Multidisciplinary Courses

Urban offers several classes that span and blend traditional disciplines, encouraging students to connect and apply their skills and knowledge from a range of academic subjects. Many of these courses involve a significant field component, taking advantage of Bay Area resources, and all require substantive independent and/or collaborative projects. Assignments in these classes are frequently hands-on, and analyze contemporary problems in the Bay Area, California, the United States and/or the larger world.

California Studies is an intense course that focuses on how water affects the state of California in economic, environmental, political and daily ways. The class meets during B and C periods throughout the term, spending two weeks away from campus in late May. Most of us know little about our water supply beyond what we see fall between the tap and the drain. Where does the water in San Francisco come from? This class will trace San Francisco’s water supply back to its source through indoor pipes, city streets, reservoirs, treatment facilities, tunnels, pipelines and along rivers to the snowpack. We will bike, swim, raft and backpack along these various water systems in our quest to understand the flow. We will attempt to comprehend the immense political and economic complexities involved in water use and distribution in the state of California. (Seniors Only) (Meets during two class periods) (1 credit; fulfills Service Learning 12 requirement)

Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions engages students to dive deep into one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. We start by exploring the dynamics of global climate and climate science. What kind of predictions can we make about how our planet will look in the future? What are the political, economic and social justice implications of action versus inaction? How can we communicate effectively about the challenges and what is at stake? Can we implement real, working solutions through resilience, mitigation and sustainable practices? This course will include field trips to speakers and panels, community events, and community engagement to provide context and depth to the scope of the challenges and solutions. Student-generated final projects will expand upon a curricular theme and the approach and outcomes should reflect the diversity of disciplines covered in the course. Depending on student interest, possible outcomes could include design projects (physical or digital), educational videos, mini-courses or research papers. (½ credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)

Global Migration: Who, Where, Why examines current trends in the movement of people around the world. We will cover three themes—war and violence, poverty and climate change—and how each impacts the movement of people. The goal of this course is to humanize the immigration debate and offer a deeper context of push and pull factors in the movement of people. In case studies and in engaging with local community organizations in the Bay Area working on migration issues, students will achieve a deeper and more nuanced understanding of global migration trends, social issues impacting migration, and the practical efforts of local organizations that work on migration issues. In addition to academic study and research, students will partner with a local organization serving the immigrant community in the Bay Area. This course is multidisciplinary and also meets the requirement for the Senior Service Learning course. The course will start with introductory frameworks around global migration, including international standards for refugees and migrant workers. Students will then investigate three different case studies looking at historical contexts and root causes of migration, experiences of migration, and experiences upon arrival. Students will conduct a final case study research project on a topic examining migration from one of three perspectives: South to South, South to North, or internal migration. (½ Credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)

Mathematics of Democracy explores how mathematics can illuminate the ways in which our society pursues the stated and unstated goals of our democracy. From a civics lens, we address the design, history and purposes of the US system of government. Then, blending civics and mathematics, we will investigate how we pursue those purposes and how mathematics helps illuminate the contradictions (stated vs. unstated goals, ideals vs. practice) in our democracy. In particular, students will analyze gerrymandering and the methods being attempted to measure it (and how they fail), as well as voting rights of minority populations. Finally, we will explore alternatives to our system, including an analysis of how other voting systems work in theory and practice. This class incorporates both reading and mathematical problem-solving; students will be assessed by projects, reports and tests. Prerequisite: Math 3 (Juniors and Seniors only) (1/2 credit)

UAS Theater, Social Change and Community links performance to larger societal issues and explores how theater is used to reflect and impact communities. The course examines how theater dramatizes social tensions, activates empathy across difference, and imagines ways forward. Students will study examples of protest theater and docudrama, trends in community-based performance, and approaches used in therapeutic and correctional contexts, and then apply these models to original dramatic work. Students will design structured improvisations, experiment with first-person spoken word, and create interview-based documentary scenes for community performance. Prerequisite: Theater 1, Peer Education Theater, or Sophomore Service Learning. (1/2 credit)

Voices of Incarceration addresses the problem of “attention violence,” so named by civil rights activist Reverend William Barber II, describing how we turn our eyes away from the experiences of people who need it most. More than 70 million Americans bear the marks of the criminal justice system, and they—and their families—have been victims of that “attention violence.” This elective aims to turn the light of our shared attention upon them: their individual experiences, as well as the systems, beliefs and practices that created our current era of mass incarceration. Many forces converge to give America the highest incarceration rate in the world, from policing, to policy, to the justice system, to the emphasis on “correction” rather than “rehabilitation.” We’ll read the work of scholars and citizens in custody, and of oral historians and politicians. We’ll listen to podcasts and interviews, and we’ll meet with speakers who have been released back into their communities after spending decades under the surveillance of the state. Students will also work with The Beat Within, the Prison University Project and Restore Justice, organizations that are working to change the experience of citizens-in-custody by amplifying their voices, offering higher education and changing policy. (½ credit that can count toward English requirement or toward Service Learning 12 requirement) (Juniors and Seniors only)

Not Offered This Year; Offered in Alternate Years

UAS Rethinking Poverty looks critically at how different constituencies (artists, academics and activists, among others) have tried to recognize, define and understand poverty. From films like Slumdog Millionaire, to ads for Save the Children, to reports on “Living on $2 a day in America,” representations of poverty abound – as do prescriptions for addressing it. Through such varied lenses as film, ethnography, literature and economics, we will investigate the virtues – and limitations – of these representations. We will explore the origins of the modern concept of poverty and the ideology of development that has arisen alongside, as well as the metrics used to talk about both. The academic realm offers a variety of differing answers to some key questions: Who defines scarcity? What counts as deprivation? Where does inequality come from? In addition, we will apply a critical lens to our own investigation: Can poverty be defined from the remove of a classroom? How much and how well can we come to understand? How accurate and helpful are universal models and global standards in defining poverty? What assumptions do we bring to this study of what we’re calling poverty? And, finally, what can we actually do? (Junior and Seniors only) (1/2 credit)