Staff Picks from the ExCollege

We love going into an independent bookstore and finding a shelf of “Staff Picks” that not only recommend great books, but also provide a glimpse into the interests and personality of the staff who recommend them.

In that vein, here are some personal favorites by ExCollege staff if they had time to sign up for a Fall course.  Check out all our course offerings here.  Registration opens June 6.

137122847247677.fJksADsW4rW8HTkpzGqI_height640ExCollege Staff Member: Director Howard Woolf

Course he’d like to take: Accused: The Gap Between Law and Justice (EXP-0070)

“I’m fascinated by the personal story of instructor Sonja Spears (J ’86), who was an elected judge for twelve years in New Orleans. Despite her unblemished legal career, she endured two years of intense scrutiny as the target of a federal criminal investigation. She was ultimately cleared without any charges being filed, and the office in charge of her prosecution has faced questions of prosecutorial misconduct

I love the complexity of New Orleans, and Sonja’s experience there gives the course a unique perspective on the wrongfully accused and what ‘justice’ means in this country today.”

ExCollege Staff Member: Madeleine Delpha

Course she’d like to take: All courses on reproduction and art

“As the parent of a four-year-old, I’m already thinking about age-appropriate Sex Ed: From Pre-K to Grade 12 (EXP-0041). I’m interested in the relationship between sexuality and gender from different cultural perspectives, a topic also explored in Reproductive Health: Gender, Race, and Inequality (EXP-0044).

At the same time, thumbnail-3the artist in me would love to take Guerilla Performance Art & Politics (EXP-0018) taught by Milan Kohout, who has been on the front lines of political art activism.

Finally, the art historian in me would not miss Art and the Nazis (EXP-0004), and its analysis of why modern art was so threatening to the Nazis, and why they were drawn to certain styles of centuries-old art.”

ExCollege Staff Member: Joseph Abrantes

136806564309631.0q8JyYEAKiXfsFCejBD4_height640Course he’d like to take:    Love and Blood: Perspectives on Adoption (EXP-0045)

“The topic is something I can relate to personally.  While each person discussed in the course has a different experience – whether they were orphaned, fostered, and/or adopted – they share a common experience of being part of a family that was disrupted.

My runner-up choice would be EXP-0054 The Aesthetics of Commercial Culture, because how often do you get to study Queen Bey?”


ExCollege Staff Member: Amy Goldstein

Women & Water

Course she’d like to take:   Women and Water: Fighting for Environmental Justice (EXP-0048)

“I have a longstanding interest in environmental justice (see my previous blog post), and I’m always fascinated by the forgotten roles that women have played in history and science.  This course seems to be a brilliant combination of environmental studies concepts viewed through the lens of the role women have played in conservation and environmental movements, with a focus on water.”

Need more suggestions? Just ask us!

Explorations and Perspectives: Our First-Year Advising Program

E:P Fall 2016Congratulations to the 46 students who will be co-leading Explorations and Perspectives advising seminars for incoming first-years in the Fall! Explorations and Perspectives are signature programs of the ExCollege. Through courses designed and led by two upper‑level undergrads, they offer new students a special kind of participatory learning, a team approach to advising, and a sense of support and community.

PERSPECTIVES QUOTEThe Explorations program began in 1972 to meet the overwhelming demand from entering students for advising through an ongoing, small-group experience. The Perspectives program was added in 1989 to focus specifically on topics related to media. All seminars are full-credit courses that are graded on a pass/fail basis.

Explorations can be designed around any topic, and some of next fall’s creative courses include Immigrant Food; Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Play; Art of Revolution; rs_1024x759-150709052426-1024.Donald-Trump-Hillary-Clinton-JR-70915_copySport and Social Justice; The Borgias; and the Economics and Politics of Bad Habits in America. Perspectives will cover media topics ranging from The West Wing and the 2016 election, to environmental documentaries, The Wire, Star Wars, and Instagram fame.Explorations quote

Student-leaders are passionate about their topics, and come from all backgrounds and majors, including Biology, Art History, Environmental Studies, Community Health, and Film and Media Studies.

Past participants, both leaders and students, often remark that being part of Explorations and Perspectives was one of their most meaningful experiences at Tufts!

An Extremely Beleaguered Feminist

Don’t chisel that on my grave stone just yet, though the events of the past week are pushing me over the edge:

Monday: It began when I awoke blurry-eyed Monday morning looking for the results of the previous night’s Oscar awards, since I had not been able to stay awake till the end.  I turned to The Boston Globe, and reading both the TV critic and the movie critic sent my feminist radar flashing.


