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Penn Native American literature course will explore capitalism’s role in climate change

Conservative student questions balance of the class

The University of Pennsylvania will offer a course in the spring semester that combines a study of literature, Native American history and climate change.

The course, titled “Imagining Environmental Justice,” will challenge students to address the question “what does environmental justice look like in a world where the effects of colonialism and climate change are unevenly distributed,” according to the description. Students will explore this idea through “novels, film, nonfiction, and poetry.”

A copy of the one-page syllabus, obtained by The College Fix, promises a deep dive into the problems of capitalism.

The course will engage “with texts by Indigenous North American, African American, Palestinian, and South African writers and creators will highlight diverse ways of relating to land, water and nonhuman animals,” in a way that “challenge(s) capitalist and colonial logics of extraction.”

It’s housed under the Program in Environmental Humanities at the Ivy League institution. The class may be used to fill a requirement for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Minor.

A course description on the English Department website said:

This course asks students to comparatively and critically reflect on literary, filmic, and nonfictional narratives that engage in different ways with the question of justice. Course materials highlight not only instances of spectacular environmental catastrophe but also more subtle effects on bodies and landscapes, attending to the complex ways that environmental crisis intersects with race, gender, and sexuality. The class will enable participants to translate these ideas into practice by producing public-facing content through creative modes of inquiry. Ultimately, we will strive to understand how various forms of artistic and creative expression might enable us to imagine more equitable futures.

“A lot of the injustices that we see in terms of the environment are about the legacies of things like colonialism, dispossession, systemic racism, the patriarchy, and misogyny,” instructor Rebecca Macklin told student paper The Daily Pennsylvanian.

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Macklin did not respond to multiple emailed requests for comment from The College Fix seeking information on the desired learning objectives for the course.

The Fix also reached out to the University of Pennsylvania media relations department multiple times via email over the past week. It did not respond to questions about the goals of the courses and what the school hoped students would learn from the course.

“The materials that Macklin chose for the class highlight Indigenous creators who express their voices and pain through stories, songs, and poems,” the campus paper reported. “These artists come from a wide range of backgrounds, including the First Nations people in Canada and Marshall Islands residents.”

At least one student is skeptical of the balance of the course.

“Students taking this course will certainly not have the freedom to explore an objective analysis of capitalism on human society,” Ben Zeisloft, a student at Penn and the editor of The UPenn Statesman, told The Fix via Facebook messaging.

“As with many courses at Penn, it is far more likely that students will instead be fed a narrative about the alleged evils of capitalism and experience immense pressure if they attempt to deviate from that narrative,” Zeisloft said. He said he expects “students will be pigeonholed into particular ideological presuppositions.”

“The class likely exists not to conduct a legitimate analysis of the topic, but to indoctrinate with a predetermined viewpoint,” Zeisloft said.

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