Five-Course Interdisciplinary Core

The Five-Course Interdisciplinary Core is based on learning outcomes drawn from the traditional liberal arts: the sciences, history and politics, the social sciences, literature and philosophy, and the fine arts. In these courses students examine great ideas, historic milestones, and works of art; discover connections among different areas of knowledge and methods for gathering it; learn to reason logically, to sift through deception and cant, and to integrate what they know. Students generally complete these five courses during the freshman and sophomore years. All interdisciplinary Core courses must be completed at Roger Williams.

While the five Interdisciplinary Core courses vary in topic, theme, method, and approach, they all address the three Core questions that unite the Core Curriculum: Who am I? What can I know? And based on what I know, how should I act?

Upon completion of the Five-Course Interdisciplinary Core, RWU students are prepared to:

Core 101 - Scientific Investigations

Core 101

  • Students will investigate questions of societal and personal relevance using scientific knowledge.
  • Students will describe and actively engage in the scientific process by asking questions, gathering data and drawing evidence-based conclusion.

Core 102 - Challenges of Democracy

Core 102

  • Trace the growing complexity of the idea of democracy by analyzing primary source documents;
  • Examine the idea of democracy, its inherent tensions, and its relationship to other concepts including but not limited to: reason, equality, liberty, order, and identity;
  • Describe how key concepts within democratic thought are practiced in the modern world including how those concepts relate to the three Core Questions.

Learn more about Core 102 professors and how they teach it

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AARON ALLEN is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at Roger Williams University. He holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park and an M.A. in Afro-American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Professor Allen’s work engages Critical Race Theory, University Studies, and the politics of diversity, multiculturalism, and mixed race during the post-civil rights era. His research addresses the multiple, complex, and persistent ways anti-black racism operates within the language of diversity, both in and outside of the university.

Professor Allen approaches Core 102 with a social justice lens, in which students explore how the challenges of democracy have often rested in its failure to distribute rights and privileges evenly across different populations. Professor Allen’s class focuses on the post-WWII period, considering such topics as national security, voting rights, housing segregation, and marriage and family. His class uses contemporary, and often controversial political topics, as a point of entry into the history of these aforementioned topics. In an effort to build a bridge between Core 102 and student’s particular academic interests, Professor Allen offers an assignment in which students explore and uncover how their major or field of interest contributes to the making or unmaking of democracy. 

image of Dr. Charlotte Carrington-FarmerCHARLOTTE CARRINGTON-FARMER is an Associate Professor of History, who specializes in social and cultural history in the early modern Atlantic World.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (Trinity Hall) in 2010. She published a biography of Thomas Morton in: Atlantic Lives: Biographies that Cross the Ocean (Leiden and Boson: Brill, 2014.) She has published an article entitled ‘The Rise and Fall of the Narragansett Pacer,’ in Rhode Island History, Winter/Spring 2018, Volume 76, Number 1, pp. 1-38. She has written a chapter entitled ‘Trading Horses in the Eighteenth Century: Rhode Island and the Atlantic World,’ in: Kristen Guest and Monica Mattfeld, eds., Equine Cultures: Horses, Human Society, and the Discourse of Modernity, 1700-Present (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.) Dr. Carrington-Farmer has reviewed books for History: Reviews of New Books, Equine History Collective, and Connecticut History Review. Dr. Carrington-Farmer has written pieces for The Junto and The Spectacle of Toleration blogs and recorded podcasts for the Knowing Animals series. 

Dr. Carrington-Farmer uses ‘Reacting to the Past’ (RTTP) in Core 102. RTTP involves elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by primary sources. Dr. Carrington-Farmer regularly uses the Trial of Anne Hutchinson game in her Roger Seminar Core 102 and Greenwich Village 1913 in her regular Core 102. Dr. Carrington-Farmer’s class includes a case study on Christopher Columbus and historical memory. Students complete an assignment producing protest letters, petitions, and posters connected to the current debate over the ethics of the Columbus Day holiday. In addition, Dr. Carrington-Farmer covers a wide range of topics in her class, including medieval democracy, the execution of King Charles I, race and democracy in the U.S. (both historically and contemporarily), and democracy on pirate ships.

