What do you see when you look at Amy Sherald’s portrait? How would you describe this man? What does the title of the artwork suggest to you?
I posed these questions to my Goucher College students in August 2020, during the opening class of my First-Year Seminar (FYS) course, “Pride and Prejudice, Here and Now.” We had yet to open Austen’s novel and read its famous first line, and I was curious to see how this group of thirteen young people would respond to Sherald’s artwork. All I knew about the students at that point—and all they knew about each other—was what they had shared while introducing themselves: their preferred names and pronouns; their locations during our remote-learning semester, including Arizona, Texas, New York, and California, as well as Maryland, where Goucher is located; and why they had selected our course topic. Several reported that a teacher or parent had recommended that they read Austen. Others said that they were interested in exploring the concept of prejudice in relation to Goucher’s institutional commitment to social justice.
Looking at Sherald’s portrait, the students commented on how relaxed and confident her subject appears, with his upright posture, steady gaze, and thumb hooked into his pocket. They pointed out how Sherald rendered the man’s skin tone in grayscale, as opposed to the bright colors of his sweater. One student ventured that the pattern of the sweater resembled the view of a city skyline, as seen through windows. The phrase “a good fortune,” they agreed, indicated that this was a man who had good luck.
As we talked, I showed additional images of Sherald’s life-sized portraits of everyday people, from her 2019 show titled “the heart of the matter . . .” at the Hauser + Wirth Gallery in Manhattan (“the heart of the matter . . .”). One student, who had introduced herself as living in New York City, said that she had seen that very exhibit. I was delighted—already, we were making a link to the present day and to students’ experiences! I added that once students moved to Baltimore, they would be within easy travel distance of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where Sherald’s most famous work, her portrait of Michelle Obama, is on view (“First Lady Michelle Obama”). I mentioned, too, that Sherald is based in Baltimore and that I hoped to invite her to Goucher to speak one day.
Then, and only then, we read the beginning of Pride and Prejudice together. I asked students to think again about the implications of Sherald’s choice of title and to keep those thoughts in mind as our course continued. I promised that we would come back to Sherald’s portrait as we discussed Ibi Zoboi’s 2018 young-adult novel Pride, whose characters are all people of color living in present-day New York.
In February 2020—just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—I proposed “Pride and Prejudice, Here and Now” as a new course theme with the express purpose of bridging the many gaps between Austen’s world and the twenty-first-century lives of my Goucher students. I aimed to encourage course participants to pursue topics of concern to them in free-ranging discussions and open-ended writing assignments. We would think together about what it means to read Austen today and what it means to ponder the concepts of “pride” and “prejudice,” as, for example, a young person of color, a first-generation college student, the child of immigrants, a working-class person, and/or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Students would write about what Pride and Prejudice means to them. We would gain perspective on how creators today connect with Austen, by reading recently published books: first Pride, all together, and then each student would select their own book on which to write a review. Students would become aware of the cultural resources available on campus and in the Baltimore area, via visits to historic sites in our region as well as workshops in the Goucher Library’s famed Austen collection. (Of course, because of the pandemic, these visits were virtual in fall 2020.)
I offer my reflections on the objectives, design, and implementation of this course as food for thought for my fellow teachers and professors as we do our utmost to help our diverse students connect with literature of the past that feels increasingly distant from their own interests, concerns, and knowledge. This is an urgent challenge for our profession, and one for which our own training as scholars likely offered little if any preparation. In this respect, college and university professors have much to learn from secondary teachers of literature.
This account of my FYS course complements my chapter for the new Routledge Companion to Jane Austen, which is titled “Race, Privilege, and Relatability: A Practical Guide for College and Secondary Instructors.” In that piece, I suggest strategies for addressing hot-button topics in the classroom and for encouraging students to explore topics of importance to them in Austen’s writings.1 In both these essays, I write not from a theoretical perspective but rather from pedagogical experience, experience that continues to evolve. We scholars are accustomed to sharing our research as work in progress; here I present teaching in progress.
Furthermore, I urge all JASNA members to consider how you could adapt some of these ideas and resources to your own regional-group events and conversations, especially those concerned with our organization’s efforts to increase diversity of all kinds and to appeal to younger members. When I speak to JASNA groups, I’m often asked how my students respond to Austen’s works.2 In this article, you will hear directly from three of them who gave permission to be quoted: Mariah Lowe-Berrien, Daisy-Bright Fri Chi, and Madeline Tredway.
