Classes '17-'18 | '16-'17 | '15-'16 | '14-'15 | '13-'14 | '13-'12

Current Classes

African Americans and the Civil War

Description: The status of enslaved Africans and Black Citizenship occupied America in the 1800s. Questions surrounding race and property led up to the Civil War and continued into the period of Reconstruction. This course is a study of African Americans during the Civil War, including the events, figures, and ideas leading up to the war and its aftermath.

Envisioning Criminal Justice Reform 

This course examines the economic and social issues related to mass incarceration, public safety, and the legal system. We will consider current ideas and practices related to justice and rehabilitation. This course uses these topics to introduce students to the theories and methods of critical social scientists, who study strategies for eliminating suffering and structural violence. Through multiple written assignments, students will develop a substantial essay that proposes an innovation toone aspect of the American criminal justice system.

This is an advanced criminology course. 

Art: Anthems

This is a year-long art course exploring idea of the ANTHEM through different artistic iterations. The course uses movement, song, image, and language to address issues of citizenship, belonging, and freedom. The class will be conducted in four sections. Section one of this course will start with a study of anthems (personal, community, national) and other songs that seek to create a sense of belonging. Students will create visual forms and write their own anthems. Section two will work with movement based on anthems developed in section one. Section three will focus on the graphic novel, which might be considered as a program for an Anthem performance. Finally, section four will develop larger scale works, which will be utilized as a set for a performance of movements and anthems. Throughout the year the class will host guest artists to further inform the work. A culminating project will be a comic book that incorporates song, dance scores and mural designs. The class will be taught throughout the year by Sarah Ross, Martine Whitehead, Aaron Hughes and Damon Locks. 

Poetry: Writing Poetry 

This course serves as an immersion in writing poetry. Although this class will have a generative focus, students will read and discuss the work of published and performing poets to deepen their craft. We will consider a diverse range of poems and essays from various schools and aesthetics in order to investigate the possibilities of formal, free verse, narrative, and experimental poetry. 

Critical Writing and Research: 

This class is a pre-requiste to apply to the University Without Walls program at Northeastern IL University. 


Draw What You See/Draw What You Dream (Beginning to Advanced Drawing)

This multi-level drawing course will focus on visual awareness and utilizing basic drawing concepts to practice a diversity of drawing techniques. The course will begin with the meticulous study of drawing strategies to develop a nuanced understanding of the diversity of mark making processes. Throughout the course students will engage in drawing exercises, group critiques and discussions based on short readings. The course will conclude with the development of a series of finished drawings for a final critique.

Faculty: Aaron Hughes, Independent Artist

Our Dances, Our Freedom

This movement class will operate on three levels: The level of the body, the intellect and attaining knowledge of our shared histories and at the level of creative output as we learn to choreograph and score our own dances. This class will also serve as a brief and incomplete survey through various dance forms that have been pivotal in oppressed peoples’ freedom movements, especially people of African descent. From this awareness, we will develop our own “movement language” and score, so that we can begin to make our own dances.

Faculty: A. M. “Martine” Whitehead, Independent Artist

Art and Empire in the Ancient World

What does art have to do with imperialism? From towering statues of gods to caricatures of emperors, images became a decisive way to exercise power in the ancient world. This course will examine a series of case studies drawn from Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece, Mesopotamia, and the Roman Empire, paying special attention to works made in North Africa and the Middle East, in order to introduce students to key monuments and themes from the ancient world. We will think critically about what it means to make, sustain, and subvert an empire through art. The class will debate important theoretical issues that governed the production and reception of art in the past and that continue to do so today: How do works of art shore up imperial projects? How have emperors and other ruling bodies used art to extend their power? Do artists and works of art have the capacity to call imperialism into question?

Faculty: Luke Fidler, University of Chicago

The Social Value of Latinas/os/xs

Using readings, writing, videos, discussions, and art, we will explore the historical and contemporary relationship between social position (race, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, class, etc.) and Latina/o/x social value. Course topics include politics, family, relationships, and labor, among others. We will examine how Latinas/os/xs are externally and internally ascribed value. In the end, students will critically reflect on their own systems of social valuation and use art to develop new ways of ascribing social value to themselves and others.

Manifesta for the Future (Beginning to Advanced Drawing & painting) A manifesto is “a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political or aesthetic nature.” We will read several famous manifestos, poems and related materials. Exploring various structures and prompts, we will write and illustrate our own manifestos looking toward the future we want to see.


Introduction to Writing

This class will develop reading, writing, and critical thinking skills through engagement with writing as a process that takes place over time and in conversation with others. Students will read, discuss, and respond to works written by incarcerated Americans to analyze the characteristics of effective writing and to practice placing your ideas in conversation with those of others. By practicing forms of oral and written communication, students will learn to evaluate language critically and to express ideas clearly. Students will work collaboratively with others to produce and revise written work, practicing the skills necessary for effective writing.
Faculty: Simone Waller, Northwestern University

Digging Deeper: Poetry Informed by Contingent Citizenship and Being Human Th

is spring semester course will use poetry and other writings to address the idea of “contingent citizenship” in this crucial political moment. “Contingent citizenship” implies that there are conditions that make citizenship permissible, outlining how citizenship is essentially membership, rights, access, and resources that are always impacted by power. How are various types of bodies viewed and treated, collectively and individually when power is enacted upon them in key moments? Students in this course will consider poems that address the concepts of citizenship, rights, and the human body and read poets such as Jose Olivarez, June Jordan, Etheridge Knight, Martín Espada, as well as individual poems and critical essays. In addition to writing poems on a weekly basis, students may write critical reflections based on the readings and how they understand the development of their writing process throughout the semester.
Faculty: Dr. Tara Betts, Poetry Foundation