JUNE SAGER SPEAKMAN is Professor of Political Science at Roger Williams University in Bristol, where she teaches American politics and public policy.  She has a Ph.D. in political science from City University of New York and an M.A. in Economics from the New School for Social Research.  Speakman was a Hassenfeld fellow at the Kennedy School of Government where she earned a certificate for Senior Executives in State and Local Government.

Prof. Speakman has been teaching Core 102 since the first year of its existence in 1995.  The course has gone through many changes since then, including a movement away from a common exam and towards allowing professors to teach to their strengths and interests.  Currently,  Speakman asks her students to read Robert Dahl’s On Democracy, a classic in the field, and several primary documents that focus on the emergence and development of democracy in the United States.   She ends the semester by asking students to write an entry for RWU’s First Amendment blog.

MICHELLE VALLETTA has taught US and European History courses and CORE 102 at RWU since 2014. She completed her BA in History in 2011 and MA in History in 2013 at Rhode Island College.  Her research interests lie in the area of U.S. late 19th and 20th social history and Rhode Island Public History. She also is the Project Manager/Historian for the RIC/RI State House Tour Project, an academic consultant for  both the Gallery Night Providence Tours and the North Burial Ground Project, Providence, Rhode Island, and an Assistant Professor at Rhode Island College. 

In CORE 102, Professor Valletta  employs  a wide range of primary and secondary sources to examine the challenges to democracy in the past and present. After some time spent ‘tooling up’ on the basic principles of democracy, students dive into historical case studies examining democracy and its relationship to issues such as disenfranchisement, social justice, inequality, citizenship and social media/technology.


Core 103 - Human Behavior in Perspective

Core 103

  • Explain and describe human behavior from various social scientific points of view.
  • Demonstrate an increased understanding of and sensitivity towards human diversity and inequalities.
  • Critically assess social science research.

Learn more about Core 103 professors and how they teach it

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image of Professor Leslie GrinnerLESLIE GRINNER is an Adjunct Professor in the Core Curriculum at Roger Williams University. She received her BA in Gender Studies and Social Science from the University of Southern California and her MS in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University, where she continues her Ph.D. work. Professor Grinner’s work engages Intersectional and Black feminist theory, practice, and pedagogy; media literacy with its foundations in Cultural Studies; popular culture criticism; representations of Blackness/Anti-Blackness; and multiracial identities and families.

Professor Grinner teaches CORE 103 – Human Behavior in Perspective as a Feminist Media Literacy course with a Social Justice paradigm as its core. In this course students will learn to “read” codes, ideologies, discourses, and cultural stories in media and popular culture. We will be exploring issues of privilege and power, asking questions such as “Who benefits and who suffers as a result of these representations?” and “What ideologies are we being taught by media?” Students will leave the course being more engaged and informed consumers of media and popular culture, and will be able to critically analyze news media, popular culture, and advertisements.

image of Professor Mary MedeirosMARY MEDEIROS is an adjunct professor teaching in both the Core Curriculum as well as in the psychology department for RWU.  She has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from The University of Rhode Island.  Her research at the university focused on decision-making processes for intentional self-directed change.  

She brings her experiences in clinical practice and world travel to the classroom focusing on diverse cultural worldviews, and the significance of these traditional practices in spiritual/religious expression.  Both Roger Seminar and Reacting To The Past are the spring boards for students to experience cultural diversity through the eyes of Roger Williams as well as from the perspective of Native Americans.   Another passion of Dr. Medeiros, which is woven into Core 103: Human Behavior in Perspective, is Environmental Stewardship and sustainable practices.  Students learn the efficacy of civic-minded decisions leading to global change.   As an LLC Faculty Mentor, Dr. Medeiros helps students transition to college life through community outreach.

image of Professor Chris MentonCHRIS MENTON has a bachelor’s in Human Development from Curry College where he was enrolled in the first comprehensive program for college students with learning disabilities.  He completed a twenty-year career with the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Starting as a correction officer moving up the ranks, he worked at all classification levels and treatment models before becoming a director of staff training. From Boston University, he earned a Master’s in Criminal Justice/Human Service Personnel Training at the start of his career and a Doctorate in Education in Societal Studies as he transitioned into higher education.   He taught for many summers in the Sociology Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston and has been a professor of Criminal Justice at Roger Williams University for some time.  He has been in the media, presented and published on a number of topics ranging from police bicycle patrols to domestic violence offenders to public safety personnel training. He believes education is transformative. 

