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Self Cluster

For academic year 2020-2021. 

A musical performance by Montserrat students at a coffee house in Brooks-Mulledy hall.
Performing at a coffee house in the residence hall


Each of us experiences the world as a being who is self-aware, reflective, connected with others, and unique--as a self. What is this fundamental unit in the experience of being human? Where does it come from? How do insights from a range of areas (humanities, social sciences, arts, and natural sciences) contribute to the idea of a self?  Throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, seminars and co-curricular events in the Self Cluster will engage these and many other questions as we explore the theme of Myths, Maps & Memes. What are myths? How are they created, and how do they function in society to shape who we are as individuals and communities? How does the self find meaning and place as it navigates interwoven and often conflicting sources and modes of identity and expression? In what ways do modern technologies enable, complicate, or undermine these processes of self-formation and authentic connection across multiple physical and imagined landscapes of community, meaning, and value? We shall explore these questions and many others in our seminars, as well as through cluster-wide cocurricular activities that aim to build an intellectual and social community. These activities may include participation in Holy Cross’ Arts Transcending Borders programs exploring the theme of “Originality and Its Origins,'' interdisciplinary team projects and discussions, and mindfulness workshops.


NOTE: Some courses (as indicated below in the course descriptions) include a Community Based Learning component. These experiences will be organized as conditions allow in conjunction with the College's Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning.


Self 1: Accounting and Accountability

Common Area Designation(s): Social Science

The History of Accounting (fall)   

Accounts have been kept for as long as humans have been able to record them. Accounting defines selves or entities, measures them, and communicates performance between them. What is measured and how it is communicated depends on the entities involved and the purpose of the communication. Accounting forms the nexus between dyads such as self and corporation, corporation and government, government and society and nation to nation. This course follows the evolution of accounting from a system of measuring stores at the individual level to a profession with shared language and values. The transformation of accounting is viewed through art, literature and film.

Accounting in History (spring)  

This course explores how accounting provides a tool to affect change and improve our world. Critics of accounting claim accounting rules contribute to financial crises and fraudulent reporting, causing pain and suffering for governments, corporations and individuals. However, current trends in accounting focus on issues of social justice and sustainability. In the aftermath of financial crises we often see the establishment of laws such as the Securities and Exchange Act and the Social Security Act which serve to protect investments, ensure the security of individuals in old age and relieve suffering. The role of accounting in significant historical events and the impact on the self, however defined, constitutes the focus of this semester.


Self 2: Beginnings and Endings

Common Area Designation(s): Social Science

Laboring Under an Illusion (fall)

In this seminar, we will explore the American way of birth. How does it shape birth practices, outcomes and experiences? What role do mass media and biomedicine play in birth and what are the personal, social and ethical implications of hospital births? Why is birth the only condition where “well” people are admitted to hospitals? What role do alternative birth narratives play? What does it mean to mourn in the face of birth? Together, we will examine these questions and consider the influence of birth, infertility, and choosing to be child-free on our sense of social and personal selves. Throughout, we will attend to the question of who gets to be the cultural authority on birth and why that matters. Drawing from popular media, history, psychology, anthropology, and especially sociology, students will learn to view birth as a social process, consider         

The Art of Dying Well (spring) 

This semester, we will explore what death means, and how it is experienced. Do people in the contemporary West live in denial of death? What is it like to work with people who are dying or dead? Where do we learn how to die? Can we be taught to “die well”? We will question who gets to be the cultural authority on whether one has a life “worth” living and how close encounters with death change people’s experiences of life. Using community-based learning in local hospices, we will consider the costs and benefits of portraying death as the opposite of life as we explore how people experience and give meaning to death. Drawing from popular media, history, psychology, anthropology, and especially sociology, students will learn to view death as a social process, consider the politics of death and dying in our post-modern world, interrogate past and present encounters with death, and envision our own death and dying. We will incorporate direct experience and Community Based Learning into our inquiries as conditions allow.