Emancipation and Abolition in Historical Perspective

What is the difference between emancipating slaves and abolishing slavery? This course will explore different methods and paradigms of 18th and 19th century emancipation and abolition, from manumission and colonization to varieties of “self-emancipation.” Topics may include the Haitian Revolution, the American Revolution, the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Amistad, the American Civil War, and Reconstruction. Authors may include Olaudah Equiano, Phillis Wheatley, David Walker, Maria Stewart, Mary Prince, Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Wilson, Abraham Lincoln, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Thavolia Glymph, Gerald Horne, Alan Taylor, and Saidiya Hartman.
Faculty: Dr. Kai Parker, University of Chicago

Afrofuturism: Science Fiction as Social Commentary and Alternative Visions of Tomorrow

All fiction involves creating a compelling world for the reader. Science fiction is a unique literary genre for its ability to comment on society and to offer alternatives to the way we live, relate to others, and organize social institutions. African Americans, as writers or as characters, have been fundamental to the development of science fiction from its inception. This course surveys science fiction written primarily, although not exclusively, by African Americans in order to consider the history and representation of race, disability, gender relations, and sexuality in relation to the political, economic, and social changes of the last 150 years. Students develop writing through exercises and giving and receiving constructive criticism. The final project will be the completion of at least one short science fiction story.
Faculty: Clinton Nichols

UWW Capstone Experience Course

This class is the last course for students in NEIU's University Without Walls program. Our primary goal will be to complete all the necessary work for graduation, including depth area summaries, student portfolios, narrative transcripts, and review board hearings. We will also plan for future UWW cohorts with particular interest in how graduating students can serve as mentors/advisers/teachers for the next group of students. As a community of scholars, we will use this final UWW semester to pursue a larger presence for our work in our own lives, the lives of people at Stateville more broadly, and the larger community.
Faculty: Timothy Barnett & Erica Meiners


Race and Politics

This course will explore the work of race and racism in, on and through politics in the United States. We will examine both the historical and contemporary impact of race, ranging from its influence on the founding traditions and institutions of the nation to current manifestations in the political attitudes and actions of individuals and groups. We will also explore how race interacts with other systems and identities such as class, gender and sexuality to shape politics and communities. Finally, we will explore the current manifestations of race and racism in our politics ranging from the election of President Obama to the current presidency of Donald Trump.

Faculty: Cathy J. Cohen, The University of Chicago

Make Your Mark & Fly Your Flag

This course will use design and printmaking to explore the concept of citizenship. Using workshops, assignments, critique, readings, and group discussion artists will explore the way patterns and colors have been used to denote difference and construct belonging. The course will begin with the meticulous study of design strategies and printmaking techniques to develop a nuanced understanding of the printing process and explore how different marks, patterns, colors, and subjects inform the conceptual meaning of prints and flags. We will develop of a series of finished prints and flags.

Faculty: Aaron Hughes, Independent Artist

From Civil Rights to #Black Lives Matter: Politics, Society and Protest Since the 1960s

This course will examine Black life, politics and protest in the urban North since the 1960s. We
will mostly read autobiographies and memoirs to capture first person accounts of the era. We
will examine the rise and fall of the Black liberation movement in the North; the transformation
of cities as factories left and the “war on drugs” began; and the rise of a new Black political
class. We will explore the meaning of such concepts as: Black Nationalism, globalization,
neoliberalism, deindustrialization, mass incarceration, and Black feminism

Faculty: Martha Biondi, Northwestern University

Movement / Movement: Dance and Liberation

We will use movement and the imagination to develop a deeper awareness of the body and the
Mind-body-spirit. We will learn about the history, present, and future of dance, making connections between dance and liberation movements. We will build a dialogue between dancers incarcerated at Stateville and in the free world through the language of movement. This class is open to learners of all backgrounds and abilities. This class is not about copying dance moves until perfection. Part of the work of the class will be to develop a shared language that allows each of us to shine uniquely as embodied people.

Faculty: Anna Martine Whitehead, Independent Artist

Poetry About My Rights: Writing Poems Informed by Contingent Citizenship

This poetry course will use poetry and creative writing to address the idea of “contingent citizenship” in this crucial political moment. “Contingent citizenship” implies that there are conditions that make citizenship permissible, outlining how citizenship is essentially membership, rights, access, and resources that are always impacted by power. How are various types of bodies viewed and treated, collectively and individually when power is enacted upon them in key moments? With this overarching idea as a guiding question, students in this course will consider poems that address the concepts of citizenship, rights, and the human body. The course will include readings by poets such as Reginald Dwayne Betts, June Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, Etheridge Knight, as well as critical essays. In addition, documentary screenings and audio will be used as source materials for writing prompts and points of departure for writing and critical analysis.

Faculty: Tara Betts, Poetry Teaching Artist, Poetry Foundation


Introduction to Environmental Justice

In addition to waging important political struggles for education, economic, housing, and criminal justice reforms, people of color, poor people, and indigenous communities have also led inspiring social movements for environmental justice. In this introductory course, students will survey local, national, and international environmental justice histories to understand the origins and persistence of environmental hazards in frontline communities. Through readings, films, and group discussions we will pay particular attention to the ways that scientific research has harmed and benefited grassroots movements aimed at addressing environmental and health disparities.

Faculty: Dr. Antonio Reyes Lopez

Writing Workshop: Creating Character

In this course, students will develop writing skills, particularly around the development of characters, real or fictional. The class will explore how short fiction and prose, songs, magazine profiles, and portraits work to capture a person. Through interviews, observation, research, and memory, students will craft pieces of writing that capture people--friends, family, famous, or invented. Readings will include Zadie Smith, David Remnick, Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, and more.

Faculty: Tess Landon

Printmaking: Developing a Collaborative Portfolio

This class will create a group print portfolio based on a theme. Students will go through the process of creating illustrations--focusing on line quality, mark making, composition, texture, and spatial depth for printmaking. We will plan, critique, reflect, and collaborate to develop a final series of prints using foam on paper. We will explore adding color to the final prints using watercolors. Students will be required to participate in one-on-one and group critiques, as well as collaborative work.