Professor Menton’s approach to Core 103: Human Behavior in Perspective, considers the perspectives of behavioral science disciplines. Within these contexts three issues in human behavior are explored; cross racial friendships, the self-discipline of habits and minimizing discounting. For the student transitioning from adolescence to adulthood these three aspects of human behavior provide grounding views of oneself and others. These explorations equip the students to have a measure of the quality of human interactions. 

image of Professor Laura TurnerLAURA TURNER earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University with a concentration in Developmental Psychology.  Current research interests include work/family balance and the impact of educational television on children’s development.  Through her scholarship and teaching, Professor Turner continually explores how research on child development can positively impact children’s lives.  

In the Fall semester, Professor Turner’s Roger Seminar begins with a consideration of the legacy of our namesake, Roger Williams, with special attention to his unique relationship with the Native Americans.  Using the lens of a social scientist, we examine institutional discrimination as well as the resilience of Native Americans and other minoritized groups in the United States from the time of the first English immigrants to the Cherokee Removal to the present day. Professor Turner’s Spring semester Core 103 takes a very different form.  Recognizing that one way to judge a society is by the way it treats its children, we examine the nature of childhood in America.  We explore the changing social construction of childhood and evaluate important factors in children’s lives, including the family, social class, and race.

image of Professor James Verinis with a ducklingJAMES VERINIS is a cultural anthropologist whose PhD work examined Greek ethno-nationalism, vis-à-vis the revival of the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 and later in the contemporary Greek countryside. In the context of European integration and globalization, rural Greeks now employ immigrant farmworkers in order to make ends meet. This has forced a reformulation of rural Greek identity that marginalizes as it also embraces ‘others’ in a distinct way. Dr. Verinis has turned his attention to other formulations of identity in agriculture, notably indigenous American food sovereignty movements, in order to further explore the relationship between food production and subjectivity, citizenship, and belonging.

A focus on food organizes Professor Verinis’s approach to Core 103. In this ‘Ethnology of Food’ course, students adopt a cross-cultural and evolutionary perspective on subsistence. Beliefs and behaviors associated with hunter-gatherers, agricultural communities, as well as those living in commercialized food systems are evaluated. Biological needs are considered alongside wants and desires which have developed over the course of human history, as are the ways different cultures conceive of and satisfy them. Themes such as aesthetics, ethics, ecology, and power further organize the semester as students pursue ethnographic exercises on their chosen subjects.

image of Professor Justin WilliamsJUSTIN P. WILLIAMS is an adjunct professor in the Core Curriculum at RWU. He has an M.A. and PhD. in Anthropology from Washington State University. His research is focused on stone tool technology of the late Pleistocene. He examines stylistic trends in learning and style among Gatherer-Hunters from North America. Justin has published in numerous archaeological journals and even in one information science journal. He has conducted archaeological field work in various regions throughout North America including the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Southeast, and the Northeast. 

Professor Williams uses Core 103: Human Behavior in Perspective, to explore the origins of humans, while examining the discoveries and innovations that has made us the unique species we are today. In doing so he turns the concept of discovery on its head and builds an understanding of the power dynamic within social science while reviewing the history of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. In doing so, students will learn a great deal about non-western cultures, while gaining skills to evaluate the social norms and cultural patterns within western culture. Overall, Professor Williams seeks to provide students with a culturally relativistic perspective, that they can use to interact with others throughout their life. 


Core 104 - Literature, Philosophy, and the Examined Life

Core 104

  • Make connections between literary and philosophical texts and the examined life.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of significant literary and philosophical themes and concepts presented in course texts.

