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"Bizarre" College Courses

January 30, 2007

A little less than a month ago the Los Angeles Times ran a story, written by a editor Charlotte Allen, on the Top 12 most bizarre college courses in the U.S. Beliefnet is large “spiritual web site” that advertises to be “independent and not affiliated with any spiritual organization or movement.” Why a Beliefnet editor cared about the business of ranking bizarre classes was interesting to me. But once I looked closer at the list and the classes she critiqued, I understood. For Ms. Charlotte Allen it’s really about conservatism.

The full title of the list is “America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses.” It is constructed by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), “a 40-year-old nonprofit funded by conservative individuals and foundations.” Here’s a bit on the organization’s history from their website: “Young America’s Foundation began in the late 1960s at Vanderbilt University when a group of students formed an organization called University Information Services (UIS). Formed in reac tion to the radicals who dominated the campus, the objective behind UIS was to provide students with conservative ideas that were missing in their education. In the early 1970s, UIS became a national organization that was renamed Young America’s Foundation.”

With that, below is the list of classes as it was published in the LA Times (with school offering, course title, and description). Here’s a link to the original YAF press release.


“1. The Phallus

Occidental College. A seminar in critical theory and social justice, this class examines Sigmund Freud, phallologocentrism and the lesbian phallus.

2. Queer Musicology

UCLA. This course welcomes students from all disciplines to study what it calls an ‘unruly discourse’ on the subject, understood through the works of Cole Porter, Pussy Tourette and John Cage.

3. Taking Marx Seriously

Amherst College. This advanced seminar for 15 students examines whether Karl Marx still matters despite the countless interpretations and applications of his ideas, or whether the world has entered a post-Marxist era.

4. Adultery Novel

University of Pennsylvania. Falling in the newly named “gender, culture and society” major, this course examines novels and films of adultery such as Madame Bovary and The Graduate through Marxist, Freudian and feminist lenses.

5. Blackness

Occidental College. Critical race theory and the idea of ‘post-blackness’ are among the topics covered in this seminar course examining racial identity. A course on whiteness is a prerequisite.

6. Border Crossings, Borderlands: Transnational Feminist Perspectives on Immigration

University of Washington. This women studies department offering takes a new look at recent immigration debates in the U.S., integrating questions of race and gender while also looking at the role of the war on terror.

7. Whiteness: The Other Side of Racism

Mount Holyoke College. The educational studies department offers this first-year, writing-intensive seminar asking whether whiteness is “an identity, an ideology, a racialized social system,” and how it relates to racism.

8. Native American Feminisms

University of Michigan. The women’s studies and American culture departments offer this course on contemporary Native American feminism, including its development and its relation to struggles for land.

9. “Mail Order Brides?” Understanding the Philippines in Southeast Asian Context

Johns Hopkins University. This history course — cross-listed with anthropology, political science and studies of women, gender and sexuality — is limited to 35 students and asks for an anthropology course as a prerequisite.

10. Cyberfeminism

Cornell University. Cornell’s art history department offers this seminar looking at art produced under the influence of feminism, post-feminism and the Internet.

11. American Dreams/American Realities

Duke University. Part of Duke’s Hart Leadership Program that prepares students for public service, this history course looks at American myths, from ‘city on the hill’ to ‘foreign devil,’ in shaping American history.

12. Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism

Swarthmore College. Swarthmore’s ‘peace and conflict studies’ program offers this course that ‘will deconstruct terrorism’ and ‘study the dynamics of cultural marginalization’ while seeking alternatives to violence.”


I thought several of these didn’t seem so bad, especially numbers 3, 5, 8, 11, and 12. I will concede that I’m not personally interested in number 1. But what’s the big deal, the outrage, associated with taking a course on “blackness” or “nonviolent responses to terrorism?” I suppose it was the course descriptions that set off some of the YAF folks, as well as Ms. Allen. But even a number of those, as presented here, are fairly tame. Have I just been around and in the academy long enough (too long?) that I’m numb to some of this? – TL

From → Uncategorized

  1. No — you are not numb. These people are jerks and, I suspect, really racist. Makes you wonder whether it was the “native american” or hte “feminisms” part that worried them….



  2. oh dear, I'm afraid I've *taken* many of those courses 😉


  3. This just drives home the fact that 'bizarre' is a relative term! – TL


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