Faculty: William Estrada

Art and Animation

This art class will be a year-long study and art-making course with a focus on long term sentencing and the other ‘long terms’ it produces. Students will study the art of animation and story-telling in order to explore critical ideas of the long term. Through readings (policy, poetry essays and more), screenings and drawing exercises the class will generate our own understandings of and visual language for the long term. We aim to produce a series of works on paper and an animated project as outcomes.

Mapping the Self in Community

In this workshop, students will read, view, listen to, and generate work about location and identity. Together we’ll experiment with writing exercises to engage and explore complex dynamics of community-making. Texts will include: prose by James Baldwin, Edwidge Danticat and Saidiya Hartman; poetry by Martin Espada and Reginald Dwayne Betts; song by Louis Armstrong and Stevie Wonder; and film by Charles Burnett.

American Public Schools

In this course, we examine the American public education system and the social forces that have shaped schools as we know them. We will analyze the different—and sometimes conflicting—goals, motivations, and outcomes of schools. Who designs educational policies and for whom? Do schools create pathways to equality or ensure continued inequality? Students will be asked to reflect on and write about their own educational experiences as well as analyze theory and cases from history and society. Together, we will also brainstorm what it would mean to create school systems that are spaces for freedom and justice.

Justice and Politics in Shakespeare’s Plays

Shakespeare is the most influential writer in English, in part, because the ethical, psychological, and political issues he explores continue to be relevant over time. In this course, we will examine three plays (The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and The Tempest) to see how stories about love, marriage, jealousy, violence, and family conflict raise key questions about the nature of justice, politics, and inequities. How, they ask, do individuals negotiate power in flawed societies? How do people from different social groups (based on race, class, religion, or gender) get treated under the law and use the rules of society differently? And how does society balance justice and mercy? The course will include films and readings showing how Shakespeare’s works appears today (including Shakespeare Behind Bars, and Toni Morrison’s Desdemona).  

Black Women in History, Politics and The Law

This survey course will focus on Black women from three related perspectives; history, politics and the law. The first class sessions will introduce a framework for the study of race, gender, class and sexuality. Subsequent classes will be organized around various topics, including violence against Black women, the history of Black women in the Civil Rights movement, Black women and incarceration and Black women’s role in political movements like Black Lives Matters.

Critical Education: Power, Knowledge, and Change

Limited only to students enrolled in the new Northeastern Illinois University UWW program, this course helps students understand what is needed to create and complete their individualized UWW programs. It also explores education as a force for change (and control) in US history and questions some of the underlying ideas of traditional education so that students have many resources and theories available as they work with advisors to design their UWW curricula.

Introduction to Criminology

This course surveys the major theoretical approaches to the study of anti-social behavior, victimization, and American society’s institutional responses to both. Using contemporary news accounts and a biography the course considers fundamental questions such as (1) are humans rational actors? (2) to what extent does a person’s biological profile explain his/her offending? (3) who benefits (or suffers) from the construction and enforcement of laws? Written reflections and discussions about contemporary news accounts and a biography will provide the opportunity for students to explore more deeply their own ideas about criminal behavior and society’s efforts to address it.

A Survey of Black Writers

In this course, we will consider fiction, poetry and essays as groundwork for writing, and explore aesthetics from the late 19th century to the present. Potential writers and movements may include Frederick Douglass, Lucy Terry, Phillis Wheatley, the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Renaissance and the Federal Writers Project, the Black Arts Movement, and the contributions of poets involved with performance such as The Last Poets, Watts Prophets, Patricia Smith, Tyehimba Jess, and Nate Marshall.

Writing: Education from the Public to the Personal

This course will explore the history of education in America as well as the role of education in our own lives. Throughout the session, we will read personal narratives and critical texts as context for producing our own education narratives. In order to help us craft compelling pieces of writing, we will focus on skills including crafting arguments, description, organization, grammar and word use. Students will be expected to participate in critiques and discussions of each other’s writing. Students will be required to complete weekly readings (approximately 50 pages per week) and writing assignments as well as a final personal education narrative.

Political Theory: The Meaning and Limits of Rights

Political claims are often expressed in terms of the rights of individuals. However, rights have not always played this central role in politics: they are an invention of the modern period. This course first examines the origin and meaning of rights, and the role they play in modern political systems. We note the apparent necessity of asserting rights in order to fight oppression. However, examining critiques of capitalism and racial and gendered domination, we also ask what forms of oppression an exclusive focus on rights may obscure. Readings include: The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. Students who were enrolled in this course last summer are encouraged to reapply to take the class again as it was cut short last session.

Philosophy: Freedom and Its Limits

The concept of freedom comes up in a range of philosophical contexts—in metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics, to name just a few—and the aim of this course is to survey some of these contexts and to consider the connections between them. Questions we will ask include: Do physics, neuroscience, or psychology give us reason to doubt whether humans have free will? Does our answer to this question affect how we think about moral responsibility? Does freedom mean freedom from any constraints or does all freedom involve constraints of some kind? People generally talk about freedom as a “good thing”—but what is it about freedom that makes it good? Students will be expected to complete weekly readings and reading response papers, as well as a 5-page essay, due at the end of the semester.

Philosophy: Philosophy of Punishment

This class addresses the moral question: why do we punish? We engage with traditional punishment justifications i.e. deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restoration, and we examine the moral content of these justifications via a range of ethical theories. We draw on the classical works of Aristotle, Kant, and Bentham as well as the more recent scholarship of Derrida, Rawls, and Nussbaum. Key themes include: the meanings of autonomy and dignity, the limits of free will, and concepts of social censure, forgiveness, public protection, fairness, interpersonal trust, and embodied vulnerability. We consider these themes in the context of (a) the various stages and forms of punishment both in the U.S. and in European jurisdictions e.g. sentencing practices, types of confinement, and community supervision, and (b) the diverse perspectives of lived experience – of people with convictions (and their families), victims of crime, and a range of criminal justice actors. The format of this class emphasizes open dialogue and debate. Each week there will be reading assignments, along with an 8-page written paper due at the end of the semester.