Course goals and philosophy
Goucher’s discussion-based FYS courses aim to cultivate students’ intellectual curiosity and their capacity for critical analysis and interdisciplinary thought, while also supporting them as they acclimate to college-level learning. Because the FYS is neither a writing course per se nor a structured introduction to an area of study, both instructors and students have an exceptional degree of freedom to explore. Topics vary according to the interests of the faculty members who opt to teach the course. A student who chooses a particular course theme may or may not be likely to major or minor in the professor’s home discipline.3
In conceiving my new FYS, I was inspired by an introductory-level course that my colleagues and I in Literary Studies introduced several years ago. With rotating topics and faculty, “Literature for Everyone” offers students across the college the chance to read and discuss literary works at a relaxed pace, without the pressure of exams or conventional analytical essays. When I taught Emma in “Literature for Everyone,” we read just a handful of chapters for each hour of class, resulting in some of the most in-depth discussions I’ve ever guided. I hoped that the first-year students too would respond well to our really taking our time with Pride and Prejudice. Many incoming Goucher students, I have found, are accustomed to much shorter reading assignments than college instructors typically expect.
My FYS benefited, too, from my recent change of heart regarding the concept of “relatability.” Until a few years ago, I declared to my students that college-level analysis and interpretation of literature, unlike secondary-level study, does not appropriately involve considering whether you relate to the characters in a novel. As to whether the word itself was suitable for formal written English, I pointed out that in the OED, all the usages of “relatable” to mean “that . . . with which one can identify or empathize”—a meaning added only in the 2009 edition—involve quotations from spoken English (“relatable”). “Relatability” likewise entered the OED in 2009, again illustrated by usage only in spoken English (“relatability”).
I realized, however, that by placing an embargo on relatability, I was depriving students, especially less experienced ones, of a way into discussing significant topics, including how texts elicit responses from readers and how reception changes over time, especially concerning perceptions of realism. I have always encouraged students to notice what they think and feel as they are reading, and to ask themselves what in the text prompts those reactions. Since I believe that critical insight can result from such personal explorations, why wouldn’t I allow students to notice and ponder relatability?
Equally importantly, I reflected anew on the importance of representation, which has once again become an acute concern for students who are encountering British literature of past centuries. When students state that they can’t relate to Austen’s novels because her characters are all white, or because Austen describes as “poor” people who seem quite privileged, it would obviously be unhelpful for me to inveigh against relatability. Better by far to acknowledge explicitly that we each read with perceptions informed by our differing life experiences and identities, and to emphasize that these differences enrich our work of collaborative analysis and interpretation. Such an approach intersects fruitfully with another aspect of Goucher students’ general education in their first semester: the co-curricular “First Year Experience,” which inaugurates the college’s “Race, Power, and Perspective” learning area.4
In our FYS class meetings, after our initial introductions, I left up to the students what they would like to say to each other, and to me, about themselves. As we discussed Pride and Prejudice and Pride, many students chose to share more about their racial, ethnic, and national identities, as well as about their families and communities. Of the twelve students who completed the course, two identified as white and non-Hispanic, of whom one was the only man enrolled. The other ten members of the class described themselves as Black, as people of color, as multi- or biracial, and/or as multicultural, including the three from which you will shortly hear in their own words: Mariah, Daisy, and Madeline.5
Our discussions centered on students’ questions and observations, with me serving as a facilitator and resource. Since FYS courses are not supposed to mimic introductions to a specific discipline, we did not study literary terms or scholarly criticism. Anticipating that students would likely know little about historical customs, I was prepared to offer brief overviews of contextual topics as they arose, along the lines of the accessible annotations I contributed to my editions of Emma and Persuasion for Penguin Classics.
Several observations made by Madeline in written responses to class discussion demonstrate just the kind of curiosity and comparative thinking that Goucher’s FYS courses aim to strengthen. At the outset of Pride and Prejudice, Madeline declared, “I want to know more about the context of this book—how Jane Austen lived, her family, her influences—so I can fully understand everything that’s happening.” After reading the first few chapters, Madeline drew an insightful connection to Alice Walker:
We talked a lot about attractiveness & good manners—two very surface-level things—that seemed to be valued a lot in Jane Austen’s time. I’m interested in learning how these things changed and evolved to what they are now, and how some notions may have stayed the same.
