Students in Dr. Laura Moyer’s new Social Science Colloquium class are analyzing the implication of courts in a democracy, studying court cases in terms of judges’ ideological attitudes, blogging about analyses from various political scientists, and even following the ongoing Occupy Movement.
For their final projects, they’re identifying two social movements and comparing the movements’ success on a particular issue, with topics ranging from the human rights movement in China and the Arab Spring, to women’s suffrage in the U.S. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
It’s not a graduate seminar — it’s an Honors College class.
“The goal in the class is not to discuss whether or not you agree with an issue, but to analyze the movement’s choices,” said Moyer, an Assistant Professor of Political Science. “We also discuss whether or not courts can serve as effective defenders of political minorities — obviously, there’s a potential democratic problem with that, because courts are typically made up of judges who aren’t elected.”
HNRS 3033: “Social Movements and the Courts” fuses two separate literatures in political science — one on social movements and their strategies, and another that focuses on the role of courts in a democracy.
Starting with the Civil Rights movement and continuing to the women’s gay rights, and conservative legal movements, the seminar-style class relies heavily on case studies to study how groups have worked to influence Supreme Court rulings, as well as how they react to changes in public opinion.
“There are nine students, and it gives me the opportunity to teach in a really different format,” said Moyer, who is teaching her first Honors course. “They’ve been really eager to learn and really great about thinking analytically about the ramifications of judicial decisions.”
The course is a Communication-Intensive CxC course, and there is a strong emphasis on both written and verbal communication skills.
“The students are getting constant feedback throughout the semester, and I’m able to see their development as writers,” said Moyer. “And the blog has worked out really well … sometimes students just express themselves better on the page, and it’s a nice place where people can provide their own analyses, comment on the readings, and respond to one another without being put on the spot. So we have a pretty lively out of class discussion.”
Within the class, Moyer said that all areas of the university are represented — there’s an engineering major, an art major, a music major, and humanities and social sciences majors.
“It’s been really fun to have individuals who come from a background of philosophy, who are thinking about these bigger questions, interacting with people who come from a scientific background and are thinking more in terms of variables,” she said. “I’m teaching typically mostly political science majors, so it’s fun to have a different set of perspectives … and they’re learning from each other as well.”
Jeri Marchan, an Honors English senior, said she signed up for the course to learn about the different social movements
“I wanted to be able to talk to people about these movements intelligently, since they’re so pertinent to the world today,” she said. “I’ve learned that there are so many sides to an issue before it can get solved— if people want certain rights, like gay marriage, it’s not as easy or straightforward as everybody seems to think.”
Moyer said that her ultimate goal is to make her students become “educated consumers of information,” able to provide their own analyses and opinions.
“It’s not just a class about what the readings said, but about challenging assumptions in the readings, thinking about the implications of the arguments that are being made, and thinking about what have they left out,” she said. “A lot of times, students are afraid to trust their own voice. I tell them, ‘You need to trust your ability to make an independent assessment — you are smart enough.’”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831