Mahdavi Proposes Critical Theory and Social Justice Major

Pardis Mahdavi, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Pomona College, is proposing that the college create a new Critical Theory and Social Justice (CTSJ) major. The proposal has been submitted to the curriculum committee for consideration.

“The aim is to promote understanding of how categories such as race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality help people recognize and combat injustice in their own lives and the lives of others,” Mahdavi said. “It’s a special major, for now, and it has not been approved at all, it’s just being proposed.”

The major currently exists at Occidental College and Macalester College.

Mahdavi said the decision to propose this major was based on student interest. She said that the students whom she has heard express interest in this major are currently anthropology majors or undecided.

“It’s interdisciplinary, so it’s going to be of interest to people who are interested in international relations, public policy, area studies, race, class, gender,” Mahdavi said.

If approved, the interdisciplinary major will include anthropology courses but will also draw from other subjects listed in the Pomona course catalog under Area II, which covers social institutions and human behavior, and Area III, which encompasses history, values, ethics and cultural studies, according to Justin Gutzwa PO ’14. Gutzwa is currently an anthropology major, but hopes to major in CTSJ if it is approved. Although the major would include many of the same courses as the anthropology major, it would differ in its approach.

“There’s a lot of different directions you can take anthropology in, and in a way, CTSJ is a lot more focused in specific fields of anthropology,” Gutzwa said.

He added, “Professor Mahdavi told a group of her advisees that there were some [proposed] changes in the department that weren’t finalized, but we might want to look into creating a new major if our interests no longer align with requirements in the Anthropology Department, which is something a lot of us have been grappling with for a while.”

Gutzwa was one of five students in the meeting with Mahdavi. In an e-mail to TSL, Mahdavi wrote that her primary message to students in the meeting was that the CTSJ major might be established, although this was no guarantee.

For Gutzwa, the decision to apply for the potential major was largely based on his academic interests.

“The requirements set forth in the Anthropology Department were requirements that were preventing me from completing courses in my study, because I’m trying to complete a politics minor as well,” he said. “Creating a new major just allowed some of the electives that I was interested in before to become major requirements, or things that I need in my field of study.”

Responding to rumors that she would leave the Anthropology Department and move to the Gender and Women’s Studies Department, Mahdavi said, “It’s in consideration. There has been no process yet initiated at all.”

She said that if any changes were to occur, they would not happen this year.

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