ENGL 259 A: Literature and Social Difference

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
* *
Professor Ishii, presumably saying smart things
Douglas Ishii

Syllabus Description:

English 259

Literature & Social Difference: Trouble on Campus (Pandemic ed.)

Professor Douglas S. Ishii


Open Zoom hour: W, 3:30 – 4:30 / Individual appointments: See Google Sheet



The college campus epitomizes the contradictions of identity and difference within systems of power: on the one hand, it is where many students say they first understood the importance of diversity, while, on the other hand, it has failed both to resolve race-differentiated social stratification and to deliver safety to Black and Indigenous students, and students of color.  Even as we participate in the national narrative that “things are better than they were before,” race, gender, sex, sexual identity, class, disability, and citizenship remain key forces of exclusion, inequality, and oppression.  What has changed are the conditions of inclusion and exclusion.  


To understand these paradoxes and contradictions, this class will focus on the college campus as an institution that both reflects and reproduces its context – including social inequalities.  As a course interested in diversity, this will focus our attention on how college students have launched some of the most impactful political protests and public debates, such as the interracial student strikes at San Francisco State College of 1968-69.  We will also trace how their demands have become selectively mainstreamed, such as through the creation of diversity general education requirements and the acceptance of previously excluded populations who find themselves treated more like objects to be learned about than student equals.  As a course in multiethnic literature, we will enter this analysis through the literary genre of the campus story, and the theoretical field of critical university studies, while centralizing works by artists of color.  Throughout, we will use an intersectional lens to ask: What social function is higher education supposed to do?  What does it actually do?  How can centering the perspectives of people of color help us reimagine this reality?




  • Analyze literary representations by minoritized artists, and their use of literary forms and genres, as cultural and political acts of power and part of a multiethnic expressive cultural traditions in the U.S.
  • Understand the social function of higher education, the liberal arts, and diversity in our contemporary moment
  • Evaluate the role of narrative in naturalizing and contesting intersectional dynamics of identity and difference that can help us make sense of race in our current moment
  • Practice interdisciplinary reading skills, conceptual analysis, discussion skills, and research practice



There is one required novel for this course available for purchase at the campus book store.

  • Don Lee, The Collective: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013) – ISBN: 978-0393345421

All other course texts will be available online through Canvas.


There are two films that you will be asked to view on your own.  Please take notes when you view them, and note that you may choose to view them again in preparation for the course final.

  • Dear White People, dir. Justin Simien (2014)
  • Walkout, dir. Edward James Olmos (2006)



The following books are not required for this course, and the selections we will be discussing are available on Canvas as PDFs.  However, you may choose to purchase them for further reading.

  • Jennine Capo Crucet, My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education (Picador, 2019) – ISBN: 978-1250299437
  • Chanel Miller, Know My Name: A Memoir (Penguin, 2019) – ISBN: 978-0735223721
  • Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press, 2019) – ISBN: 978-1580058827
  • Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Heads of the Colored People: Stories (37 Ink, 2018) – ISBN: 978-1501168000


Attendance and Participation

  • Students should be prepared to participate on a substantive level in discussions of the readings and topics.

    • If you miss class, contact a classmate to stay up to date, as you will be held responsible for all assignments. This also includes if you add the course after the first day.
    • Please talk to Doug regarding extenuating circumstances before it impacts your course performance.
  • Please have the appropriate course texts ready for both your online discussion posts and your course participation.


Late Work

  • In general, as part of fostering your sense of self-responsibility and autonomy, I will not chase you for your work and will assume that you have made a choice.
  • I would rather see your most representative work than your most 11:59pm work. However, deadlines exist for a reason.  Please do not make a habit out of turning in late work, but also know that you have several hours of flexibility for deadlines.
  • For obligations that necessitate more than a few days extension, please send me an e-mail so that we can discuss a new due date together.
  • Please inform me at the start of the semester if you are going to miss any major scheduled grading events due to religious observances so that arrangements can be made.


Contacting the Instructor 

  • A brief yet well-written e-mail is the best way to contact me. I will commit to a 24-hour turn-around, so please do not wait until the last minute if you have a pressing concern.  I expect your written communication to be coherent and respectful.  For a great guide on how to conduct yourself: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2014/08/25/professors-pet-peeves/.
  • For any question that requires more than a one-sentence response, I much prefer talking – and you will likely have a more pleasurable experience as well.
    • I maintain a sign-up sheet in Google Drive, which is linked to the course Canvas site, for one-on-one meetings.
    • I am also holding open office hours on Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:30pm Pacific, if you want to connect across the distance and have a discussion about or not about class things that can be open to anyone.
  • I assume that the e-mail address with the university is accurate, and checked at least once a day on weekdays and Sundays. You can expect the same from me.  In addition, I expect that you will sign into Canvas in order to obtain or view course-related files or information.


