Cowell College One, Imagining Justice

Texts for Cowell College One:  Imagining Justice, 2023

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. The course also attends to our current moment, attending to the pandemic and contemporary sociopolitical issues. 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 a graphic text, scholarly works on political and sociological issues, philosophical treatises, fiction, drama, and films, 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, The Pursuit 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 many of the following, which will be assessed for ambitiousness, effectiveness, level of preparation, and growth in key skills:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.



For 5-credit courses like this, students are expected to work approximately 15 total hours per week, including class time.

Grading assessment will be based on:

  • 40% - 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)
  • 20% - Preparation, participation, and engagement in class discussions, small groups, and meetings
  • 20% - Polished Reading Response(s)
  • 10% - Class Discussion & Research Leader (Group Assignments)
  • 10% - Creative project
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.

The criteria for grades in each category include skills acquired, 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. 

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 your instructor. If you need help with time management, or stresses that impact your work, talk to your instructor 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, 2023

Books for COWL 001A - Summer

  1. The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen. Grove Press. ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0802127363  ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0802127365
  1. Nick Sousanis, Unflattening. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2015. ISBN-10: 0674744438 ISBN-13: 978-0674744431

Books for COWL 001 - Fall

The first three are links so no need to purchase. Please buy paper copies of 4-7

  1. Steven Pinker “The Moral Instinct”:
  2. Seeds of Something Different, An Oral History of the University of California, Santa Cruz Volume 1 e-edition, ed. Vanderscoff, Reti, Rabkin Free use for Cowell Students:
SEEDS Volume I
SEEDS Volume II (optional):
  1. Code of Hammurabi from Yale Law School Online Text:
  2. Cowell One Reader

    Place an order by emailing your first & last name, student ID number and course (COWL 1) to You will then pick up your reader Monday - Friday 8am - 4:30pm on campus at Engineering 1 (Baskin Engineering) in the basement, rm. B25.

    Contents include:

    • Writing Analytically Chapters 1 & 2
    • Plato The Republic Book 1
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book 5 (using chapters 3-9)
    • Nicole Jung-Eun Kim et al, “Breaking the Silence”
    • Laila Lalami “Allegiance” from Conditional Citizens
    • Robin Kemmerer “Returning the Gift” & “Skywoman Falling” from Braiding Sweetgrass
    • Prakash Kashwan, “Climate Justice in the Global North: An Introduction”
    • Cesare Beccaria, Excerpts from On Crimes and Punishments Chapters 1-3, Torture & Death Penalty
    • Angela Davis, “From the Convict Lease System to the Supermax Prison” from Prison Masculinities
    • Clint Smith “Monticello” from This Is How the Word Is Passed
    • James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”

Order and buy the following 3 books (paper copies, not ebooks, please) new or used, preferably before your first class meeting.

  1. Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice. New York: Pelican Shakespeare (Paperback) eds. Braunmuller, AR; Orgel, Stephen. New York: Penguin 2017 (Order from any bookstore, widely available, inexpensive.) ISBN-10: 0143130226 ISBN-13: 978-0143130222

The edition we prefer of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is inexpensive and widely available, and you can order this edition from almost any bookstore or from online sellers like Amazon.

  1. Aeschylus, Oresteia. Trans. Peter Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.
Please buy this translation if possible, ISBN-10: 0872203905 ISBN-13: 9780872203907
Our preferred translations of Aeschylus’ Oresteia (translated by Peter Meineck) and In Praise of Solitude are available almost exclusively through Amazon. Please order these translations if possible. (Other translations are acceptable if you can’t acquire the preferred version.) When ordering online, double-check to make sure you are ordering the book, not the audiobook, as they often have the same titles!
  1. Kamo no Chomei, Hojoki  A Hermit’s Hut as Metaphor Translated and annotated by Matthew Stavros
This text is available as a standalone book (ISBN:9798633865431, Stavros translation) and in a 2-book edition (ISBN-13: ‎ 979-8695629248, Kamo no Chomei, In Praise of Solitude). Both books go in and out of publication. If the standalone book is not available, then please get In Praise of Solitude.

If you have any questions about your summer reading that were not resolved by orientation, please email Cowell’s Core Course Coordinator, 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.

Cowell is committed to all students having access to our texts. If you can’t afford all or some of these texts, please email the Cowell Provost, Alan Christy for options. We can help.