The following Freshman Seminars will all include some consideration of this year's book, Just Mercy, or the themes it evokes. As you can see, the instructors approach the theme from very different disciplinary standpoints.

Fall 2016

English 84: High Culture, Low Culture: Modernism and the Films of the Coen Brothers

Julia Bader | Schedule →

We will concentrate on the high and low cultural elements in the noir comedies of the Coen brothers, discussing their use of Hollywood genres, parodies of classic conventions, and representation of arbitrariness. We will also read some fiction, including stories from Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, and attend events at the Pacific Film Archive and Cal Performances. 

Ethnic Studies 24: Just Mercy: Within the History of De-Colonial imagining

Victoria Robinson | Schedule →

The use of prisons and jails as solutions to some of the nation's most complex and deeply entrenched social problems, such as poverty, mental illness, homelessness, and intimate abuse, is a story too familiar. And yet, so is the contestation and challenge to these 'solutions.' Centuries of progressive and abolitionist movements lie at the heart of dismantling a system of racially inscribed injustice of legal and extra-legal punishment systems. These movements call for abolition of the death penalty, of the removal of life without parole for children, and of the cruel and unusual judicial conditions that the mentally disabled have been tangled within. Our seminar will use the book 'Just Mercy' by Bryan Stevenson, to consider the architecture of our modern criminal justice system. We will focus on both those trapped within the deepest trenches of the system, and also those individuals and communities who fight for true justice. 

German 39P: Law and Literature

Chenxi Tang | Schedule →

or many people, law is the subject of professional legal education, while literature belongs to the humanities. In this seminar, we will see that law and literature, professional school and the humanities, are in fact closely related. We will read some of the greatest authors in world literature – Shakespeare, Melville, Morrison, Kleist, Kafka, among others – and see how their works engage with the key issues of law such as justice and equity, rights and obligation, crime and punishment. At the same time, we will read legal texts and see how law operates by telling stories.
This Freshman and Sophomore Seminar is currently listed as German 39N in Campus Solutions. It will be renamed German 39P in the near future, and all students enrolled in 39N will be moved to 39P when the change occurs. The title and description will remain the same. This seminar is part of the On the Same Page initiative. This seminar may be used to satisfy the Arts and Literature or Philosophy and Values breadth requirement in Letters and Science.

History 24: African American Activism in History

Waldo Martin | Schedule →

This seminar will explore the history and politics that shape contemporary African American concerns as expressed in movements like Black Lives Matter. Centering the enduring African American Freedom Struggle, our principal focus will be twofold: 1) the fundamental role of African American activism; and 2), the impact of beliefs in and practices of democracy and equality . We will also necessarily explore the historical origins, development, meanings, and consequences of contemporary colorblind racism: the persistence and depth of structural white supremacy in our own time. One of our core readings will be Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, the On the Same Page text.

Legal Studies 39I: Punishment in America: Why, Whom, and How

Christopher Kutz | Schedule →

This seminar will look at the theory and modern practice of criminal punishment in the United States: we will read and discuss materials from philosophy, history, law, anthropology, and sociology to discuss under what conditions state punishment could be justified, and how the American modern practice of mass incarceration does or does not meet those conditions. Along with some classic philosophy and criminology readings, we will read the On the Same Page book, Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy as well as excerpts from Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. The seminar will include a trip to San Quentin state prison. The requirements will consist of weekly readings and short, ungraded, written reactions, as well as two 5-6 page graded papers. This seminar is part of the On the Same Page initiative. You should be prepared to do 50-75 pages of reading per week (perhaps more if the reading is not dense), and you will be expected to contribute on the basis of that reading to class discussion during every session.

Molecular and Cell Biology 90B. section 1: Biologists Reading Just Mercy

David Weisblat | Schedule →

Some commentators suggested that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 signaled the beginning of a "post-racial" America, and/or that we were now building a "color-blind" society (is that even a a possible or desirable goal?). In any case, events of the last the eight years certainly suggest otherwise. As a starting-off point for this seminar, I'd like us to read and discuss the book "Just Mercy," the On the Same Page title for this year. I hope we can work together as (prospective) scientists to consider evidence-based approaches to understanding both the nature and the consequences of our biases. I hope that students from all backgrounds will participate in this seminar, and that over the course of the semester, we will create a mutually supportive community among ourselves that might persist at least throughout your time at Berkeley. I'm particularly eager to meet students who are also interested in biology or other sciences and who are open to thinking analytically about issues emerging from our discussion of "Just Mercy." If there is interest, I'd be happy to provide a tour of my lab and to highlight the possibilities for conducting undergraduate research at Berkeley.