Self Cluster

For academic year 2021-2022. 

The Well-Curated Life

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 disciplines contribute to the idea of a self? Self Cluster seminars and co-curricular events will engage these and other questions as we explore the theme of “The Well-Curated Life.” 

We see it all around us: social media “influencers” craft that perfectly manicured image of one’s “best life.” But, even the most private persons struggle with the relationship between a complex, often contradictory interior life — a life in a constant process of finding meaning, connection and individuality — and an identity that one presents to the world. Especially in the age of social media, that public self can, very often, fall beyond our control. “Curation” implies making a deliberate decision to bring something of value to the forefront. While our conversations will explore the social forces that shape and complicate self curation, we will also examine the challenges and responsibilities of representing the experiences and lives of others. Self Cluster seminars will bring perspectives from the visual and performing arts, literature, language, history, psychology, economics, accounting and sociology into our conversations.

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.


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 and Social Justice (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.

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 politics of post-modern births and birthing, and give thought to their own assumptions about and encounters with birth.      

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. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component.

Belonging and Escape

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

Reading the Self (fall)  

Self-definition and self-discovery remain essential human projects. And yet to define who we are, we first must examine the people and cultures we come from. Indeed, writers of autobiography often portray their identity as a reaction to or against the situation of their birth, while striving for, or imagining, future community. This course will explore narrative—specifically autobiography and memoir—as a tool for self-discovery and self-creation. How, we will ask, do place, language, and race inflect identity? How does storytelling present or question “the authentic self” as a self-conscious project? Students will critically engage a variety of memoirs, autobiographies and novels.

Writing the Self (spring) 

In this course we will explore ways to tell our own stories. How, we will ask, does turning life into literature allow us to present or discover ourselves? What questions or uncertainties arise when we write our lives? (How does the self become a character? How do we find the artistic distance to dramatize our own experiences? How does literary or dramatic performance change or reveal our senses of self and identity?) Using our readings from first semester as models, we will tell our own stories in different creative mediums: short stories, memoir, Moth-style presentations, poems, and a final short play festival. This course will not require or assume any previous experience with creative writing.

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, as well as in more broadly conceived communities such as in academia and U.S. politics. Students will both learn about and participate in their local hip-hop scene of Worcester through a community-based learning project. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component.

Image and Society

Common Area Designation(s): Arts

Optics and Chemistry (fall)  

Photography has played an immense role in shaping the public attitudes of societies in the Industrialized World. This semester will cover photography's inception at the intersection of the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to the onset of World War II. Class time will be devoted to visual lectures with supplemental technical demonstrations. Course work will consist of written responses to readings and small-form, photography-centered projects with a focusing on conceptual development. You will be expected to acquire a foundation of media literacy, as demonstrated through your independent critical analysis of visual imagery. This art course carries a $30 fee for supplies and digital printing.

Press and Processors (spring)   

This term continues the fall semester, looking more closely at the divergent uses of lens-based imagery from its historical use in popular print media to social media and related mobile technology. With emergent technologies, the initial inspiration for its creation is often superseded by a reinvigorated utility that can reshape culture. Class time will be devoted to visual lectures with supplemental technical demonstrations. Course work will consist of written responses to readings and small-form, photography-centered projects with a focusing on conceptual development. You will be expected to acquire a foundation of media literacy, as demonstrated through your independent critical analysis of visual imagery. This art course carries a $30 fee for supplies and digital printing.

Mapping the Self

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

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? What gets mapped and what is unmappable? How do gender, race, sexuality, geography and trauma play into concepts of identity? We will study “maps” as a metaphor for life’s journey, and then we will apply these ideas to works of literature, film and popular culture (in translation) from the Spanish-speaking world. You will curate your own parallel introspective odyssey as you reflect on these ideas and document them on an ArcGIS story map.

Mapping the Self Outward (spring)   

This semester 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) influence how you construct and reveal your identity?  How do these same media impact issues of gender and race? We will move from the selfie to the self portrait and explore how individuals have been expressing and presenting their constructed identities to the world over the centuries. Finally, we will use memoir to explore how culture and history contribute to the idea of self.  You will continue your ArcGIS story maps as you bring your story out to the world.

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. 

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.

Self Cluster Director

Justin Poche

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