Self 3: Finding and Making the Self

Common Area Designation(s): Social Science

Self as Story (fall)  

What is the self?  Is the self singular or multiple, constant or changeable?  How is our sense of self related to the stories we tell about ourselves?  Drawing on readings from psychology, literature, and history as well as selected autobiographies and memoirs, this course will explore the process by which individuals create and tell the stories of their lives. Topics include the nature of autobiographical memory, the place of language and culture in shaping the self, the difference between life as lived and life as told, the challenge of differentiating the factual and the fictional, and the role of life stories in the creation of personal identity.   

Stories of Self (spring) 

What does it mean to tell our own story? What does it mean to have someone else tell our story - or for us to attempt to tell the story of another? In this class we’ll read examples of all those sorts of narrative and try to understand how they succeed and where they fall short. We’ll investigate what happens to the self on the page - how through the act of storytelling it can become simplified or complicated, glorified, reduced or revealed. But this will primarily be a writing course, in which students will explore the craft of writing by practicing different forms and styles, each one a way to illuminate, perhaps, a different aspect of self. 


Self 4: Hip-Hop and Identity

Common Area Designation(s): Arts
C.I.S. Concentration: Africana Studies

Hip-Hop & Musical Identity (fall) 

Our identities come from our lived experiences. As hip-hop is the expression of lived experience, it is also the expression of one’s identity. In this class, students will explore how hip-hop, an art form originally from the Bronx, NY c. 1970, forms and depicts various identities. We will investigate how hip-hop gives voice to an individual’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. We will also question how a hip-hop artist’s self-expression intersects and merges with the identities of their listeners. For example, we will tackle issues such as, can one be a feminist and also a fan of hip-hop? Can Jesuit values be expressed in hip-hop?  

Hip-Hop & the Community (spring)    

Hip-hop began in a close-knit community in the Bronx, NY c. 1970 and now is a global phenomenon. In this course, students will study the four main components of hip-hop—DJing, MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti art—not only to understand the movement musically and artistically but also a way of understanding the communities that shaped its evolution. We will explore how hip-hop impacts and is embedded into physical geographic communities, including Worcester, as well as in more broadly conceived communities such as in academia and U.S. politics. 


Self 5: Identity, Community, and Trauma

Common Area Designation(s): Literature or Cross-Cultural Studies

Self and Conflict (fall)  

Over the past century-and-a-half societies have changed rapidly and in often traumatic ways, leaving the individual as well as collective identities contested and confused. In this seminar, we will read a variety of literary texts to examine the political, social, and psychological construction, destruction, and reconstruction of identity within the context of major international conflicts. Likely texts include: Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart; Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz; Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried; Hala Alyan, Salt Houses; and excerpts from Jonathan Shay’s Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. These texts will lead us to larger investigations of how to locate personal agency in the face of structural and institutional oppression.

Memories, Stories, Histories (spring)   

How do we create individual and communal narratives in relation to ideas of home, place, and the consequences of contemporary dislocation and migration? Specifically, we will explore the relationship between memory and story-telling to history and community-making through literary works by authors such as Jamaica Kincaid, Chang-Rae Lee, Toni Morrison, and Harry Crews. By examining together the experiences of dislocation and trauma from diverse perspectives, we will consider how race, ethnic identity, gender, class and sexuality are constructed and interrelated. In the process, we will raise complex moral questions that challenge us to investigate the relationship between identity, community and justice and our own responsibilities as individuals and members of identity groups.


Self 6: Mapping the Self

Common Area Designation(s): Cross-Cultural Studies

Mapping the Self Inward (fall) 

Who are you? How does your unique personal geography map who you are, where you came from and who you will become? How do gender, race, sexuality, geography and ethnicity play into your identity? We will study how notions of self are created by looking at examples in translation from the Spanish-speaking world. How are notions of self expressed through art, literature, film, music and popular culture? Students will trace their parallel introspective odyssey by designing an ArcGIS story map of their personal story.