Academic Integrity

The University takes academic integrity very seriously. Behaving with integrity is part of our responsibility to our shared learning community. If you’re uncertain about if something is academic misconduct, ask me. I am willing to discuss questions you might have. Acts of academic misconduct may include but are not limited to:

  • Cheating (working collaboratively on quizzes/exams and discussion submissions, sharing answers and previewing quizzes/exams)
  • Plagiarism (representing the work of others as your own without giving appropriate credit to the original author(s))
  • Unauthorized collaboration (working with each other on assignments)

Concerns about these or other behaviors prohibited by the Student Conduct Code will be referred for investigation and adjudication by the Office of Community Standards & Student Conduct.  Students found to have engaged in academic misconduct may receive a zero on the assignment.


Accessibility Statement

Your experience in this class is important to me. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at https://disability.uw.edu

Student Conduct

The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at https://www.washington.edu/studentconduct/


Classroom Diversity and Inclusion

Every student in this class will be honored and respected as an individual with distinct experiences, talents, and backgrounds.  Issues about diversity and difference will be a central part of class discussion, assigned material, and projects.  I will make every effort to ensure that an inclusive environment exists for all students – which may, at times, require you to feel discomfort or to sit with uncomfortable ideas. 

To that end, you should express your alternative view using the evidence that led you to your interpretation: Debate is welcomed, while abuse is not.  Personalized comments, inappropriate language, insults, sleeping, and raised voices will not be tolerated.  Please understand that this course material is not based in personal opinion, but in social and cultural contexts, traceable patterns, and enduring community memories, so being part of the classroom community will necessitate being open to perspectives like and unlike your own.  This also includes the way that you treat me as your instructor.



Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime – no matter where you work or study – to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. SafeCampus’s team of caring professionals will provide individualized support, while discussing short- and long-term solutions and connecting you with additional resources when requested.


For mental health care, contact the Counseling Center (206.543.1240) or Hall Health Mental Health (206.543.5030) by phone to get started. Online scheduling is not currently available. 


Religious Accommodations

“Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).”


Success Coaching

Success Coaching is an interactive process that empowers students to get from where they are now to where they want to be. The Success Coach is a peer who students can visit to help build more general skills for success. Even if you aren't sure why you're struggling to meet academic goals, the Success Coach can help identify and overcome challenges to create a foundation for success in college.



Note: Before submitting this syllabus to an online repository, please note that this course has been adapted to living through a global pandemic.


Course Requirement Grading Percentages and Deadlines

Quizzes (1% each, 10% total)

Your first quiz will be due by the end of the first week of the quarter on Friday, October 2.  Every Monday after that, you will be responsible for completing a quiz, administered through Canvas.  These quizzes will be designed to ensure your week-to-week accountability for keeping up with the course materials.  They will take one of two forms:

  • A timed, open-note, multiple-choice quiz
  • A short response prompt

There will be 11 quizzes over the course of the quarter, and your 10 highest scores will contribute toward your course grade.


Course Participation (50% total)

Course participation will take place predominantly asynchronously, with options for synchronous discussion.  Your specific responsibilities will be determined by your grading contract, to be submitted to Doug at the beginning of the term.


Weekly Post

Each week’s discussion will be organized in threads on the Canvas Discussion Board.  Each thread will have a series of questions.  By Monday at 3:30pm Pacific time, you will submit a post that responds to one of the week’s discussion questions.  This post will be of 250 to 300 words in length, and consist of:

  • A thesis statement that not only discusses one of the week’s readings in answering the question, but also begins an analysis of what the reading is saying beyond the level of plot summary
  • Quotation(s) from the course text to use as evidence in
  • Producing a brief analysis and argument



Since conditions are not safe for us to meet in person, we will orchestrate a class discussion in part through asynchronous replies to class posts.  To receive credit, you will write two replies to posts on the discussion thread of 75 to 125 words by Tuesday at 3:30pm Pacific.  Your reply will address the substance of your classmate’s post, and take their ideas a step further.


Wednesday Check-Ins

Not including the first day of the quarter, there will be 8 Wednesday sessions.  To receive credit for the Wednesday check-in, you will do one of the following:

  1. Synchronous Zoom meeting: On Wednesdays from 1:30pm to 3:20pm Pacific, we will meet synchronously on Zoom. There, we will discuss big ideas and questions for the week and ways to connect from across our distance.
  2. Asynchronous check-in post: Wednesdays will also have a discussion thread. Unlike the Monday post, which will require a sustained textual analysis, the Wednesday check-in will be more activity-oriented.  The instructions will vary from week to week, but the Wednesday check-in post will be due by Wednesday at 3:30pm Pacific.


