Catchy course titles attract students

When students flipped through the Emory College course atlas this year, they pondered what courses would best suit their interests. Would it be a film studies course titled "Television and American Culture?" Perhaps a history course on "Love and Sex in Renaissance Europe" would be more appropriate. Of course, there was always a French course on "The Beach" or a Spanish course on "Gender and Madness in Hispanic Texts" for the multilingual aspects of their education.

Course titles and descriptions nationwide have evolved from sober, straightforward offerings to the decidedly more provocative. Professors at Emory offer different views on the trend toward catchy course titles, not only citing student interest as a factor, but also taking the accuracy of the courses' content into consideration.

Maria Carrion, assistant professor of Spanish, teaches a course called "Saints and Sinners: Women and Literature in Spain Through the 16th Century." "I wanted to present a society in which notions of bad and good were defined, particularly for women," Carrion said. "The moral aspect is very important."

On the other hand, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Eleanore Raoul professor of history, sees "no reason to apologize for straightforward courses. It's tremendously important that students read the classics as well as other literature," she said. "There is a fear that students don't identify with the classics of literature, but most classics deal with basic human problems. Academia shouldn't go overboard with the trendy."

Going overboard can lead to problems, Fox-Genovese said. "Part of what's going on is that faculty members are uncomfortable defining what a student should know to major in a certain field," she said. "Much less, departments are afraid to make anything a prerequisite. You can't take any knowledge for granted in upper-level courses; therefore, teaching one thing is the same as teaching another. Why not have catchy titles?"

Some teachers, however, are just trying to be honest. Rebecca Cragin, a graduate student in women's studies, is teaching an introductory feminist cultural theory course titled "Money, Sex, Death: Mass Media, Mass Culture, Cultural Theory." The course details contemporary American culture, explores how race and gender are represented within this culture, and looks at debates of pop culture.

"I wasn't consciously trying to be provocative," Cragin said. "I was watching television, and everything I saw was either about money, sex or death...I decided to be really blunt about it."

Regardless of whether there is an intent on the part of faculty to be provocative or even blunt, the trend toward more specifically descriptive course titles shows no signs of reversing itself anytime soon.

--Danielle Service

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