First, I was pleased to see that Brie Larson won Best Actress for Room, but I could hardly get past the writer’s characterization of her role as “an extremely beleaguered young mother.” WHAT?  Now, in the interests of full disclosure, the writer of that Oscar recap is an esteemed visiting lecturer at the ExCollege, and I went to see Room largely on his positive review of the movie. And, to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps “extremely beleaguered young mother” was a short-hand way of not requiring a spoiler alert for people who haven’t yet seen this disturbing film.

Spoiler alert: Room is about a woman who is a victim of kidnapping and repeated rape, who somehow raises a child amid physical and psychological torment. Yup, rape and kidnapping can sure make young moms feel extremely beleaguered!  Hmm, would a woman critic would have characterized Brie Larson’s role – or the movie as a whole – differently, I wondered?  Here’s one clue: the New York Times critic used the words “hell,” “inhumane prison,” “horrors,” and “terrors suffered by real victims” in her review.

Next, I turned to the TV critic’s piece on the Oscar spectacle, and ruminated on this phrase:

Rooney Mara arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Rooney Mara arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

“Seriously, imagine trying to make small talk with Rooney ‘Good Times’ Mara, who appears to have a case of RBF….”  RBF?  Google it.  Now, you may not have liked her gown, or her hairdo, or her make-up, but do you really have to write in a respectable newspaper that she looks like a bitch?

Flashback to Friday: This got me thinking about a lecture last week by Tufts Dean and Professor of Philosophy, Nancy Bauer.  Her talk on “How to Do Things With Pornography” combined philosophical theories with some 21st century realities of hook-up culture and objectification of women.

Nancy Bauer eventThe comment from Nancy Bauer that stuck with me (when confronted with Rooney Mara’s “RBF”) was about how every day women have to navigate the gender roles and culture we’re immersed in, and we end up feeling like “bad” feminists when we groom our bodies to fit male expectations.  Gosh, Rooney should have tried harder.

Back to Monday: But of course the Oscars weren’t about women this year, they were about white people.  So no surprise that there was little mention (none in the Globe) of the Oscar awarded to A Girl in the River, a documentary about honor killing, directed by a woman of color, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.  The film already led to a change in law in Pakistan. “That is the power of film,” she said, about her second Oscar-winning film.

imageTuesday, that is, Super Tuesday:  Good God, with all the real problems in the world, if I have to listen to one more comment about Hillary Clinton’s face, hair, make-up, pantsuit, or color choice I’m going to explode.  Not another regurgitation of her “problem” with younger voters!  My go-to news source said it best:

“Female Presidential Candidate Who Was United States Senator, Secretary Of State Told To Be More Inspiring”

Yes, The Onion.  You can’t say I’m humorless.

Wednesday: Hillary cleans up on Super Tuesday, but the talking head (male) tells me the upshot is we voted for “a third term of Barack Obama.”  Apparently, the first woman President would bring no experience or perspective or policy initiatives of her own.  Simultaneously on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court (5 men; 3 women) hears arguments (by a man) to uphold the most restrictive abortion law since Roe v. Wade.  The Texas law has shut down clinics, requiring thousands of women to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion.  Or not.  Talk about beleaguered.

Thursday: The Donald Trump show continues.  Tonight we’ll be treated to another prime time opportunity to hear him demean Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.  How is it that I’m now rooting for Fox News?  An extremely beleaguered feminist indeed.  And still three days left in the week.


Explorations & Perspectives: Teach Your Fellow Undergrads Next Fall

Explorations and Perspectives are small seminars for first-year students designed and led by upper-level undergrads who teach in teams of two. Students choose a group as one of their advising options.  Explorations can delve into any topic; Perspectives topics have a media focus.  Applications are due March 18, 2016.

Perspectives: Race Representation in TV & Film

Perspectives: Race Representation in TV & Film

Who teaches an Explorations or Perspectives? One answer is juniors and seniors who are passionate about a topic and want to help guide incoming first-years.  Some work with an advisor to plan out a syllabus, and some were inspired by a class they took. Still others go on to teach in the spring through the ExCollege’s peer teaching program.