American Art: A People’s History

Course Description: In 1995, bell hooks described visual representation as “a crucial location of struggle for any exploited and oppressed people asserting subjectivity and decolonization of the mind.” This course charts a history of such assertions in an American context. It addresses art, including prints, photography, film, and performance, motivated by political commitment, and explores how artists and activists have responded to social and cultural problems in the United States from colonial times to today. What critiques have artists proffered? What counter-narratives have they produced? Course themes include anticolonialism, slavery and liberation, civil rights, visual testimony, violence and nonviolence, community, collaboration, and creative resistance. Students will be expected to complete weekly readings and reading response papers, as well as a 10-page creative project, due at the end of the semester.

Introduction to Latina/o Studies

Course Description: This course examines the complexity of the group that is called “Latinas/os”. We will examine the historical and contemporary experiences of Latinas/os in the United States in order to uncover, understand, and appreciate the social, political, and artistic contributions of Latinas/os. We will cover topics such as: (im)migration, labor, social movements, imperialism/colonization, art, and identity. Through this course students will develop a critical consciousness about the position of Latinas/os in contemporary US society. Students will be required to read an average of 50 pages per week and produce 3 written pieces throughout the course.

Staging Time: Real Stories, Real Theater

Course Description: This course explores the ways in which body and voice can be used as tools to tell a story. We will use theater exercises to learn how to communicate ideas and emotions through the creative use of the body and the voice, individually and collectively. These exercises also promote critical thinking, problem-solving, reading, and self-expression. We plan to use short stories and stories shared by participants as material to create a performance or series of performances. These stories will be shared with Albany Park Theater Project in Chicago.

African American Studies 101

This course is an introduction to the discipline of African American Studies. We will read influential writings on various ways of doing African American Studies, as well as classic and contemporary essays on important issues in the discipline. Themes may include: the political and cultural implications of the distinctions between “African American Studies,” “Africana Studies,” and “Black Studies”; the role of the African diaspora in the study of Black people in the United States; the history of the discipline from the Jim Crow-era “Negro” academy, to the creation of Black Studies departments during the Black Power Movement, to the present era; different scholarly approaches such as what W.E.B. Du Bois called “the Study of the Negro Problems,” Black cultural studies, Afrocentrism, Afro-pessimism, Black feminism, and critical race legal theory; the relationship of the academic study of Black people to the world beyond the academy; the distinction between the discipline of “Black Studies” and the practice of “Black Study”; and African American Studies’ relevance to Black Lives Matter. Authors may include Du Bois, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Molefi Kete Asante, Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ralph Ellison, Harold Cruse, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Derrick Bell, Kimberle Crenshaw, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Robin D.G. Kelley, Stuart Hall, Frank Wilderson, Fred Moten, and Saidiya Hartman.

Passing Time: (In)significant Moments

Our life is marked by significant events, but is also filled with ordinary moments and time spent waiting for “something” to happen. As a class, we will explore the following questions: What does it mean to wait, short- and long-term? What do we do to pass the time? How are acts of waiting significant in our lives? We will discuss and learn ways artists creatively symbolize, document, and measure time, and use these methods to create our own small-scale artworks. No prior art experience is necessary - just be willing to share personal thoughts, activities, and memories.

Literature: The Journey

During this semester, we will study literature with travel at its center. Closely reading works by such writers as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and Juan Felipe Herrera, we’ll consider how and why the journey and/or the arrival are such common events in so many works of literary art. We’ll also explore dynamic connections between a physical expedition and internal journeying in the texts at hand. You’ll be expected to write weekly responses (one to two pages in length). These weekly responses will alternate between critical analysis and creative nonfiction/memoir. All interested readers and writers are encouraged to apply. This class is supported by the Odyssey Project & Illinois Humanities.

History: From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter

This course examines the social and political developments in Black American communities since the 1960s. We explore the complex and uneven aftermath of the Black freedom struggle, and analyze in particular the fate of urban communities during the last half-century. Students will be expected to read 50-75 pages each week and write a two-page weekly reaction paper. Course readings explore social/political conditions and thought in Black communities since the 1960s.

Art: From Drawing the Personal to Printing the Public

This course will begin by using drawing to share students’ personal experiences and beliefs through the exploration of various media, techniques, and concepts. Building off this personal work, the course will expand to making prints and designing billboards that address large social issues that tie back to students’ personal experiences and beliefs. Through individual critiques and group discussions students will develop an understanding of how drawings and prints shift from the personal to social, political and back again. Final prints and billboard designs will be reproduced and presented throughout different neighborhoods in Chicago by the Prison & Neighborhood Arts Project.

Writing: Writing Through a Wall

This course is an introduction to the art of writing non-fiction including personal essays, political writing, blog posts, op-eds, and prose poems. Course objectives include: 1) exploring the process of writing; 2) learning to analyze texts; 3) learning to read as a writer; 4) expanding vocabulary and reinforcing grammar; 5) learning to constructively critique and be critiqued; 6) practicing the art of writing clearly, persuasively, and lyrically; 7) learning the process of revision; 8) refining writing for publication; 9) defining goals as a writer; 10) producing a portfolio of writing. The class will participate in “in-class workshops” where student writings will be discussed and critiqued.

Performance: Dance and Movement-building

Students in “Dance and Movement Building” will be pushed to connect their personal stories to dance. We will look at what dance styles students already know, and learn some new ones. The class will be equal parts writing/group discussion; developing body awareness; and learning choreography. By the end of the semester, students will have developed their own short works to share with the class.



Literature: Detective Fiction

In our Detective Fiction class, we will read several short stories and a novel that will help us understand the development of detective fiction as a genre and its connection to issues of crime, punishment, identity, and agency. Close reading skills and the ability to create and write arguments about works of literature are important. Open to all, this class will require a good deal of reading and writing each week as well as class participation.