Core 105 - Aesthetics in Context: The Artistic Impulse

Core 105

  • Communicate effectively about artistic creation in the fields of visual art, theater, dance, and music in written, oral, and other expressive formats.
  • Create a final project that demonstrates a personal understanding of selected artistic styles and media in their historical context.

Learn more about Core 105 professors and how they teach it

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KAREN MARIA ABBONDANZA is an adjunct professor in Italian and the Core Curriculum and has taught both 104 and 105 for over ten years at RWU. She is also a visiting professor in art history at the University of Massachusetts as well as at Salve Regina and the American University in Rome. She earned a Ph.D. in Italian from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an A.M from Middlebury College and the University of Florence, and an A.B. in Art History from Smith College.  She has lived, studied and taught extensively abroad in Florence, Rome and Poitiers. Her work and research, interdisciplinary in Italian and Art History, focuses specifically on depictions of women in Medieval and Renaissance literature and later representation in painting on marriage chests in the Italian Renaissance as exemplum, as well as on the Italian immigrant experience in the United States, addressing issues of immigration and stereotypes in literature and film. 

All of Professor Abbondanza’s teaching is steeped in Western tradition while focusing on inclusion and tolerance, teaching students to see the world not just with their eyes, but with the eyes of their heart;  to understand and respect the dignity of each human person, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Her signature assignment in both areas of core is a final project, an original work of art, and some of her past favorites have included song in Arabic, a  fully functional Monet-inspired lamp, mosaic fish, popsicle stick castles, a massive Colosseum cake, and even a video chronicling the process of creating an original oil painting. She is humbled by her students, who constantly surprise her with their thoughtful insights as well as commitment to learning about beauty in various times and cultures.

image of Professor Eric BronnerERIC BRONNER is an active performer and educator. With an MM, MS, and BA, he has sung opera, musical theater, and cabaret across the US, and in England. He has also taught at SRU and RIC. About Core 105, he shares: “Artistic expression is an essential part of being human, whether choosing your ‘look’ for the day, or actually creating works of ‘fine art.’ Artistic expression is all around us in pop culture, technology and media, architecture, and more. These current personal experiences become more meaningful when you learn the principals of art and how they evolved through time. Combining knowledge, analysis, and hands-on exploration, you will experience the ‘artistic impulse’ for yourself, and understand the common human experience expressed by the greatest artists who ever lived.”

image of Professor Elizabeth DuffyELIZABETH DUFFY is a multidisciplinary artist whose current work explores the subjects of surveillance and incarceration and their intersection with domestic life. Her work is influenced by feminist art, interior decoration and craft, and the complicated ideals of home. She is a Professor of Art at RWU where she teaches courses in Sculpture, Inter Media and Drawing. Professor Duffy’s work is in the collections of The RISD Museum, The Milwaukee Art Museum, the Heard Museum, and the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt. She received her MFA from CUNY/Brooklyn College and studied art at the New York Studio School, FIT, CUNY/Hunter College and Rutgers College.

Professor Duffy’s Core class explores relationships between meaning and making in the arts. Students experience works of art through creating collaboratively, seeing live performances and making work that explores their own creative potential.  Students will gain an understanding of what makes something art, discover how the creative process unfolds, and discuss how contemporary art blurs the boundaries between disciplines. Projects and topics may include Bookmaking,  Art & the Environment, Photography & Fashion, Creating a Music Playlist, and a Final Creative Project from the fields of Dance, Music, Theater and Art.

CATHERINE HAWKES is an Associate Professor in the Music Program, where she directs the Instrumental Ensemble and teaches music history and culture.  Her interest in Medieval music led her to Indiana University, where she studied with Thomas Binkley, a pioneer in the early music revival movement.  While at IU, she also completed a studio minor in Fine Arts Textiles with Budd Stalnaker, a student of color theorist Josef Albers and his wife Anni, an early proponent of textile art.  Catherine composes music for the plucked-string ensemble Enigmatica and has performed and recorded extensively in genres ranging from opera to circus to jam band.

