Cowell College One, Imagining Justice

Cowell College One, Imagining Justice, is a first-year seminar designed to introduce students to university-level discourse, including key skills and common practices. Students sharpen their analytical reading skills through discussion and writing engaged, well-reasoned responses to works from a variety of disciplines, all centered around the overarching theme of justice. It begins with and builds on the summer reading done in Cowell 1A. The course’s first priority is building college-level reading proficiency in many genres as a foundation for ongoing practice in analytical writing skills. It emphasizes critical thinking and analysis in discussions and assignments, while also giving students opportunities to increase their speaking and presentation skills, do group work and projects, and to engage in creative expression. (Further down you’ll find the UCSC-wide learning outcomes on which the course is built.) It also offers students an opportunity to try out and play with big ideas, to think aloud with others about the world around them, theorize, make mistakes, consider and reconsider their and others’ ideas and beliefs, and revise things they said or wrote before.

The course is based upon a slowly changing syllabus of significant texts–classical and modern–chosen because they reward close reading and stimulate thoughtful interaction between students and reflection on each students’ own experiences. This year’s course also attends to our current moment, attending to the pandemic and contemporary sociopolitical issues (e.g., police power, anti-Asian crimes) with some particularly topical materials.  We will use this moment in time as a lens through which particular issues about justice may be viewed, with some newly revealed or eclipsed, magnified or distorted. Your summer and fall texts include scholarly works on political and sociological issues, philosophical treatises, fiction, drama, films, a graphic work, and a digital archive, introducing you to a broad array of genres, fields, and types of materials you’ll encounter throughout your university career. The Core course considers the characteristics and significance of the forms as well as content of these texts, asking you to consider the metadata and broader context these challenging texts arise from, along with generic and discipline-specific standards, as well as creators’ uses and deviations from these expectations.

The principal assignment for students is to read/view/listen to (and re-read/review) the texts actively and analytically, to attend meetings prepared to engage in discussion of the material, and to respond to all assignments, formal and informal, thoughtfully, critically, and in the shared spirit of our Cowell motto, pursuing truth in the company of friends. As we discuss our justice-linked content, we will be working to build the ACMES skills described further in the learning outcomes below: Analysis, Critical Thinking, Metacognition, Engagement, Self-Efficacy.

Cowell’s motto is The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends. Forging this “company,” your campus and peer community, is another central goal: This course gives you an opportunity to get to know one another and an instructor in a small setting that fosters intellectual intimacy and inquiry and focuses on respectful exchanges of differing perspectives and ideas. It encourages collaborative learning as students work together to plan and lead some class discussions, including doing and presenting related research.

The readings and other texts have been chosen to raise themes of justice, equality, and freedom. The course will also address ways in which philosophers and theorists, societies and individuals, and literary and other media may transmit, question, or revise notions of the just. How do we define justice? When can we say that, “justice has been served”? Do ideas about what is just differ according to time, place, and culture, or are some notions of justice arguable as universal values?

Assignments, which will vary somewhat by section, include the following, which will be assessed for ambitiousness, effectiveness, level of preparation, and growth in key skills:

  1. Preparation for (having read texts, done assigned journal work, formulated some tentative or possible questions/comments to propose,) attendance, and active participation in class meetings, activities, and discussions.
  2. Weekly Reading Journal assignments which might include:
    • Identifying the genre and context of texts, and noting how these interact with purposes, meanings, and effects that texts have.
    • Keeping a vocabulary list where you note and define important words, concepts, and discipline-specific terms, and generate any questions regarding them (e.g., What’s the difference between corrective, retributive, and rectificatory justice?).
    • Formulating questions about the texts & issues to pose for yourself and others in your small groups and wider class, along with some preliminary responses to the questions you think interesting. Some of these might be done collaboratively.
    • Focused work identifying and annotating key quotes (key for you) from works
    • Skill-based exercises where you work on critical reading and thinking: paraphrasing, summarizing, and responding to passages & arguments made in texts (including films, art, etc.) such as prompts asking you to Annotate, Paraphrase, Analyze, & Respond, or Chart a Work’s Purposes, Strategies and Effects.
    • Synthesis & application assignments, in which you try out applying theories, analyses, and concepts from one text or author on other cases, works, or issues, and note intersections between works and with your own lives and interests.
  3. Short Quizzes on the texts (in some sections). These are designed to assess students’ understanding, engagement, and growing skills, and to stimulate interesting classroom discussions. In various formats, including T/F, multiple choice, and short-answer essay-question format, these will help you review the reading and note your own comprehension, and what you’d like to understand better.
  4. Polished Reading Response(s): These build on your informal work. They are well-crafted and more formally thought out, developed, composed and edited analytical assignments of about 2 pages. Some assignments are geared toward your increasing metacognition, asking you to consider how you are applying what you’ve learned about the different forms and properties of reading, writing, and thinking, especially as you reread, explore, and reconsider passages, ideas, and problems, and revise earlier assessments, and some focus on self-reflection, allowing you to draw from their personal histories to connect with and converse with the authors and works.
  5. A creative final project that uses original work to reflect seriously on the course’s themes and materials, accompanied by a legend describing its significance and goals. This might be a set of political posters, an original photo essay, a sculpture or mixed media piece, short play, comic, a chapbook, a musical composition, film, painting, etc.


