic classroom environment to stimulate curiosity and enhance your knowledge, skills, and level of comfort in your new community.  This class may take you in unexpected directions, and it will surely be a sturdy foundation upon which to build your academic career at Marist. Make the most of it!