I’ve had a lot of strangers laugh at me when I tell them I’m a politics major. The comments are a mixed bag. Some people follow that up with “You picked a rough time to study that.” Others are a little more supportive, and you get lines like “We really need more good people in that field” or “Maybe you can fix some of this.” Still, others just want to go on an unprovoked five-minute rant about gas prices immediately after meeting you (which is definitely not a real experience I once had on campus). 

A lot of people right now are looking at national politics and thinking that everyone has lost their minds. And I get it. I really do. There are days when I get news notifications on my phone and can think of nothing that would be more appealing than banging my head against the wall. It doesn’t help that in our current political climate it often feels like simple issues spark massive outrage and provoke overly partisan responses. It’s easy to find yourself in a place where you feel like you can never understand the other side, or even that you hate them. 

If you relate to any of these feelings, then I have a class for you. And that class is  “The Battle Over Family Values in American Politics” (POLI 4301), taught by Gwendoline Alphonso, Ph.D. It is running in the Spring 2023 semester on Mondays and Thursdays from 11:00am to 12:15pm. 

The concept of what “family values” actually are can seem daunting to unpack, but this course attacks that challenge from every angle. You will examine topics ranging from social welfare policy, to marriage and the nuclear family as a political institution, to masculinity in American politics. You will analyze how politicians talk about the family and utilize ideas about the family to support or reject different policy positions. Understanding the family as both a micro-level source of political ideology and a macro-level source of policy has the potential to explain so much about the current state of American politics. 

This course will help you to better understand why people hold certain political convictions. The concept of family values, and who is truly upholding family values, often produces a deep partisan divide. One project, in particular, the family oral history, will help you get to the root of this debate. When I took this course there were people in it who believed in nearly the exact opposite of everything I do. We had a healthy debate going on when it came to most topics. This family oral history project challenged us to analyze broad political topics in the context of our own family history, using interviews with family members. We then had to peer review and offer critiques of each other’s pieces. This exercise challenged us to confront the roots of our own belief systems, and each other. The more you know about someone’s family history, the easier it is to understand their view of the world. I found myself looking at peers I wholeheartedly disagreed with and thinking, “Okay, I understand how you got there.” Confronting your own biases can be challenging work, but it’s an incredibly important life skill that this course can help you develop.

This course also challenges you to expand your horizons when it comes to writing. There is a significant research paper, but also smaller practicum papers that span several different styles of writing. There is also a class peer review workshop that allows you to read and critique other students’ work. Even if you’re unfamiliar with a particular kind of analytical writing, this peer review feedback process will help you get to a place where you feel comfortable. Alphonso is so supportive and helpful when it comes to improving your work, and in this course, she has curated the perfect environment for you to grow as a writer. This course was the first time I had formally written an Op-Ed that my peers actively analyzed, and now I’m the Opinion Editor for this paper! 

Plus, there’s always the added bonus of the attributes. This course provides the Magis Corse Interdisciplinary, Writing Across Curriculum and Writing Discipline attributes. It also counts towards American Studies and is a Women’s Studies Gender-Focused course. Just one class, but so many benefits. 

I took this course as a sophomore, and it has been one of my favorite experiences at this school. If you have the opportunity, this is a course you shouldn’t miss.

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