Abstracting Nature

Participants will use photographs from nature to create a series of abstract sketches and 12 large abstract drawings on paper using soft pastels. We will learn about various artists, their techniques, and what inspired them. Applying what we have learned, participants will experiment with technique, color, and composition. We will create a series of drawings in various sizes and color compositions. This course is for beginners and intermediate students who would like to explore the material and push their artistic practice. Participants will be required to participate in one-on-one and group critiques.

Political Science: The Meaning and Limits of Rights

Political claims are often expressed in terms of the rights of individuals. However, rights have not always played this central role in politics: they are an invention of the modern period. This course first examines the origin and meaning of rights, and the role they play in modern political systems. We note the apparent necessity of asserting rights in order to fight oppression. However, examining critiques of capitalism and racial and gendered domination, we also ask what forms of oppression an exclusive focus on rights may obscure. Readings include: The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. No previous experience required.

The Artistic Imagination

Asked whether knowledge or imagination was more significant to his scientific practice, Albert Einstein replied, “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world.” In the spirit of Einstein’s remark—his elevation of imagining above knowing and his association of the former faculty with artistry—this course addresses the critical relationship between art and the imagination from ancient times to the present day. It explores manifold ways in which creative individuals and groups have imagined new selves, societies, and worlds. Subjects to be covered include supernatural visualization, the dream and the nightmare, artist-scientists, fantasy fiction and illustration, as well as art and liberation.

Art: Drawing on Community

The class will look at ideas around what makes up community and artists that are considered “outsider artists” who work in their communities. How does one build a community? Why is community important? What is the responsibility of the community? How are communities dismantled? Who owns the community? What do you find in community? What are the boundaries of a community—or how do you know if someone is in or out of it? Does community always open its doors to others? Can community happen anywhere? Artists often work in communities by teaching, painting murals, creating installations and creating activities to bring people together through neighborhood exhibitions and more. This class will use found images, patterns and text to create a series of posters about the possibilities of community.

Religion and the Black Freedom Struggle

This writing-intensive history course will explore how religion impacted the intellectual history and popular culture of the black freedom struggle, particularly between 1900 and 1970. Topics will include Ethiopianism, Garveyism, the Harlem Renaissance, criminal justice reform activism, the Great Migration to Chicago, the black left, so-called “cults and sects” such as the Moorish Science Temple, the Civil Rights movement, the Nation of Islam, the Black Power movement, and black atheism. Authors will likely include W.E.B. Du Bois, Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, as well as relatively unknown men and women.

Black Women and the Justice System

The course examines diverse perspectives which inform our understanding of how gender impacts harm and crime, particularly domestic violence. We will critically engage with the intersections between gender, race, and class and analyze the ways that these affect the treatment of women inside and outside the criminal justice system. Students will read material related to domestic violence, changing drug laws, and other facets of the criminal justice system that impact women.

Words Free: An Exploration of Poetry & Poetics

In this year-long course, students will write and read, exploring various aspects of poetic craft, including imagery, metaphor, line, stanza, rhythm, diction, and tone. Students will examine a number of poetic traditions, with a particular emphasis on the poetry of the Black Arts Movement (1965-1976). Participants will learn about the Black Arts aesthetic philosophy and artist tradition and explore its emphasis on society. This course will be conducted as a supportive workshop, with weekly assignments and related readings. We will discuss three students’ poems each week.

African American History, 1619-1900

This course will focus on the history of African Americans from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the rise of Jim Crow segregation at the turn of the twentieth century. It will explore the legal, political, and cultural origins and development of racial subordination, as well as how African Americans survived and resisted this subordination. Readings will be drawn primarily from the letters, slave narratives, poems, essays, songs, folktales, and interviews produced by African Americans themselves in order to gain insight into the experiences and dreams of ordinary black people during these times.

Freedom Dreams

This course explores the freedom dreams of community leaders, political thinkers, artists, and writers in the United States and beyond. We will engage with multiple mediums/genres (personal narrative, graphic memoir, poetry, speeches, music and visual arts) to better understand what freedom means to different people. We will use an intersectional lens to examine the ways in which race, class, gender, and historical /social /cultural contexts affect our notions of freedom. We will also examine the power of imagination to transform society.

Core Writing Skills

This course will examine many aspects of writing, including grammar, punctuation, style and structure. We will study writing for different publications: magazines, newspapers, blogs, online sites, broadcast and the alternative press. Writing personal memoirs will also be part of the course. Students will receive a notebook and will be given weekly writing assignments; these must be completed and turned in during each subsequent class session. The Faculty will edit and comment on each written assignment. Published writers will speak to the class about their work. Students who complete all assignments can expect to see improvement in their writing skills

Art and Science Fiction: Documenting the Future

Imagine: The year is 2045. Life expectancy has increased and the average human lives at least 20 yrs longer. Political pressures and social uprisings have lead to: free education, legal reforms and wars are fought digitally, on a virtual platform called “The Battlefield”. After dismantling the military, the struggle for worldwide political power is focused on conquering outer space. When the U.S. reignited its space program in 2025, personal information hard drives known as your Documentaria were required by the government for all people to travel into space. Eventually, Documentaria were mandated for all citizens in general. Each person prepares, by hand, their own information, with the knowledge that it will accessed during your space travels by both space aliens as well as the government. In this class students will create their Documentaria. Each Documentaria contains information regarding: IDENTITY (job, residence, personal history), POTENTIAL (what you will accomplish), and due to the relatively high occurrence of time travel in space, POTENTIAL & HISTORICAL IDENTITY - messages and images addressing the past and/or future you. Your Documentaria is required to have visuals and writing. Format may vary, creativity paramount. We will be concentrating on present, past, and future selves, come prepared to address those identities.



Reading and Writing Our Lives

This course emphasizes the ways language affects who we are, who we might be, and how we think and live. Open to students with an interest in writing and a willingness to write a variety of papers and collaborate with classmates to strengthen all elements of reading, writing, and thinking.

