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Accessible Syllabus for Transformative Learning

WHUM 10100 Course Syllabus Draft (Distance Learning Edition)

City College of New York


Instructor: Nik Valdez, they/them/theirs
Class Meeting:
Office Hours: ---- or by appointment
Email: ---



City’s stated purpose of this course goes as follows: We will travel through history and around the world in the hope that we can come to comprehend different times and places, how the people who lived in them saw themselves, saw their lives, and the world they inhabited. There are many works we might read for this purpose but those below—each of them an embodiment of the vision of an age, of a particular civilization, of a particular angle of vision, or a particular current of thought—are chosen to make this journey possible in the very short time we have. Each is, moreover, a pivotal work in the history of thought and literature, so that a careful reading of each, along with extensive class discussion of its conceptual universe, will allow us to understand a major work of art in itself, the world of which it is a part, and the progression of ideas to which every time and place contributes and to which it is indebted.

We will keep this in mind, but my primary goal for this class is to create analyses and foster interrogations of the texts which are interesting and exciting for you to explore. Moreover, I hope to create a “map” of sorts which allows you to both understand and connect the different worldviews that have shaped – and continue to shape – modernity and contemporary life. This includes but is not limited to: conceptions or race, gender, sexuality, class, dis/ability, and religion. Our goal as a class will be to help craft a facility with these complicated themes across multiple and differing contexts, to close-read and comprehend complicated texts, and to develop and/or hone critical thinking skills.


  • Familiarity with common themes in “canonical” works from various eras
  • Understanding the forces at play that craft concepts such as, yes, “canon”, but also empire, national identity, religious identity, etc.
  • Critical thinking about the major social concerns in modern history and their expression in literature and art
  • A schematic “map” of thoughts, ideas, and movements throughout history
    and the connections we find (or don’t) in contemporary ideas


Shared Google Doc
For each class meeting, half of the allotted time will be spent working asynchronously on a shared class google doc. You will log on for the first half of class and respond to low-stakes writing prompts which will, ideally, get you thinking critically about the text. You will also respond to the contributions of others in the doc via the “comment” tool. You do not have to respond to every contribution – but ideally you will find at least one contribution that is interesting or exciting for you and that you can connect with on some level. This is recommended participation for each class member which will make this class both interesting and, hopefully, enjoyable for us all.

If you have disabilities or barriers that inhibit you from participating in this way, please reach out to me – there are plenty of alternatives and we can find something that works for you. The goal is to foster an intentional learning community among the class and we cannot do that unless we find ways to connect despite the distance (physical, intellectual, positionally, ideologically, etc.,) between us. I encourage you to find joy and pleasure in this process if at all possible. The responses do not need to be formal or make an argument, but I should be able to tell that you are grappling with the text on some level based on your contributions – even if that’s just to say you didn’t understand, and here’s why. Your responses will help shape our enquiries and guide discussion during the “video call” portion of the class – another reason you should contribute if you can. I don’t know what interests you all about the texts unless we communicate openly.

2-page Response Papers (2)
These papers are short and low-stakes. They do not have to advance any thesis or coherent thought. The point of these papers is to help you write out any ideas you may be having about the texts and discussions and to be used as reference when it comes to your final paper (more information about your final assignment is below). Though you do not need to use these papers in your final paper, I am a strong proponent of using any and all work you’ve already done to help craft your final project. Ideally, these response papers are an exploration of your own thoughts, ideas, or perhaps just sticking points that you keep coming back to. They will be graded P/NP. If you receive a NP, you will have the option of revising until you receive a grade of P. The point is not the grade, but the generation and articulation of ideas. I will dedicate a substantial amount of time to writing detailed and, hopefully, helpful feedback, including guiding you towards texts that may come in handy if you utilize one/both papers for the final paper. The minimum length is 2 full pages, double spaced.

You may choose which texts you choose to focus your response papers on – I encourage you to explore texts you enjoy or find interesting. Your first paper is due on or before [first half of term] and your second is due on or before [two weeks prior to final paper due date]. You may choose to do both at the beginning, of course, but it may be more useful for you to have interacted with more texts before beginning your second response.