Grading Assessment will be based on:

Note: Weights here are approximate models. Individual instructors will determine the exact weight of grades in each section as appropriate. Weights may be adjusted to accommodate students’ differing learning conditions.

  • Preparation, participation, and engagement in class discussions, small groups, and meetings (20 percent)
  • Class Journal with informal assignments & quizzes (Journal work may, if instructors choose, be graded on a Pass/Not Pass, or High Pass/Pass/Not Pass basis) 40 %
  • Polished Reading Response(s) 20%
  • Class Discussion & Research Leader (Group Assignments) 10 percent
  • Creative project 10 percent

The criteria for grades in each category include improvement in and development of critical thinking and reading skills as demonstrated in class discussions, written work, and presentations, meeting the learning outcomes and thinking originally and critically about the course’s texts, authors, and issues. A grades represent work that is consistently excellent, or that is outstanding in several areas, and shows very strong skills in meeting the learning outcomes; B grades represent work that is consistently good to very good, or uneven, with some excellent and some satisfactory parts, and shows overall solid skills in these outcomes;  C grades are given for work that satisfies the course requirements and shows fundamental, if sometimes basic, grasp of key skills, but may be uneven or still developing. 

A Note on Credit Hours:  For 5 credit courses, students are expected to work approximately 15 total hours per week, including in and class time.

Academic misconduct is a serious offense we are mandated to report. It may result in your failing the course, and have additional repercussions. If you aren’t sure whether a practice is allowed, or how to cite a source, ask. If you need help with time management or stresses that impact your work, talk to me and/or advising. Help is out there.

Disability Statement and Resources UC Santa Cruz is committed to creating an academic environment that supports its diverse student body. If you are a student with a disability who requires accommodations to achieve equal access in this course, please submit your Accommodation Authorization Letter from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to your instructor by email, preferably within the first two weeks of the quarter. We would also like students to discuss ways we can ensure your full participation in the course. We encourage all students who may benefit from learning more about DRC services to contact DRC by phone at 831-459-2089 or by email at


Texts for Cowell College One:  Imagining Justice 2022

Books for COWL 001A - Summer

The Night Watchman Louise Erdrich. Harper Perennial (ISBN-10: 0062671197  ISBN-13: 978-0062671196)

Books for COWL 001 - Fall

     1. Unflattening by Nick Sousanis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2015
     2. Cowell Core Course Reader. Available only through Bay Tree Bookstore.
     3. Seeds of Something Different, An Oral History of the University of California, Santa Cruz Volume 1 e-edition, ed.Reti, Vanderscoff, Rabkin
Free use for Cowell Students:
SEEDS Volume II (optional):
     4. Kamo no Chomei, Hojoki A Hermit’s Hut as Metaphor Translated and annotated by Matthew Stavros. Vicus Lusorum (Available only at Amazon) ISBN: 9780645393200  Please use this Stavros translation.
     5. Oresteia, by Aeschylus Trans. Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998. (Please buy this translation. ISBN-10: 0872203905; ISBN-13: 978-0872203907)
     6. Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. New York: Pelican Shakespeare (Paperback) eds. Braunmuller, AR; Orgel, Stephen. New York: Penguin 2017 (ISBN-10: 0143130226; ISBN-13: 978-0143130222)

We prefer that you have paper copies (rather than ebooks) of Fall Quarter books for use in class. Buy your books at the Bay Tree Bookstore. This summer, during orientation the books will be offered with a 20% discount. If you buy your books elsewhere, please be sure to get the version that is indicated in the list above. Please pay special attention to the translation version of the Oresteia.

Texts in other formats

  1. Digital Archive: Bancroft Library UCB Chinese Immigration to the United States, 1884-1944 A Digital Archive Timeline
  2. Podcast: Freakonomics Episode 413 “Who Gets the Ventilator” by Stephen J. Dubner
    Produced by Zack Lapinski  
  3. And/or Podcast: Radiolab “Playing God”

Further reading options

Cowell One Coursepack (Reader) contents

  1. Writing Analytically Chapters 1 & 2
  2. Plato The Republic Book 1
  3. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book 5 (using chapters 3-9)
  4. Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations”
  5. Nicole Jung-Eun Kim et al, “Breaking the Silence”
  6. Priscilla Wald, Chapter One (Introduction) Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative
  7. Prakash Kashwan, Climate Justice in the Global North: An Introduction
  8. James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”

If you have any questions about your summer reading that were not resolved by orientation, please email Cowell’s Core Course Coordinator, Catherine Carlstroem, or the instructor of Cowell 001A, Todd Thorpe.

If you have questions about enrollment, transcripts, or other concerns not related to the Cowell Core Course content, email Cowell Advising Office.

If you have difficulty (financial or other) accessing the texts, please email the Cowell Provost, Alan Christy.