When we were talking about the importance placed on attractiveness, it made me think of The Color Purple. I can’t remember the main character’s name right now (Celie?), but she was told by everyone how ugly she was. As the novel goes on, however, you realize everyone who told her that had a motive: they wanted to keep her down. As I read more of Pride and Prejudice, I’m going to pay attention to what language (especially concerning beauty) is used as a tool to keep women in that time period down.6
Following a discussion about how Mrs. Bennet treats her daughters, Madeline stressed the importance of thinking historically: “I think making Mrs. Bennet out to have malicious intent is wrong, because wanting Jane to get married as soon as possible is the exact opposite of malicious intent in that time period, even if now it seems awful. I just think we can only talk so much about how the characters would be viewed in a modern light, and instead we should try to contextualize their experiences.” Madeline made a compelling case, too, for the importance of cultural representation: “I was pretty adamant about this before our discussion, but it’s incredibly important to display people from all walks of life in media, and that assertion is just further bolstered by the conversation we had about characters we connected with.”
Mariah and Daisy also drew compelling parallels to the present day and posed thought-provoking questions. “My main takeaway from this discussion,” Mariah wrote after we talked about Mr. Collins’s proposal of marriage to Elizabeth,
is that Elizabeth is a character that I see most similar to things women stand for in 2020 because she declines Collins’ proposal. This shows that she’s not like every woman in that time period because she has her own voice and used it, and she also is not willing to marry anyone just because of their wealth. Another takeaway from this discussion is about Mr. Collins’ proposal and his denial about Elizabeth rejecting him. When Elizabeth rejected him, Collins said that she must not be thinking straight and that’s she really meant to say yes. Although this is in a different time period, it connects to what a lot of men do now. They refuse to be rejected and instead belittle a woman’s thinking because they didn’t like the answer. Something I would have liked to ask the group is, is it possible that Elizabeth gets less attention from men because she focuses on her happiness instead of wealth?
Equally acutely, Daisy encouraged us to consider how the gender double standard that comes to the fore in characters’ reactions to Lydia and Wickham’s elopement is still evident today. “I would like to know what the future for Lydia and Wickham will be from here,” Daisy wrote, “because I am sure that Wickham is under no sort of obligation to her even though they are suspected to have had sexual intercourse already. And [I] would love to have a general discussion on issues like this which are still very existent.”
Students expressed enthusiasm about reading Zoboi’s Pride because of its modern-day setting and accessible language, including up-to-date slang. In discussion, several said that they appreciated how sensitively Zoboi approached her setting: a community of Haitian- and Dominican-Americans in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. The mutual prejudices experienced by the established locals, largely first- and second-generation immigrants, and by the wealthy, snobby Black family moving into the neighborhood also struck a chord. As Mariah reflected:
The main takeaway I took from the discussion from today was how misrepresented black success is in the black community. When reading from the first chapter in class the characters automatically believed that the black people who moved into the house were “rappers and ballers.” I think this is because of social media and generational habits. When you go to Instagram, you don’t see any lawyers or doctors being promoted. Also in some families, like my own, you do not casually see a doctor or a lawyer and this just forces my mind to be closed off to the other possibilities to other examples of “black success.” So I definitely can relate to these characters especially being black and from New York.
Several other students living in New York City echoed Mariah’s sentiments.
In our discussions of Pride, I pointed out that for Zuri Benitez, the heroine, Howard University plays the role of Pemberley, as a place of inspiration where she aspires to live. Having learned about Howard from reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Zuri dreamed of becoming a student there since before meeting her new neighbor Darius Darcy. Unlike her own fast-changing neighborhood, Zuri thinks, Howard will
be like a whole other country with no outsiders moving in to change things up and throw things away; where the faces of the people are the same now as they were back in 1867, when Howard was first founded; where even though people come from different parts of the country and the world, they speak the same language—and that’s black, and African, and Caribbean, and Afro-Latinx, all the things that make up me: Haitian, Dominican, and all black. (Zoboi 31–32)
On a spur-of-the-moment bus trip to Washington, D.C., to visit Howard, Zuri finds that the campus is just as she imagined it: “The brown brick buildings are regal. . . . There’s just people like me, as far as my eyes can see. And it already feels like home” (140).
Apropos of Howard, I pointed out that Baltimore too boasts a highly respected public HBCU, Morgan State University. I explained that like Goucher, which opened as the Woman’s College of Baltimore City—the first women’s college south of the Mason-Dixon line—Morgan began with the mission to offer an excellent academic education to underserved students in the region. I mentioned furthermore that Morgan and Goucher share an influential early leader: John Franklin Goucher, our college’s co-founder, second president, and namesake (Warshawsky).
