by Michele Jacklin
Trinity’s new urban studies major, first offered this fall, was specifically designed to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of how urban dynamics and changes shape both global interdependence and local spaces. According to the architects of the program–Xiangming Chen, dean and director of the Center for Urban and Global Studies and Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Global Urban Studies and Sociology, and Garth Myers, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Urban International Studies–the major stresses “the way in which cities and communities are increasingly critical to the organization of economic, social, and cultural activities that shape and transform human experience.”
The new major, the 39th to be offered at Trinity, is a logical extension of the urban studies minor, which was introduced in 2010.
“We are really doing something unique,” says Myers, adding that as of now, a student can
major in urban studies at only a handful of liberal arts colleges in urban environments in the country and at no other school in Trinity’s NESCAC cohort. Students are able to take advantage of the College’s commitment to urban studies by enrolling in courses on the Trinity campus and with local partner schools, engaging in community learning projects in Hartford, studying in international cities, and doing internships in a variety of urban settings.
The major is “inherently interdisciplinary,” says Chen, in that roughly 30 faculty members are affiliated with it from an array of academic fields. Last spring, several students were involved in self-designed majors, and Myers says that at least 14 then-sophomores were
prepared to declare urban studies as their major. “I view it as a major that really starts with the Class of 2015.”
However, Will Morrison ’14, planned to file the necessary papers to graduate with a co-major in political science and urban studies for which he has already taken many
of the required courses. A native of New York City, Morrison says he always wondered about how he could improve the area that he lived in and that he’s always had a fascination with the “ins and outs of urban environments.”
“Cities are the places where people all over the world live,” says Morrison. “They’re the centers of cultural and economic growth. There’s no more important place to know about than cities.” Both Morrison and Will Kaplan ’13 have participated in the Cities Program, a special program for entering first-year students that views cities from a range of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences, drawing on insights from history,
architectural history, literary and cultural studies, anthropology, economics, environmental
science, geography, politics, sociology, and urban planning.
For Morrison, it culminated in a trip, “The River Cities of Asia,” in the summer of 2012 in
which faculty and students traveled along the Yangtze and Mekong rivers through China, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Kaplan graduated in May with a self-designed urban studies major. A resident of Chicago, Kaplan considered attending other liberal arts colleges but ultimately decided that he wanted to be able to study in a city.
“I loved the Cities Program,” says Kaplan, adding that he could pick and choose courses that fit his interests. Kaplan made an effort to get involved in Trinity’s local community, even going to meetings of the Maple Avenue Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, where Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, City Council members, and neighborhood activists have been in attendance.
“It’s been great to interact with people on the ground level,” he says. “I can’t imagine
majoring in anything else.” Kaplan’s senior thesis was titled “Neighborhood Organizing, Community Policing and Crime: The Power of Community in Hartford.” Both Chen and Myers view the urban studies major as important and timely for several reasons: It highlights Trinity’s location in Hartford as a distinctive asset; it provides a boost to the College’s urban-global mission; and it builds off the College’s urban-global curricular focus
and the momentum from the 2012-13 Mellon Foundation-funded co-curricular initiative on
cities and from the new grant given by the Henry Luce Foundation that will run from 2013 through 2016.
To maintain the vibrancy and sustainability of the new major, it resides in a formally organized and autonomous programmatic structure similar to other interdisciplinary programs at Trinity in international studies, environmental science, and public policy and law.
Myers, who has coordinated the urban studies minor since his arrival at Trinity last year,
will serve as the founding director of the program through 2016.
To complete the major, a student must take at least 12 courses in three disciplines. Students must complete the four core courses, four courses in three thematic clusters
(urban architecture and the built environment; urban culture, history, society, and economy; and environmental policy and sustainable urban development), and four
other urban studies courses.
Students also are required to complete an integrating exercise that synthesizes earlier
urban studies work in the major. Options include taking an advanced, research-oriented
urban studies course that requires a seminar paper, or its equivalent, or the completion of an independent study involving a paper or project of similarly significant scope focusing
on the student’s chosen topic. An internship may qualify if it includes an independent study paper.
To supplement the on-campus courses, students may take classes at one of Trinity’s eight global programs or affiliated programs. With approval, students may also take courses through Trinity’s partner universities in countries around the world.
Myers says an urban studies major will prepare students for a wide variety of career paths,
among them geography, city government, urban planning, sustainability, emerging markets, and academia. “It’s a bedrock background to any number of careers in the public or private sector,” he says. “With our mission of urban and global so entrenched,” says Chen, “this major is critical and timely and positive. It’s going to send a message to the outside world.”