Mapping the Self Outward (spring)   

Drawing from literary works from the Spanish speaking world (in translation) we will consider how the sense of self curated and examined in the first semester shifts and changes as it turns outward. How does social media (Instagram, Rinsta versus Finsta, TikTok and Snapchat) impact how you construct and reveal your identity?  How do these same media impact issues of gender and race? What face do you choose to show the world? How many faces do you have? To whom do you show your “true” self?  We will continue your ArcGIS story maps as you bring your story out to the world.


Self 7: The Contemplative in Action

Common Area Designation(s): Historical Studies

American Contemplatives (fall) 

The value of becoming “contemplatives in action” is at the heart of a Jesuit liberal arts education. But what does it mean to be a contemplative? What questions have historically driven individuals’ desire to know the world and find meaning within it? How have ways of discerning and articulating one’s self--including one’s obligations to and needs from society--changed over time? In exploring such questions, we will encounter a range of voices from the past. Some were loud and well-known; many were not. Others were deliberately silenced in their pursuit of the many truths of human experience, the natural world, and the forces that shape our lives. This history seminar will introduce students to methods of critical reading and research that conceptualize and contextualize questions at the core of modern society. It will also hone essential writing, oral, and visual presentation skills that make these concepts and experiences accessible to multiple audiences. 

American Activists (spring)

If one question emerges above all others for the “contemplative in action,” it is this: “how, then, are we to live?” This course will revisit the contemplatives explored in the fall semester—and many others—to explore how answers to this question have shaped the course of history. How did they, and those that they inspired, enact various forms of political action, protest, and policy that reflected their vision of a more just world? How have evolving communication strategies and technologies shaped how individuals engage these struggles? In grappling with these questions, students will continue to develop essential tools of historical investigation and communication. 


Self 8: The Good Education

Common Area Designation(s): Social Science

The Good Student (fall)   

Who is “a good student?” In this seminar, we will examine conceptualizations of the “good student” that include not only academic achievement, but also self-reflection, empathy, perspective taking, open-mindedness, ethical and moral decision making, participation in civic life, and contribution to the common good. We will also attend to the social construction of “the bad student.” What is meant – and what is missed – when students are labeled as troublemakers, unmotivated, and struggling? This seminar will encourage participants to reflect upon the students they aim to be as they begin their college journey, as well as their hopes for student development in the kindergarten through twelfth grade public school system.  

The Good School (spring)

What is a “good school?” In this seminar, we will examine conceptualizations of the “good school” that include policy, curriculum, physical plant, culture, and relationships. Compulsory education is intended to socialize and educate students in order to maintain a stable society. Yet, schools vary wildly in their mission, values, and practice. Visits to schools and discussions will explore what is meant by, and the implications of, labeling and attending schools that are perceived as “good” or “bad” on both students, as they discern their sense of self and place in the world,  and on society as a whole. This course will encourage students to reflect on their own perception of schools, how attendance at their own k-12 schools impacted their sense of self, and what types of schools they hope society will provide for future generations.


Self 9: The Science of Happiness

Common Area Designation(s): Social Science

Self Discovery (fall) 

Influenced by Aristotle, John Locke coined the term “pursuit of happiness”. Thomas Jefferson never explained his use of this phrase as stated in the Declaration of Independence. The Social Sciences, however, have plenty to say about it, and “Positive Psychology” in particular makes a large contribution to this area of inquiry. Positive psychology concerns itself with the use of psychological theory, research, and clinical techniques toward understanding resilient and adaptive, creative, positive, and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior. As you pursue your own independence at the beginning of your college career, you will explore in this seminar what the science of happiness has to say about your own pursuit of happiness.

Flourishing (spring)   

So, what is the good life anyway? Who is capable of achieving it? What are the factors that sustain it? How can you achieve it for yourself? How do you know if you’re living it? We all have opinions about these matters, but psychologists approach these questions scientifically, based on objectively verifiable evidence. Through the lens of Positive Psychology, students will tackle these compelling and life-enriching questions as they reflect on their own adjustment to college life, a Community Based Learning project requiring 2 hours/week on site, and exposure to those with serious life issues. We will incorporate direct experience and Community Based Learning into our inquiries as conditions allow.


Cluster Director


Justin Poché, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History