Final Comparison Paper
For the final essay, you will write about a topic of your choice to compare two of the readings from the second half of the semester. The form of the paper is meant to help you utilize your response papers so that you are not wasting your hard work, but you can choose to explore another kind of paper if you so wish. The minimum length is 5 full pages, double spaced. The goal of this paper is to grapple with the themes and ideas that we have spent the semester exploring. I encourage you to take it in any direction you find interesting and generative, whether contemporary or historical (or both!). Creative/alternative projects are also welcome and encouraged, but please discuss them with me first so I can ensure you are meeting CCNY’s core course requirements.

I will also provide a list of prompts for you to explore – you can either respond directly to the prompt, or use the prompts as a jumping-off point for your own interests.

Collaborative Syllabus (1 entry)
Each student must provide one contribution to a class syllabus. This can be a song, music video, poem, theoretical text, film, etc (literally anything that’s shareable and applicable). It must deal with the themes we have been discussing in class. Along with this source, you will provide a short (150-200 word) framing which explains your thought process and why you chose that work in particular. This can be provided at any time throughout the semester as long as I receive it by the last day of term, [date].

*If there are assignments you feel you will not be able to complete or that are causing you undue anxiety or stress, please come talk to me. The goal of these projects is to help you engage meaningfully with the texts and ideas that shaped them while also meeting CCNY’s core requirements, but there is more than one way to do that. We can figure something out.

Extra Credit
For some cushion, there is an optional extra credit assignment of a contemporary critical analysis: choose a book, article, music video, TV show, movie, piece of art, poetry, etc. and analyze the content for themes that we have been discussing in class. This will be “presentation” style, either at the beginning of class or one-on-one with me. (For example, I might choose to analyze the last episode of Noelle Stevenson’s She-Ra for themes on queerness, religious fanaticism, and/or redemption.) Your interest and engagement in your own ideas and the chosen media will determine your extra credit percentage – most often, this will be a minimum of a half-grade bump, though a bigger boost is certainly possible and somewhat dependent on your needs.




Participation in discussion and activities is highly encouraged but there are multiples ways to participate, and not all of them include being the one to raise your hand (though that is, of course, always welcome). Questions, remarks, and/or responses in Zoom IM, for example, all count as participation. If, for whatever reason, you cannot reasonably be expected to participate regularly, please let me know and we can meet you where you are.

The goal is to make this class as interesting and engaging for each of you, which means I will need you to be present and attentive whenever possible and in whatever ways you can. That being said, you all are people first, with lives and responsibilities that often take precedence. In other words, flexibility is the name of the game. I have endeavored to build in as much flexibility as possible, from flexible deadlines to grading to P/NP assignments that are also revisable. If you cannot get to the readings one week, please send me an email letting me know and do your best to attend both aspects of class (shared doc and video call) so that you can hear the discussion and participate where possible.

Community Agreements
As an intentional learning community, we will also be forming community agreements to guide us in our conduct for this class. This is a collaborative process and I encourage each of you to think about the things that are necessary for you to create a welcoming and interesting learning environment. (If you’ve never encountered that, think about the things you experience that create an unwelcoming or hostile learning environment, and work from there.) When it comes to phones and texting, please keep in mind that texting can often be disruptive to yours, your classmates, and my learning. That being said, occasional cell phone use happens and I understand. I only ask that you keep in mind that I am giving you my time and I hope to receive yours in return – this is a joint effort. If you check out, it’s going to be much harder for me and the rest of the class to learn from/with you.

*Respecting people’s names and pronouns are not optional. I will – gently – correct you each time you make a mistake and while I do not expect the same in return (it is my responsibility, as the instructor, to ensure I am using the names and pronouns you all request and not actively causing you harm), I do welcome it. Slurs and racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and/or ableist language will not be welcome in this space.

Tardiness and absences are fine as long as you let me know. If you have greater than 3 absences, each subsequent absence will need to be made up with an alternative assignment which we can agree upon together.

I will not be grading you on genius literary interpretation or a technically exceptional essay. Your goals, for each of your assignments, are as follows: direct engagement and grappling with the texts; clear effort to communicate your ideas clearly to me and other potential readers; efforts to think critically; efforts to participate in the class and engage in a collaborative learning community however it is possible for you to do so. My goal is not to look for ways to fail you, but to help you build on the skills you already have and/or guide you to building important skills for future work. If you put in the effort, your grade will reflect that effort.

For students who struggle with writing assignments, reading assignments, or class engagement, please reach out to me. We can come up with alternative ways for you to engage usefully in this class. (For example, if writing has historically been a stressful and overwhelming task that you often cannot reasonably complete, I might have you start with one paper and continually revise throughout the semester, instead of having you complete 3 separate assignments.)