Here’s what three leaders have to say:1454438455825

“Through the Perspectives program, my best friend and I had the opportunity to design and teach our own class about something we were both passionate about: advertising. We discussed, dissected, and digested advertisement campaigns and strategies through class discussion, debate, creative projects, and a guest speaker. As a peer teacher, I not only learned from my own research and experience, but I learned the most from my fourteen first-year students. Over the course of the semester, we became a family, and Tuesday nights became the highlight of my week.” – Kate Sienko, Perspectives leader, The Medium is the Message: The Evolution of Advertising in America

George Killian

I took an Explorations as a first-year about alternative education, and I remember it as a great experience: it was a way to break into the college world with these two upper classmen who could help you out and a bunch of other freshmen who were all going through the same thing.  It was this fun, more relaxing, outside-the-box class.  So when my friend asked me to be a co-leader, I thought back to my experience and thought, yeah, I’d like to be that mentor/advisor for someone like I had had my freshman year.” – George Killian, Explorations leader, Food & Society

The Perspectives class I taught last semester was such a success and reinforced the idea that I can do this, I can come up with my own ideas and teach about something that I’m passionate about.  I wouldn’t be teaching my own class now if it had not been for this Perspectives experience.  It’s opened the door to my ideas of what I can do later in life.  I’ve been interested in film, I’ve been interested in clinical psychology, but then when you add the idea that I can also be an educator – the intersectionality of those skills and all of my interests – it just opens the door to what I can do in my life in the future.”1381841_10201792729767595_34118891_n (1)  Sam Kitchens, Perspectives leader, Intro to Horror Film; current instructor for EXP-0053 Horror Film: Why We Make & Consume ItHorror

Check out all the info and download an application on our website.  Feel free to contact us at if you have ideas for an Explorations or Perspectives course that you want to develop.

Why Not Ride Your Bike to Florida?

tumblr_o15pnrQqAD1v0i8sgo1_1280What did YOU do over the holiday break?  Tufts student and Friend of ExCollege, Zhou “JJ” Zhuangchen rode his bike from Boston to Orlando to raise money for Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC). Here’s his blog,, with beautiful photos of his encounters. Unfortunately, JJ found it necessary to punctuate his post with the hashtag, #suffer. Looks like it was worth it.  Congratulations, JJ!


This post sets the stage:

tumblr_nyue0hs4ht1v0i8sgo1_1280 I created this page for my winter bike ride from Boston, MA to Orlando, FL this December and January. The ride is roughly 1600 miles, terrain is unknown and weather could be horrible. I will be riding about 6 hours per day to cover about 80 miles, and hopefully finish the ride within a month.

As a prospective photographer, I am deeply concerned with the dangerous conditions that freelance photographers, writers, videographers and journalists working in conflict zones are facing. To be properly equipped to work in these situations, they have to pay thousands of dollars for training, which they sometimes simply cannot afford. I came across the organization RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, here is their website: a few months back. They are doing free training for freelance journalists to help themselves and others should the unfortunate happen in combat zones.

Since RISC’s training is free for participants, the amount of money RISC raises determines how many reporters can be trained. For each overseas workshop participant, RISC needs to offset roughly $1600 dollars of cost. I hope my ride can help at least five freelance journalists to receive the training–-thus, I set the goal of the fundraiser at $8,000.

Announcing the Birth of Spring 2016

Magic 2The ExCollege staff is in full throttle as we launch our 2016 courses tonight. Or is this a better metaphor: We’re proud parents who’ve nurtured our babies and now they must leave the nest.  It all began several months ago with the influx of proposals, then the gestational period of vetting, interviewing, and debating the merits of each course with students and faculty on our Board.  Elephant 2

The result: the birth of twenty-one visiting lecturer courses, eleven peer-taught classes, and a host of others offered in partnership with a range of Tufts departments.

Then we worried about how some of our children might find their way in the world: would a class on “Dope Fiends” (EXP-0037) find an audience while the opioid crisis is in the news?
Dope Fiends 2Does a course titled “Fatness: Body Politics in America” convey how size shapes opportunity, life chances, privilege and oppression? What type of student wants to analyze a different color each week (EXP-0016)?



Do people think they already know what it’s like for “Women in the Islamic Middle East” (EXP-0066), or would they leap at the chance to study with a visiting Iranian scholar? Is “The Lives of Scientists” (EXP-0020) really for biology students, English majors, chimpanzee lovers, or just someone looking for a true interdisciplinary class? Lives Scientists

We know there are a lot of film fans out there, but do they want to make films, learn the business of films, unravel the astonishment of magic and movies, or analyze the fascination with horror?

Filmmaking 1.1We’ve watched like proud parents as the enrollment for each of these courses has grown.  Now we want to know what YOU think.  Tell us what that first class is like.  We bet you’ll be astonished.  More importantly, tell your friends.


What I Learned from Teaching a College Course on Social Media

ExCollege visiting lecturer Ben Rubenstein learned a thing or two teaching Social Media this fall:


student-created meme on clicktivism

Until recently, my teaching background consisted of a chaotic seventh-grade Sunday school class, and a volunteer gig as an English-only assistant in a Spanish-only adult computer course.

