Description of Course Goals and CurriculumThis course aims to both present a survey of historical content and theories that center around drug policy, and to help students develop the analytical methods needed to synthesize primary and secondary sources of different media. The content is organized thematically, with a loose chronological structure, and each week’s theme is clearly presented in the syllabus. Each week tackles a different historical instance of drug policy or trends in drug consumption, looking at the relevant time periods through demographic, economic, political, and cultural lenses. Because it is a survey course, lectures present a few general narratives connecting the various components, with more depth provided by the readings and in precept.
Learning From Classroom InstructionProfessor Wailoo uses lecture to (engagingly) highlight primary sources from the readings that demonstrate the attitudes towards the drug of interest, and how the attitudes may have shifted over time, reflected larger cultural trends, or resulted from targeted associations with different racial groups (broadly defined). The lectures also present the evidence and analysis needed to answer the “Question of the Day,” which is posted at the beginning and end of lecture. At the end of lecture, students are required to write a short response to the question, and hand it in to their preceptor. Professor Wailoo then chooses a few salient points to include at the beginning of the next lecture, which keeps the lectures somewhat interactive. Precept discussions are based on the readings, but because the assigned readings can range from political cartoons to ethnographic studies, it can be hard to know how to synthesize and apply the readings to the questions in precept. To prepare for precept, you also have to take good notes in lecture, as the professor does a lot of the narrative-stitching that will be asked about in precept, but the slides aren’t very informative on their own. As you finish the readings and take notes, keep track (or actually sort) the types of evidence used. Also, use the Questions of the Day to keep the themes organized.
Learning For and From AssignmentsThe written assignments, precepts, and readings all pose different challenges in this course. A few short analytical essays will be required in the course, and the challenge with these assignments is introducing depth to the themes of the course, though the course itself is presented as a broad survey. Because the lectures don’t delve too deeply into any particular drug or primary source, it can be hard to assess the level of specificity required in the essays. The readings themselves are also a challenge, because of the sheer quantity required in this course. About 200 pages are required a week, and the course draws a lot from the required books, which are academic secondary sources and can be dense. To address the first challenge, the best move would be to pick a topic that is very specific, and that you are really, genuinely interested in. The essays are open-ended, restricted only to a time frame, but if you simply choose to answer one of the Questions of the Day in an essay, you will be writing too much, and you won’t be doing the in-depth analysis required for the assignment. Also, try not to get bogged down with too much research- start writing sooner. An early meeting with your preceptor can help focus both your topic and your research. In order to actually finish the readings for precept, turn to the syllabus. The syllabus includes reading questions, as well as the titles of the week’s lectures, which can give you a sense of what the intended takeaway from the week’s readings will be. In terms of remembering and understanding the content, attending lecture is the best way to stay caught up- each lecture is presented as a narrative, and though it can jump chronologically at times, the themes are always clearly presented by the end.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionThe most general takeaway of this course is a better understanding of the different factors that influence the policies that are passed and enforced in our society. In addition to the research that goes into a piece of policy, the course highlights the political, economic, and racial elements that can shape both legislative policies and social norms. Content-wise, the course emphasizes that drug policy is shaped by the time, and doesn’t necessarily reflect a scientific comparison of the benefits and hazards of taking the drug. Any media studies, race relations, or health policy related course would be a good follow-up, as the course integrates all of these subjects into an engaging historical survey. It is also a very freshman-accessible class, with a manageable workload and no prior knowledge assumed.
Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America