Political Theory: Theory and Event

This course in political theory examines ways to generate theoretical ideas by engaging with events. Each week we will read responses to past events by thinkers including Karl Marx, W.E.B. DuBois, Hannah Arendt, and Martin Luther King Jr. Ideas of particular interest in these writings include economic class, race, nonviolence, evil, and responsibility. We will also ask how it is that we come to recognize an event as politically significant, and reflect on the challenge of remembering events as such.

The Art and Craft of Memoir: Object Lessons

In this workshop, students will focus on the subject of personal artifacts, and explore a range of creative nonfiction that makes use of such materials to tell a story. Through prompts and exercises, the class will unpack vital objects from their life, and explore their significance by drafting essays. Students will be expected to write and revise two full-length essays, and to read approximately 25 pages per week. If students have an interest in contemporary literature (including works by Jamaica Kincaid, James Baldwin and Maxine Hong Kingston) and a willingness to share writing (in-progress and finished) with other readers and writers, they are strongly encouraged participate.


Black Women and the Criminal Justice System

The course examines diverse perspectives which inform our understanding of how gender impacts harm and crime, particularly domestic violence. We will critically engage with the intersections between gender, race, and class and analyze the ways that these affect the treatment of women inside and outside the criminal justice system. Students will read material related to domestic violence, changing drug laws, and other facets of the criminal justice system that impact women. 

Introduction to Latino and Latin American Studies

This course examines the diverse social, economic, political, and cultural histories of those who are now commonly identified as Latinas/os in the United States.  The goal is to have students develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the impact of and the important roles played by Latino men and women in the formation and development of U.S. society.

Portraiture and Installation

Portrait painting is a form of art that has a long history of representing people in positions of power, such as government officials and clergy. During the 1600’s Baroque era, middle class patrons could afford to pay for portraits, which in turn created a new group of working artists and images in the world. Individual portraits were made but also guilds or clubs hired artists for their likenesses. One famous example is Rembrant’s "Night Watch" painting, which pictures a civic militia guard in Amsterdam. 

Installation is an art form in which the artist organizes space, by arranging objects in a room or space. The artwork is three-dimensional and the way a viewer moves through a space and encounters objects is considered. Installation art was popularized in the 1970s and artworks can be sited both in, or outdoors.

This class will study these two histories to develop our own work of art. The class will paint large-scale portraits to use as a foundational object for an installation. Students will develop a scene or scenario with portraits by arranging them in relationship to each other to create an embodied experience for a viewer.  


This writing workshop will introduce tools for crafting and lifting up genres of formal writing (such as essay, op ed and personal statement) with creative narrative focused on time and place. Students will examine pieces by current and historical thought leaders, try different approaches to giving and receiving feedback, and deepen their relationship with revision by working on a piece through multiple phases of development.

Poetry Series: Writing and a Healing

This year long poetry workshop will explore the rudiments of writing poetry through memorization, acting, singing and critical conversation. Students will learn how to write various types of poems and be introduced to an array of poets, song writers, comedians, visual artist and rappers--all who paint pictures with words and images.

Animals: Myth and Reality

Although the average person in the U.S. has very little daily contact with other animals, they persist in the human imagination, appearing in dreams, advertising, literature and the visual arts. What is the historical and continued significance of the range of other beings that share our planet? This class will look at art, literature, nonfiction, and myths of different cultures to better understand our relationship to our earthly companions.

The Artist in Representation

a.) something (such as a picture or symbol) that stands for something el
b.) a painting, sculpture, etc., that is created to look like a particular thing or person. Making art is often about creating representations, whether they be objects in a still life, scenes of a landscape, or depictions of people in portraits. This class will study ways artists represent their identities in portraiture without depicting oneself. Students will explore the inspirations, influences and aspirations that make up the artist through writing and visual representation. Artists will compose and collage writing and images to create the layers for a two-color screen print. The work will be printed in an area screen-printed studio in a small edition.

Introduction to Political Theory in the American Context

In this seminar, students will read influential texts from the history of modern political thought with an eye to political institutions and debates in the United States. The class will start by examining 18th-century debates amongst revolutionaries and Framers on the nature and design of the new Republic. We will then move to 19th-century discussions of the place of women, people of color, and the working classes in America, and to 20th-century engagements with the open-ended promise of American democracy. Readings will include texts by Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqueville, Sojourner Truth, Franz Fanon and more.

African American History, 1865-Present

This course will survey the history of African Americans in the US from the end of the Civil War to the present. The course structure will be organized chronologically, but it will explore several major themes, including: violence, class, gender, culture, and political power. Precedent-setting legal cases as well as structural transformations that institutionalized race as a social construct will also be considered. The class will read mostly from primary source material that will be supplemented by secondary readings and short lectures to contextualize the discussion.



Personal Narratives in History

The present is an egg laid by the past that has the future inside its shell.

The soul that is within me no man can degrade.

This class will consider the value of personal narratives in the present and historically. We will consider both how personal narratives have been important tools in documenting the on-the-ground effects of specific public policies and systems of governance and practice writing personal narratives that connect the specifics of our own lives to the conditions that shape them. Each week we will read short personal narratives that use a range of strategies to connect the quotidian details of everyday life under slavery and colonialism, at work, in poverty, and during war to the larger structural conditions that shape the fabric of everyday life. We will consider both historical-traditional narratives and some more experimental approaches and will apply these strategies through in-class writing and writing assignments each week. Readings include the writing of Frederick Douglas, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas; Ben Hamper, Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line; Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on the Road and Studs Terkel, Working.

Art & Advocacy, History & Practice

This class will look at the role of art and advocacy in three phases: the study of diverse historical examples; debates around ways art can be effective (or ineffective) in promoting change; the creation unique works that speak to current issues of particular relevance. Students will be expected to complete reading, writing, and creative assignments that will urge them to think critically about how and why certain artistic practices, movements, and artists have been able to affect change. Students will develop skills in critical reading and thinking, composition, and the arts that will extend far beyond the semester. For the final project, each student will complete a visual book using a range of art mediums.