Other aspects of Pride that students brought up in discussion included Zuri’s talent for poetry, which they agreed suited an updated Elizabeth Bennet character, and her participation in the spirit-world rites of Ochún, which students said belonged in a different book. On the question of story unity, or lack thereof, I ventured a hypothesis: that Zoboi initially conceived of her novel without the Pride and Prejudice tie-in. In support, I quoted Zoboi’s acknowledgments, in which she confesses that she struggled with early drafts of “a love story” and “needed an anchor—a structure to hold on to” (291). A great question to ask Zoboi in person, I suggested, would be when and how she decided to integrate the Austen material. (Plans to invite Zoboi virtually to Goucher, as part of a fall speaker series, were underway during our discussions, though ultimately the college was not able to do so.)
Aligned with my philosophy for this course, the main writing assignment I devised was a personal essay focusing on relatability. Its prompt was as follows:
What does Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice mean to you, here and now? In this reflective essay, you’ll explore connections between our novel and your world today. Possibilities include (but aren’t limited to):
how the concepts of “pride” and “prejudice” resonate for you in the present moment
what has changed since Austen’s time, and what hasn’t, about expectations for femininity—and/or masculinity
character types that you recognize versions of in your own life
continuities and changes in how power, money, and social class operate
what’s important, and what’s difficult about, family relationships, friendships, and/or love relationships then and now.
Having students explore their choice of connections between Pride and Prejudice and our world today had the additional advantage of being an accessible assignment for those who were not simultaneously taking Goucher’s required first-year Writing Studies course.
Students rose to the challenge. Daisy, who had commented incisively about gender politics throughout our discussions, focused her essay on the same theme. Mary Bennet, she observed,
though the most accomplished of all her sisters had no man asking for her hand in marriage. Though we understand from the end of the book that she came to terms with this fact and channeled her energy towards bettering herself, I still believe that the pressures put upon women that rendered a woman of her kind with so much more to offer the world than just a pretty face shows how much women have been boxed into standards that are not realistic, inclusive or accurate for anyone.
Mariah too concentrated on expectations of women’s behavior. “My traditional grandmother is very similar to Mrs. Bennet,” she explained. “It is a priority of hers to make sure that all of her granddaughters have wealthy partners because that is what she was taught. She believes that men are supposed to cater to their partner, while women hold up the household, which mirrors Mrs. Bennet’s beliefs.” Mariah also addressed insightfully how prejudicial judgments of women circulate on social media. Quoting Mr. Darcy’s dismissal of Elizabeth as “‘tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me,’” Mariah wrote, “Instead of trying to get to know Elizabeth as a person, Mr. Darcy looked at her and automatically rejected her because of her physical appearance. This is a direct correlation to what happens in the 21st century. . . . [N]ow that social media exists, it has become an open space to judge women and ‘choose’ the most attractive amongst them.”
As a final project, each student selected and wrote a review of a recently published book on or relating to Austen, ranging from novels featuring Mary Bennet as heroine to self-help books. The Appendix contains the annotated list of titles I shared with students and from which they made their selections.7 In the assignment, I asked students to describe their book so that someone who hasn’t read it yet would understand its scope and nature; to summarize its contents in their own words; to explain what they found most and least interesting about it, and why; and to state who they thought would appreciate the book, including whether it was necessary to know Austen’s novels in order to enjoy it.
In addition to presenting the book reviews to each other, the students and I shared our recommendations with an audience of Goucher alumnae/i and friends as part of a public Zoom session hosted by me for the Office of Advancement’s “Authors Series.”8 This occasion offered a valuable opportunity for the FYS students to begin to connect with other members of the wider Goucher community, and to see alums’ commitment to and, indeed, pride in our college.
Fostering institutional pride was a secondary goal when my Goucher Library colleagues and I introduced students to the riches of Special Collections and Archives (SC&A), including the Jane Austen collection. In the first of two class sessions, Deborah (Debbie) Harner, Public Services and Education Archivist, offered a general overview of SC&A’s holdings and guided interactive activities in which students examined artifacts and documents. Debbie also highlighted how students could become involved with SC&A in the future, either as paid workers in the Library or as researchers, for which the college funds fellowships through the Brooke and Carol Peirce Center for Undergraduate Research in Special Collections. I followed up in the second session with a slide presentation about the origins and scope of the Austen collection, including the story of Alberta Burke, the Goucher alumna from the class of 1928 whose bequest in 1975 inaugurated the collection. I mentioned too that I have mentored students’ work in the Austen collection as part of my Austen seminar course in Literary Studies; in independent study courses and Senior Honors Theses; and in summer research funded by the Office of the Provost.