Catherine enjoys exploring intersections of music, visual art, and history in her classes, telling stories that help students understand and remember important concepts.  In Core 105, she provides students with a basic historical and stylistic backdrop for interactive discussion of contemporary issues and hands-on projects.  Some of the topics covered likely will include the role of public art, how artists in different media inspire each other, environmental art, parody and consumerism, non-Western influences, and how art can give a voice to marginalized populations.

image of Professor W. Brett McKenzieW. BRETT McKENZIE is a Professor in the Communications Department at Roger Williams University. He holds a doctorate from Clark University and most recently completed a graduate certificate at the University of Denver in Arts Administration. Professor McKenzie’s academic interests are focused in the intersections of technology and teaching, with an emphasis on gateway experiences such as entry to an academic discipline. 

Professor McKenzie has a particular interest in first-year students and their successful transition to the college environment. He approaches his CORE 105 course with a strong emphasis on communication through artistic expression in all art forms. In teaching the Roger Seminar, which incorporates an examination of the university’s namesake Roger Williams and his times, Professor McKenzie builds on the question of the “lively experiment” that is America and how that might be reflected in its art. He has been active in the arts in Rhode Island, most recently serving on the board of IMC, the professional ballet and modern dance company in Newport, RI. 

image of Professor Murray McMillanMURRAY McMILLAN is an Associate Professor of Art at Roger Williams University. He holds a MFA in Transmedia from the University of Texas at Austin and a BFA in Sculpture from The Kansas City Art Institute. Professor McMillan is a multidisciplinary artist blending video, installation, performance and photography. His work has exhibited at MASS MoCA, the Casa Masaccio Center for Contemporary Art in San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy, the Kunsthallen Brandts in Odense, Denmark, the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece, the National Museum of Art in La Paz, Bolivia, the RISD Museum and the deCordova Museum. 

Students in Professor McMillan’s Core 105 course learn the tools and methods to fabricate projects in architecture, art, dance, film and music while discussing associated contemporary history, theory and trends. Emphasis is placed on creative problem solving strategies, learning to work with undefined rubrics and learning to engage in critical dialogue. Students will be toured through the aesthetic landscape that has emerged since 1960 and discus recent aesthetic issues like a building that economically brought a city back to life, ironic choreography, and an artwork that moved a mountain.

image of RWU Professor Dan RuppelDAN RUPPEL is an Adjunct Instructor in the Core program at RWU.  He received his doctorate from Brown University in Theatre and Performance Studies, with a focus on the relationship among live performance, print culture, and civic architecture in Renaissance France.  His research spans the Atlantic Ocean, examining gestures and ceremonies that passed from royal festivals in Europe to early encounters with Indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere  - and vice-versa.  Dan's work as a performer, director, and public speaking consultant has taken him from Stockholm to Sao Paulo. 

Professor Ruppel asks students to consider how performance frames their engagement with a variety of artistic media, and their aesthetic experiences in their every day lives.  Encountering objects ranging from Baroque paintings to Beyonce videos, students will seek to answer the question: what does it mean to perceive something as art?  Students are encouraged to share art and other aesthetic experiences in their own lives through a set of guided discussions and student presentations, with a focus on developing as articulate, critical observers. 

image of Professor Anne TaitAs well as Core 105, ANNE TAIT teaches printmaking and painting in the Visual Arts Program. She holds degrees in literature, fine arts printmaking and painting. She has also extensively studied lettering and embroidery over her 30 years of making artwork. Her research on cemetery imagery and traditions of  19th-century prints and industrial technologies address the culmination of earthly life. “Between conception and death the window is open on our potential” Tait contends with this in her artwork and her teaching. Professor Tait has been supported in her work through grants from the Rhode Island Council for the Arts, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the Vermont Council for the Humanities.

Professor Tait approaches The Artistic Impulse from her perspectives of literature, historic preservation and especially the fine arts. She splits class time between exploring the ideas and cultural place artists play in society with hands-on projects in the visual arts so that students can apply and empathize with meaning through methods of engagement.