So when my friend Jesse Littlewood asked me to co-teach a course on social media at Tufts University’s Experimental College this fall, I felt totally qualified. Beyond my rigorous experience, I’d presented in his previous class with no ill effect on student evaluations. Why not push my luck?

As a social media manager, it’s my job to stay on top of trends that seemingly change every few days. This course offered a chance to move beyond the marketing blog echo-chamber (2016 is definitely going to be the year of Google+!) and spend thirteen weeks digging into the perspectives of digital natives whose every attention shift helps to shape the future of the social web. There was also the prospect of some extra income, but as any adjunct can attest, if I were in it for the money I’d likely be better off moonlighting at Trader Joe’s.

Our survey course, “Social Media: Participatory Culture and Content Creation,” pushed students to take a step back from the platforms they use every day to consider the larger context of their actions and their impact on relationships with peers, institutions, and society at large. It was one of 50 seminars on the ‘ExCollege’ fall schedule, competing for attention against diverse topics like Argentine tango, The Weather Underground, white supremacy, and improv.

Twenty-two undergraduates from a range of majors signed up, and from the first class it was clear we were all in for a ride. Racial inequity, gender identity, privacy, algorithms, filter bubbles…all of it came up within twenty minutes.
I’ll avoid the cliché of “the students taught me more than I could ever teach them,” but I did learn a few important lessons from the experience.

Read the rest of Ben’s post at:

What I Learned from Teaching a College Course on Social Media

Thank you, Ben and Jesse!  Instructors like you are what makes the ExCollege great!

Concerned Citizen or Eco-Terrorist: You Be The Judge

You know how they say that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes?  Well, my first 15 minutes of fame came the year I finished college when some guys from Greenpeace needed a couch to sleep on and I let them crash at my house.  The next thing I knew I was trespassing down a dirt road along a river gorge, dressed in a hazmat suit, and siphoning toxic sludge out of a holding pond into some fifty gallon drums.


photos from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

That’s a much younger me captured by a photographer from the local newspaper.  The news article included my name and thus, my 15 minutes of fame began.

Fast-forward a couple decades to November 2015: my mom calls to tell me they reprinted the photo in the newspaper.  Cha-ching!  I’m up to 30 minutes of fame now!  The new article is an update about the water quality of the river, into which all kinds of industrial waste had leaked or been dumped over the years.  Now, the article reports, the fish in the river no longer tastes like creosote!

Looking back on my young, idealistic self, all I can think is, You fool, if you did that today you’d be facing terrorism charges!  Let’s just hope the statute of limitations has run!

If the FBI is reGreenpeace-2ading this, I emphatically deny knowing that Greenpeace was going to chain the barrels to the front door of the company that owned the toxic pond.  I swear.  Please, let’s just call this over – I’ve had enough fame!

Hey, but the pollution got cleaned up; the water quality is much improved.  You can eat the fish.  So…you’re welcome!  Concerned citizens can make a difference.

Mash-Up of ExCollege Courses We’d Like to See

We recently discovered The List App, the deceptively simple and addictive iPhone app by B.J. Novak of The Office fame.  Sometimes the ExCollege course titles all start to run together in my mind…so without further ado:

  • Human-Animal Tango
  • Bad Parents in the Digital Age
  • Media Circus & Society
  • The Social Psychology of Movie Stars
  • Iraq Through Young Adult Fiction
  • Neuroscience & Career Development
  • The Gap Between Law & Sports

And when you download The List App, be sure to follow ExCollege!

Spaceship Earth

photo courtesy of NASA

You may have wondered, who is that woman sitting in Howard’s old office scrolling through photos on NASA’s website?  I’m Amy Goldstein, the new Assistant Director at the ExCollege, and I’m thrilled to be here.  When I think about the Experimental College, I can’t help thinking about Spaceship Earth. That was the class I took in college that was the closest thing to an alternative, ExCollege-type course where I went to school.  Spaceship Earth was interdisciplinary, team-taught, and didn’t have a textbook – radical for the time!  We covered everything from global warming (referred to back then as the “greenhouse effect”), to sustainable agriculture, to the global population explosion.  Of course, Tufts now has an array of classes and programs on environmental topics and sustainability that I couldn’t have imagined when I was an undergrad.

The professor who created Spaceship Earth was a bit odd and truly memorable, and I’m indebted to him for encouraging my interest in social justice.  Even though I ended up an English major who went on to law school, it was Spaceship Earth that set me on a course of questioning the status quo and using tools like law to address inequality.

It’s amazing how one class and one teacher can have such a life-long effect.  That’s what we specialize in at the ExCollege.  I hope you’ll ride Spaceship Earth on over to 95 Talbot and say hello!