Both Debbie and I emphasized how fortunate Goucher is to have such a world-renowned collection, as well as so many opportunities for students to engage with it. We stressed that a larger university would be unlikely to permit undergraduates as much access to rare materials as Goucher does. Since a hands-on workshop for the FYS was impossible this fall, we encouraged interested students, once they were living on campus, to contact Debbie or me to make an appointment to view Austen items.
Students’ reactions to Debbie’s and my sessions showed that we successfully intrigued them about SC&A and impressed them about the Austen collection. Several commented that they were excited to view materials in the future: as Madeline wrote, “I really just can’t wait to see all the stuff in Special Collections & Archives in person.” Others noted that they enjoyed hearing about a Goucher alumna: one said that she talked to her mother, an Austen fan, about Alberta Burke for an hour.
Beyond Goucher, I introduced students via virtual tours to Baltimore-area historic sites that represent English design aesthetics of Austen’s period and thereby help us envision the world of Pride and Prejudice. As interpreted by curators, two Georgian-era estates, Homewood House and Hampton Mansion, display the wealth of their white owners while also foregrounding the experiences of the enslaved Black people whose labor created that wealth (“Hampton Mansion 3D Virtual Tour,” “Hampton National Historic Site Farm Tour”).9 Ladew Topiary Gardens, created by the twentieth-century Anglophile Harvey Ladew, evokes, at least to some degree, the grounds of Pemberley (“Visit Ladew Gardens”). To enrich our understanding of Austen’s life and achievement, we also virtually visited Jane Austen’s House and Chawton House (“Jane Austen’s House 360° Virtual Tour,” “Clio O’Sullivan”).
Students were highly enthusiastic about all of these adventures and responded with thought-provoking questions. Madeline commented that the video tour of Jane Austen’s House “really enriched my understanding of the novel’s setting. There’s no way that a house with seven people could have one bedroom for each of them, so it is interesting to think that Jane & Elizabeth and perhaps Lydia & Kitty would have shared a bedroom. The video also made me wonder how they get their food. Does someone drop it off at their house? Do they have to go to some kind of market? I . . . definitely have more of a setting in my mind when I read the book, [and] the video did raise a lot of questions about the scenes not shown in the novel.”
The extraordinary stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic took a serious toll on my FYS students as individuals during the fall 2020 semester, as well as on our course as a whole. Remote learning via Zoom and Canvas (Goucher’s online course management system) became more and more of a strain on everyone, including me, as time passed. And the weeks leading up to and following the presidential election distracted and depleted us all.
Nevertheless, students’ anonymous comments on their end-of-semester evaluations confirmed that the course achieved its main goals. One student’s response to the question “what were you (the student) supposed to learn in this course?” was especially well articulated: “I was supposed to study Pride & Prejudice and Jane Austen and apply it to current events/my own experiences.” I was particularly keen to see how students answered the questions about how effectively I, as instructor, “encourage[d] diverse perspectives,” “respect[ed] your unique cultural and social identity, and encourage[d] your classmates to do the same.” One student commented appreciatively that “the personal essay about Pride and Prejudice & the freedom in the guidelines allowed a lot of people to write about unique cultural and social identities.”
I am excited to see how this FYS will work in fall 2021 and beyond, when our “here” is the Goucher campus. I am eager to take students in person to visit the Baltimore-area sites that in fall 2020 we could experience only via video. (To accommodate field trips while also spacing out students’ reading assignments, I received permission to offer my section in fall 2021 in a unique version of the three-day-a-week schedule, with a long meeting on Mondays plus shorter sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays.) Relevant new virtual content that has been launched this year by Austen-related institutions will further enhance our discussions.10 I intend, too, to bring students’ book review responses to a wider audience via on-campus and digital exhibits, under the auspices of the NEH grant recently awarded to Goucher to support the development of a Collaborative Humanities Laboratory (“Goucher College Receives National Endowment for the Humanities Grant”). Most of all, I am curious to see what ideas Pride and Prejudice will spark for 2021’s incoming students.
I encourage you, fellow teachers and JASNA members, to make use of this article in any way that would be helpful to you. If you are facing resistance to your own efforts to address the topic of diversity in relation to Austen, whether inside or outside the classroom, perhaps some of my examples or ideas can help persuade your reluctant colleagues or fellow Janeites. If you feel ready to make changes to your courses and curriculum, or to your JASNA region’s events, I hope you have found practical ideas and strategies here that you can adopt.