Art: (Re)creation / Time

This year-long class is supported by a collaboration with the Jane Addams Hull House Museum’s exhibition “Unfinished Business: Rec Room”. The exhibition will explore contemporary ideas and iterations of early 20th Century Progressive Era reforms around working and living conditions. “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will” was the slogan for the controversial movement which asserted that all people deserved free time to participate fully in democracy. Hull-House reformers were crucial in this cultural shift to value free time and play at the turn of the century, and suggested that time off from work could create a more compassionate, creative, and peaceful world. In “The Spirit of Youth in the City Streets” Jane Addams connected the promotion of playgrounds and other wholesome recreational pursuits as crucial to both staving off urban violence and dealing with what she perceived as “vice.” Since that time, the role of free time and play has been adopted by the UN as fundamental human rights, and suggests that every child has a right to play. Key thinkers in the Restorative Justice movement, use games and play to create safe spaces and to foster non-competitive social interactions in all communities. In this class, we will extend this inquiry to the value of free time, games and play in the lives of adults. We will collaboratively create games, posters and designs for free-time spaces (for instance playgrounds, parks, etc.). The first part of the class was taught by Sarah Ross and Fereshteh Toosi.

The Fiction and Prose of Richard Wright

This course will introduce students to the prose, poetry and fiction of Richard Wright. We will see how Wright emerged from Jim Crow Mississippi as a young man with little formal education to become one of the greatest American realists of the twentieth century. We will examine how his writing was concerned with the racial advocacy for civil rights and influenced by the cultural and philosophical movements of his time: particularly Socialism and Existentialism. We will also look at the literary effects of his interest in the Robert E. Park Chicago School of urban sociology being developed by at the University of Chicago in the 1930s. Texts to be studied will include, “Black Boy,” “Native Son,” “The Outsider,” as well as poems and short stories published in the Communist weekly paper, “New Masses.” There will be occasional guest lectures from the faculty of English and African American Studies departments of UIC to fill in our discussion of existentialism, the Chicago school of sociology and African American music, religious and folkloric tradition.

Social Change Histories

This exploration of social movements focuses on the processes of social and cultural change. We will examine definitions and theories of reform and revolution, and make comparative analyses of the goals, ideologies, and the development of social movements inside and outside of the US. The intersecting contexts of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and nationality inform the central paradigms to be considered. In particular, we will survey journals/magazines/periodicals produced by and for social change activists, especially feminists and people of color. We will study the historical roles, present-day status, and future of these independently owned publications. This class will also explore current movements revolving around housing, foreclosures, education, and youth violence.


Poetry: Dear Reader

Poetry is a powerful way to communicate thoughts and feelings to people close and far. The goal of this class is to become familiar with various forms and styles of poetry and learn how to use them. Each class will introduce the lives and techniques of various poets and how they address their readers. Participants will respond by writing poems in that poet’s style and will practice addressing readers, as if the poem is a letter, with writing exercises both in and outside of class. Students will be expected to write at least one poem per week, outside of class, as well as reflect on and discuss the weekly reading assignments, their own work, and that of their peers.

Art: (Re)creation / Time

This is a year-long art, design and critical thinking class and is supported by a collaboration with the Jane Addams Hull House Museum’s exhibition “Unfinished Business: Rec Room”. The exhibition will explore contemporary ideas and iterations of early 20th Century Progressive Era reforms around working and living conditions. “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will” was the slogan for the controversial movement which asserted that all people deserved free time to participate fully in democracy. During this time, progressive educators like John Dewey and Neva Boyd studied the importance of play and games in cultivating the cognitive, social, and creative development of children. Hull-House reformers were crucial in this cultural shift to value free time and play at the turn of the century, and suggested that time off from work could create a more compassionate, creative, and peaceful world. In “The Spirit of Youth in the City Streets” Jane Addams connected the promotion of playgrounds and other wholesome recreational pursuits as crucial to both staving off urban violence and dealing with what she perceived as “vice.” Since that time, the role of free time and play has been adopted by the UN as fundamental human rights, and suggests that every child has a right to play. Key thinkers in the Restorative Justice movement, use games and play to create safe spaces and to foster non-competitive social interactions in all communities. In this class, we will extend this inquiry to the value of free time, games and play in the lives of adults. We will collaboratively create games, posters and designs for free-time spaces (for instance playgrounds, parks, etc.).

Humanities: Social Change Histories

Historic and contemporary social change movements shape our lives on a daily basis. The Civil Rights movement de-segregated schools, the Environmental Rights movement fought for regulations to keep hazardous wastes contained, the Labor movement demanded the eight hour work day. This class will focus on historical and contemporary movements that have created social change. We will use a seminar-style format which will include guest speakers, films, and readings. We encourage you to produce your own writing in response to course content and there will be opportunities to share your work. This seminar will include topics such as Environmental Justice, Food Justice, HIV/AIDS health care movements and the labor movement.

This class is part of a year-long series called "Shifting Grounds" on social change movements, supported by the Illinois Humanities Council.


Drawing from Observation

This workshop will be an introduction to the basics of drawing from observation. What is drawing "from observation"? Most of us draw things as we think they should be, based on preconceived ideas and impressions. In this class, we will exercise our ability to observe phenomena and respond to it through drawing. Rather than depicting things as we imagine them (an important skill in its own right), we will work on linking our eyes, arms and hands, turning them into an instrument for observing and rendering the visible world. While this is an invaluable method for producing more accurate drawings and paintings, it is also a method for learning to see differently that can be valuable for artists and non-artists alike. The goal of the class is not to produce polished drawings worthy of a museum exhibition, but is rather to produce drawings that reflect something of the complexity of the physical world, not unlike a scientific experiment. In class, we will use simple tools—pencils, charcoal, paper—to explore line and mass in the service of representing light, form and volume, in other words, the visible world around us.

Expository Writing Basics

In this seven-week mini-workshop, students will share work in progress, give and receive feedback, and work through multiple essay drafts. Close readings of published and student writing will also help class participants develop skills, confidence, and editing acumen.