Paper Submission
The midterm and final papers should be typed and submitted twice: via TurnItIn on Blackboard and email. For ease of reading, please use Times New Roman 12-point font, double-spaced lines, and 1-inch margins.

Extensions are available and freely given for every assignment, no questions asked, but you will have to communicate to me that you need one. If you find yourself thinking about plagiarizing, please talk to me (and please: don’t). I would rather work with you one-on-one than have you commit academic fraud. You have good ideas that are worth exploring – my goal is to help you explore them.

Academic Integrity
CUNY identifies plagiarism (Appendix B.3 of the CCNY Undergraduate Bulletin) as follows:

Plagiarism is the act of presenting another person’s ideas, research or writings as your own. The following are some examples of plagiarism, but by no means is it an exhaustive list:

  • Copying another person’s actual words without the use of quotation marks and footnotes attributing the words to their source.
  • Presenting another person’s ideas or theories in your own words without acknowledging the source.
  • Using information that is not common knowledge without acknowledging the source.
  • Failing to acknowledge collaborators on homework assignments.
  • Internet Plagiarism includes submitting downloaded term papers or parts of term papers, paraphrasing or copying information from the internet without citing the source, and “cutting and pasting” from various sources without proper attribution.
  • Per City’s policies, plagiarism will result in failing the assignment and possibly the course, with no

Grade Breakdown

  • 30% Participation
    • 20% google doc activity (thoughtful responses to writing prompts & to other contributors)
    • 10%
      “class” participation, in the form of speaking, IM responses, or any
      alternative we have agreed upon beforehand (to be decided as a class or
      one-on-one, depending on the circumstances.)
  • 20% Collaborative Syllabus
  • 30% Response Papers (15% each)
  • 20% Final Paper


Whenever possible, readings are uploaded to the course site for your access. If you cannot acquire a text, let me know and we will figure something out. I do not require physical texts.

If you would like to obtain longer readings in book format, I will be using the following editions, but any edition you can get your hands on is most welcome:

Translated and Original Texts
You are welcome to read the assigned texts in languages other than English, and to discuss points of translation in class. Language competencies will augment our pursuit of the history and nature of world literature.




How many assignments do we have?
We have 4 total assignments due at different points in the semester and 1 continuous “assignment”, which is the shared google doc that operates as a portion of our meeting time. The other 4 are: 2 low-stakes response papers, 1 class syllabus contribution, and 1 final paper.

How do I get an A/pass?
Most of your grade will be participation – the brunt of intellectual work, in my experience, happens in the class. To the best of your abilities, engage with the texts and the discussion in class – either through speaking, instant messaging via zoom, having an ongoing conversation in the google doc, or any other alternative we have discussed ahead of time.

The other portion of your grade will mostly be determined via your written assignments – proof of effort and genuine engagement with texts/ideas will give you a grade you will be satisfied with. If there is also demonstrable improvement, that will get you a good grade as well.

What if I need accommodations?
Please reach out to me – I do not need proof of an illness or disability and I do not need you to go through the school’s DSS or administrative process. You also should not feel coerced to disclose personal circumstances to me. Let me know what you can and cannot do and we will figure out a way to make this class worthwhile and useful for you.

What if I need an extension on a/multiple assignment(s)?
Extensions are freely given, no questions asked. Just communicate with me that you need one or several. If circumstances are continuous, we can figure out alternative assignments that are feasible for you.

So wait, absences/tardiness aren’t penalized?
No, not necessarily! Not being able to make class will not affect your grade, unless you have greater than 3 absences and are not completing your alternative assignments. At that point, it will begin to affect your participation grade. Tardiness will not affect your grade unless it is also reflective of an overall disinterest and lack of engagement with the text/discussion. If you show up late and still participate, you’re in the clear.

What if I’m not interested in creating an “intentional learning community”?
That’sfine, but this class may not be the one for you. You should consider taking a more traditional class, because not participating in the class will negatively affect your grade.

What if I have another question?
Emailme at --- at any time for questions, concerns, or clarifications. We can also set up a time to meet or you can attend office hours.



There is a lot to learn from here! Thank you for sharing. I particularly like your tone. It fits with how I am in the classroom but I don't think my syllabi match that tone yet. 


I'm curious--what did the class choose, and how was it different from what you chose?