In conclusion, I offer a three-part prompt for reflection and action, with questions and suggestions that apply to teachers as well as to JASNA members. (I would venture that everyone in JASNA teaches Austen, albeit in different ways.)
First, I encourage you to reflect on your own knowledge of Austen and her times and how that understanding continues to evolve.
If you studied Austen’s works in school or university, what did your instructors emphasize? What did they downplay or leave out?
If you read Austen’s works on your own, what aspects of them did you connect with most? What aspects did you find puzzling or challenging?
What have you discovered more recently that has enriched—or challenged—your appreciation of Austen’s writings?
Have adaptations or reworkings of Austen added new perspectives for you? If so, how?
What relevance do you believe Austen has for readers today?
Next, take time to listen to what other readers of Austen have to say in response to these questions.
Deliberately create opportunities for listening, whether in your classroom or in your JASNA region.
Bring together different communities of readers, for instance students and alumni or JASNA members and students.
Members and coordinators of JASNA regions, consider asking an experienced teacher whom you know and trust to guide your discussion.
Refer to the Member Profiles that are regularly published in JASNA News to provide further perspectives.
Finally, please share your discoveries.
Teachers, I urge you to contribute to ongoing conversations about Austen pedagogy from your own perspective. Seek ways to showcase your students’ work and to bring their voices forward.
JASNA members and Regional Coordinators, report out in JASNA News about your discussions and your new endeavors to connect with your community.
Thank you, and I look forward to learning from you all!
Appendix: Choices for book review assignment
Pride and Prejudice, illustrated by Alice Pattullo: a modern British illustrator interprets Pride and Prejudice visually
Natasha Duquette, 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen: passages from all of Austen’s novels along with prompts for spiritual reflection
Soniah Kamal, Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice updated to contemporary Pakistan
Uzma Jalaluddin, Ayesha at Last: Pride and Prejudice updated to a Muslim community in Toronto, Canada
Gill Hornby, Miss Austen: a few decades after Jane’s death, her devoted sister Cassandra works to protect her legacy
Natalie Jenner, The Jane Austen Society: during WWII, a group of American and English Austen fans come together to preserve her former home
John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus: Mary Bennet meets Victor Frankenstein in a science-fiction mashup
Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister: after her sisters marry, Mary Bennet comes into her own (by an English author)
Katherine Chen, Mary B: after her sisters marry, Mary Bennet comes into her own (by a young American author)
Janine Barchas, The Lost Books of Jane Austen: an illustrated history of how Austen’s books were published and how she became famous
Ted Scheinman, Camp Austen: The Life of an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan: a young man gets to know the Austen fan community (and dresses up as Mr. Darcy)
2I especially thank the members of JASNA–Maine, who expressed great curiosity about students’ ideas about Austen during the Q&A following my virtual talk for their region in April 2021, while I was revising this article.
3A four-credit course taken by all incoming students in their first semester, representing one-fourth of their courseload, the FYS is the foundational academic experience in the Goucher Commons Requirements, the college’s general-education program. The FYS is distinct from Goucher’s first-year writing course, which new students may take either in their first or second semester. Students rank their top three FYS choices from the more than twenty themes offered every fall, which currently run the gamut from “Words, Music, Meanings,” taught by a music historian, to “Renewable Energy for Everyone,” taught by a chemist (“First-Year Seminar Courses”). Each FYS section meets either twice a week for two hours each time (as mine did in in fall 2020) or three times a week for seventy minutes. Sections are capped at twenty students, although enrollment was significantly lower in fall 2020 due to the pandemic.
4 According to Goucher’s academic catalogue, the “Race, Power, and Perspective Requirement integrates Goucher College’s values of diversity, social justice, and global citizenship by asking students not only to recognize difference but to explore the power structures behind those differences” (“Race, Power, and Perspective”). In the First Year Experience (FYE), led by trained student mentors, incoming students “articulate the connections between identity (including opportunities and experiences) and perspectives and reflect critically on their own biases and those of others” (“Race, Power, and Perspective”). In conjunction with the FYE, each FYS instructor is tasked with leading an in-class workshop about microaggressions, ideally with links to the course’s content. As my students and I explored, Pride and Prejudice is full of microaggressions, both subtle and not-so-subtle, chiefly related to social class.
10Especially pertinent to my FYS course is the “Race and the Regency” series hosted by Jane Austen & Co. at the University of North Carolina, which includes an interview with Pride author Ibi Zoboi, among many other sessions. I thank Inger Brodey for inviting me to present on the topic of “Teaching Jane Austen and Diversity” for that series.