Midterm Exam (15%)

To ensure your working knowledge of the breadth of concepts and issues addressed in this course, you will take a midterm examination.  This examination will be comprised of short answer questions, which will use a key course concept to analyze a character, passage, scene, plot point, or symbol from one of the course readings.  This examination will be due Friday, November 6 by 12pm Pacific.


Final Exam (25%)

This final examination will be comprised of short answer questions, which will use a key course concept to analyze a character, passage, scene, plot point, or symbol from one of the course readings, and, to think cumulatively, a longer response to an essay prompt.  This examination will be due Wednesday, December 16 by 3:30 Pacific.


COURSE SCHEDULE – subject to change at Doug’s discretion

The dates mark when course readings will be discussed, and thus should be completed before then.

NOTE: Monday Quiz must be completed on Mondays by 3:30pm Pacific

Monday Post due on Mondays by 3:30pm Pacific

            Tuesday Replies due on Tuesdays by 3:30pm Pacific

            Wednesday Synchronous Zoom Meeting on Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3:30pm Pacific OR

            Wednesday Check-in due on Wednesdays by 3:30pm Pacific


Weeks 0 & 1: Introduction to the Course

9/30            Asynchronous syllabus overview

                  Synchronous introduction to the course

10/2            NOTE: Quiz #1 due


10/5            Ijeoma Oluo, “Is It Really About Race?”, “What is Racism?”, and “What If I Talk About Race Wrong?”, from So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press, 2019)

10/7            Ijeoma Oluo, “What is Intersectionality and Why Do I Need It?” and “What are Microaggressions?”, from So You Want to Talk About Race


Week 2: Diversity, Inclusion, and Something More

10/12          Dear White People (2014), dir. Justin Simien 

                  Christopher Newfield, “Diversity in the Age of Pseudointegration,” from Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class (Harvard U. Press, 2011)

10/14          Julie J. Park, “Black Students and the Cafeteria – What’s the Big Fuss?” from Race on Campus: Debunking Myths with Data (Harvard U. Press, 2018)


Week 3: College and Cultural Capital

10/19          Jennine Capo Crucet, “How to Leave Hialeah,” from How to Leave Hialeah (University of Iowa Press, 2009)

                  Jennine Capo Crucet, “What We Pack,” from My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education (Picador, 2019)

10/21          Jennine Capo Crucet, “Imagine Me Here, or How I Became a Professor” from My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education (Picador, 2019)


Weeks 4-6: College, Community, and Creativity

10/26          Don Lee, Chapters 1-5, The Collective: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013), 11-72

10/28          Collective, Chapters 6-8, 73-116


11/2            Collective, Chapters 9-11, 117-182

11/4            Collective, Chapters 12-14, 183-249

11/6            Midterm due


11/9            Collective, Chapters 15-17, 250-314

11/11          NO ZOOM CLASS OR CHECK-IN – Veterans Day


Week 7: Sex and the College Social Life

11/16          Selection by Brandon Taylor

11/18          Chanel Miller, “Emily Doe’s Victim Impact Statement,” from Know My Name: A Memoir (Penguin, 2019)

                  cn: discussion of sexual assault


Week 8: Race in the Classroom

11/23          Larissa FastHorse, The Thanksgiving Play (2018)

11/25          NO ZOOM CLASS OR CHECK-IN – Fall Holiday


Week 9: Changing the Racial Imaginary

11/30          Walkout, dir. Edward James Olmos (2006)

                  Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda, selection from “On Whiteness and the Racial Imaginary” (2015), available online at https://lithub.com/on-whiteness-and-the-racial-imaginary/

12/2            Nafissa Thompson-Spires, “Heads of the Colored People,” from Heads of the Colored People: Stories (37 Ink, 2018)


Week 10: Representing Difference

12/7            Nafissa Thompson-Spires, “This Todd” and “A Conversation about Bread,” from Heads

12/9            Oluo, “Talking is Great, But What Else Can I Do?”, from So You Want to Talk About Race


12/16          Final examination due

Catalog Description: 
Literary texts are important evidence for social difference (gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, citizenship status, sexuality, ability) in contemporary and historical contexts. Examines texts that encourage and provoke us to ask larger questions about identity, power, privilege, society, and the role of culture in present-day or historical settings.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
September 26, 2020 - 10:50pm