Joss Whedon: Friend or Foe? (First Year Seminar)

In a now famous interview, Joss Whedon was asked, “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” Whedon responded, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Indeed, Whedon is constantly praised as a feminist screenwriter, producer, and director. Many fans however, question whether or not his shows truly depict strong female characters. This class seeks to answer that question. We will analyze gender, broadly defined, by focusing on both feminine and masculine depictions within the Whedonverse to gain a better understanding of how these issues are portrayed in popular culture. This will be accomplished through a variety of means, including academic pieces on Whedon’s shows, viewing of episodes, out of class activities, and a research term paper. By the end of this semester, you will be able to critically analyze media portrayals of individuals, better express yourself orally and in writing, and begin to develop the skills necessary to be a successful college student.


Crime, Society, and Interpretation

Perhaps one of the most common areas of concern within American society is the topic of crime. Whether it is raised in the political arena, portrayed in blockbuster movies that unnerve our sense of security, or discussed in every day conversations, there is a pervading fear of crime that often drives daily behaviors—sometimes in unconscious ways. But what exactly is crime? How do we define it? Who commits it? And why does it feel like what we fear changes on a moment’s notice? In this class, we will take an in-depth look at crime, what it is, and its role in society. By focusing on the social construction of crime, we will dissect how we come to understand what crime is and how we respond to it. By analyzing academic readings on the topics, viewing popular constructions of crime, and then analyzing those constructions, students will leave this class with a better understanding of the relationship between crime and society and how that relationship has changed over time.



This course provides an overview of the sociological approaches to the study of crime with emphasis on current sociological theory and research, with special consideration of the judicial system and penology. This course will familiarize you with some of the basic areas of study within criminology. By the time this course is over, you be able to describe various theories of crime, how the theories translate into policies of social control and punishment, and popular constructions of the criminal justice system. You should also be able to think more critically about the role of crime in society.


The US Criminal Justice System

This course will provide an overview of the criminal justice system in the United States. By the time the course is over, you will be familiar with law, policing, the court system and its actors. You should also be able to think more critically about the justice system as a whole.


Law and Social Change

This course will familiarize you with the ways in which law is both a means of achieving social change and a product of social change. By the time this course is over, you should be able to discuss theories of law, why laws are used to achieve social change, praise and criticism of the law’s ability to achieve social change, and the ways society can bring about legal change. You should also be able to think more critically about the relationship between law and society. 


Law and Literature

Law is everywhere in society; even in a place we might least expect to find it, even in the world of literature. The course will begin with a discussion of how law presents itself in literature, how law in literature affects the reader, and how the reader affects the understanding of law. Ultimately, we will analyze literature to detect and understand law’s role within in the story. We will read roughly a book a week, focusing on law’s role in the story, law’s impact on the story or characters, and the character’s impact on and interaction with the law. Students will be asked to lead discussion for at least one book and will write a 7-10 page paper analyzing a book of their choice. By the end of the semester, student’s will be able to translate their understanding of how law’s role within a story to understand law’s role within society and how they can impact that law.


Race, Class, and Gender in the US CJ System

While the US criminal justice system is based on notions of equality and equal treatment under the law, recent scholarship suggests these ideals are not being put into practice. Specifically, ideas of race, class, and gender often impact how the criminal justice system functions. In this class, we will discuss the various ways in which these social identities are impacted by and through the criminal justice system. We will use a variety of materials to cover these topics, including texts and documentaries. By the end of the semester, you should be able to think more critically about the role of the criminal justice system in society and its effectiveness.


Social Justice

Here at Elizabethtown College, and at colleges and universities nationwide, social justice plays a significant role in the school’s mission. And yet, the term social justice itself is often contested and goes undefined. What exactly is social justice and how do we achieve it at various levels of society (e.g., local, state, national, international), including at the college level? This course will help address these questions by providing a space to discuss and analyze theories of social justice, areas in which social justice activists attempt to make a difference, and critiques of the idea of social justice. To illustrate these ideas, we will then turn our focus to the Occupy Movement, which purports to be an example of a modern-day social justice movement. In analyzing the goals and methods of this specific movement, we will discuss how and why the movement came about, whether Occupy can accomplish its goals, and the problems it faces. Throughout the semester, the class as a whole will work on a project in which it examines the ways in which social justice is incorporated into the public presence of Elizabethtown College.