Poor People’s Movements in the 2000s, 1960s & 1930s

 "There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Why We Can’t Wait, 1963

How do poor people, with few resources and power, create and sustain movements that address our specific needs, demand the right to participate in the policy decisions that affect all aspects of our lives, and ultimately ensure that all Americans are granted the right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? In examining organizing efforts by and for poor people in the 2000s, 1960s and 1930s, we will consider how poor people’s movements have successfully responded to economic crises. But we will also consider how poverty is understood and represented in the national discourse in each era and the effects this has on the kinds of organizing that is possible as well as kinds of government programs and policies that emerged in each era to support these efforts from the 1930s New Deal programs, to 1960s War on Poverty programs, to the Obama administration’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We begin by looking at current organizing efforts in Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland as a response to the housing and foreclosure crisis, the Evergreen Cooperatives Initiatives in Cleveland and the establishment of the national Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign in 1998. We then turn to a consideration of some of the 1960s and 1970s-era organizing efforts that addressed issues of poverty and racial discrimination in an era of de-industrialization including Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign (1968), the National Welfare Rights Organization (1966-1975). Finally, we consider 1930s and 1940s-era organizing efforts in response to the Great Depression including the formation of Unemployed Councils and Consumer Leagues throughout the U.S. and the establishment of the Industrial Areas Foundation on the South side of Chicago.



Spring 2013 courses will be composed of 2 seven-week workshops. Each workshop will be taught by different Faculty, with different topics.

Critical Culture: Workshop 1, Gendered Perspectives

The goal of this class is to introduce students to the field of Women’s and Gender Studies. Placing women’s experiences at the center of interpretation, this class introduces basic concepts and in feminism and womanism. Focusing on both women’s history and contemporary issues for women, we will examine women’s lives with a particular emphasis on  gender as a social construct and how gender interacts/intersects with other social constructs, especially race, class, and sexual orientation. The central aim of this course is to foster critical reading and thinking about gender and an understanding of how the interlocking systems of racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism shape all our lives.

Critical Culture: Workshop 2, Unexpected Art, Unexpected Artists

This class will look at art and artists that have taken a radical move away from traditional artistic practices or aesthetics and achieved great social, artistic, or personal success. We will look at a variety of artists and types of work in order to show the range of possibilities for self expression and speaking to an audience. We will discuss these works in comparison to more traditional work of the time or medium in order to establish how a unique artist or artistic practice can be effective, ineffective, or in some cases, the only option. By the end of the class, students will be able to point out social and art historical references and engage in a critical conversation about different art forms. Student artists will have a range of new ideas about how artists communicate messages through their work. Students will be expected to complete assigned readings and 1-page reading responses each week in addition to two longer papers.

Art: Workshop 1, Mural and Painting

In this workshop we will learn the practice of mural making with a final goal of creating a collaborative mural on canvas. In order to produce content for the mural we will explore questions about 4 topics: Learning, Imagination, Creativity, and Innovation. Students will learn a combination of traditional mural techniques and mixed media applications and be introduced to fundamentals of two dimensional design and composition. Painting techniques and exercises such as color mixing, lettering, and stencil applications will be introduced during the firsts stages of the mural project. Students will work together with mural artist Gabriel Villa to create drawings, working drafts and develop a final mural.

Art: Workshop 2, The Letter

Artists often discuss “”who is my audience?” A letter answers that question by proposing a receiver. We address ourselves to a specific person. How does the form of the letter allow us to express so many things? What are the limitations of the letter? Perhaps you have a special understanding of letters as a vital link to the world. In this class we will examine the letter as a form of communication. But rather than writing letters with words, we will make visual letters –out of painting, drawing, and collage—to our loved ones, our enemies, our leaders, our past selves, our future selves, our children either real or imaginary. We will read letters by historic persons and explore how our thoughts can be the basis for a visual message.

Creative Writing: Workshop 1, Political Poetry

This workshop is an exploration of several modes and styles of political poetry. In this class, we will read works by contemporary American poets whose work attempts to address social or political themes. In order to help put these poems in context and to begin to map out a recent history of American Political Poetry, we will read these works alongside works by their predecessors. Questions we may attempt to answer for ourselves include: What do we mean, exactly, when we call a work of art “political” or “apolitical?” Do different political beliefs lead to different writing styles? Which is more important: politics or poetics? How can politics enhance or detract from a poem? How can poetry enhance or detract from politics? Each week, we will look to the readings to help inspire us in our own creative efforts. Our aim is to become both better readers and better writers of the contemporary American political poem.
In-Class Work: Expect to complete 1-3 short in-class writing exercises per class. Out-of-Class Work: Each week, you will be asked to pick one of the 1-3 In-Class Writing Assignments you worked on in class to expand upon on your own. You will turn these poems in to me and will receive detailed written feedback on them.

Creative Writing: Workshop 2, Coming of Age

In this seven-week reading course, we will read and discuss “coming of age” texts --including novels, poetry, and essays --and explore what it means to ‘grow up.’  We will consider how the process of becoming an adult is shaped by race, class, gender, nationality, religion, and culture. In addition, we will investigate how contemporary writers use different narrative techniques to represent identity formation and maturation. Finally, students will reflect on and write about their own journeys to adulthood, and share what it means to be ‘grown’ to them.


Poetry Writing

Poetry is language maximally charged with meaning and power, and words are a poet’s instrument. Learn to jazz, slow jam, sizzle your words. Students read poetry from all over the world, and listen to music that inspired poets.

Visual Stories

There are many ways to tell a story and visual art is one of them. This class will explore several different forms of storytelling—from books to portraits. Throughout art history, artists have used portraiture to not just represent the artist, but to explore stories about about her or his life. Other artists have created scrolls, timelines or comics to represent ideas and histories that challenge prevailing conventions. Students will study works of art that tell stories about places and people. We will work with collage, book arts and drawing to tell our own stories and analyze the world around us. Project assignments will be given throughout the semester, all exploring the idea of story telling.