Editor’s Note: The fourth installation in our “Teaching Points” series is a bit of a trip, to say the least. A “Student Forum” at Wesleyan University, “Narcotic Hedonism” is the brainchild of Robert Echeverria and Siddhanth Issar, advanced undergraduates working under the guidance of Sociology Professor Jonathan Cutler. They explain the rationale for the class and present the syllabus below; their commentary on the class will appear tomorrow.
“Narcotic Hedonism: American Drug Use” is unlike the majority of academic courses on the subject of drugs. For starters, Sid & I are both currently senior undergraduates at Wesleyan University. Sid is a philosophy major with a strong interest in ethics. I am a sociology major with a focus on media and cultural studies. In our time at Wesleyan, we have led two academic seminars–“Pornocopia: Society & Pornography” and “Narcotic Hedonism: American Drug Use.” Unlike formal classes that are taught by Professors with PhDs, Wesleyan University allows for faculty to sponsor students to teach student forums. These student leaders must create their very own syllabus, detailing the subjects to be covered each week, the reading material for that week and any assignments that will be turned in, on a topic of their choice and have it meet the approval of both the chair of the desired department and the Dean of Academic Affairs. Both the student leaders and the students who enroll in the course are given one full academic credit in a pass/fail format. Needless to say, the process is long but rewarding. Wesleyan limits the class size at 15 plus the two student leaders. It allows for a safe discussion environment and encourages everyone to share his or her viewpoints. Sid & I have been fortunate to have amazing turnouts for both classes and have had the luxury to pick and choose a diverse group of 15 Wesleyan undergraduates ranging from freshmen to seniors in each.
The purpose of this student forum was to discuss the relationship between society and its simultaneous fascination and rejection of hedonistic drug use. Society has always frowned upon drug use and has held strong to the mantra of a drug free society. Our class aimed at investigating the feasibility of this goal and we dwelled into the ethics and pragmatism associated with this view. Historically speaking, mankind has never had a drug free society and has found various uses for drugs such as recreation, medicinal purposes, spiritual experiences and an enhanced perception of reality. However, with the rise of the Western world, western value and religion, perceptions regarding the use of mind-altering substances started to change drastically. Over the last century, movements such as the hippie revolution and the War on Drugs indicate a somewhat divided perception on the volatile topic of drug use. In American society, drug use is heavily tied to the criminal underworld but it is also glorified and accepted as something that comes with fame and fortune. Thus, throughout our course, we studied drug use from a historical and sociological perspective, gained a deeper understanding of why the perceived value of drugs have changed over time, discussed the philosophical question of whether or not we have a right to choose to partake in drug use, attempted to understand the sociological and historical context of drug policies and the surrounding social movements, and tried to attain a full understanding of addiction and the cultures surrounding specific drugs. Below is the syllabus for the course.