Race and Ethnicity in American Politics

May 2016

Took this class as an american politics elective. Really glad I did. In all honesty I was not all that interested in the topic, but rather it was the 3 take-home exam/essay format that sparked my interest. That said, I actually ended up enjoying the course (and not only because of the light, light workload), and do feel that I did gain a good amount of insight into the role that race and ethnicity play in american politics. Professor Smith is definitely old school, and opts for projecting his printed out slides rather than using the computer. Kind of quirky, but it works. Lectures really were not necessary at all since everything that was needed for the papers were in the books, but do beware that he begins taking attendance after the second take-home. Additionally, Professor Smith started each lecture with current-eventish type things that sometimes went on for half the class. Paper topics were kinda weird, and based on the discussion sections I was in I feel that the general consensus was that what was being asked for/how to craft your paper and answer the questions was a bit unclear. That being said, even though I did not feel all that confident in any of the papers I wrote, I received A's on the first two, and an A as my final grade (don't know about the third as those were due on the last day of class and were not returned). The readings for the course were not bad at all (nothing was super academic or tough to read), and of what I read (which was probably about 80%) I only read after the exams were handed out since I didn't see the point in reading anything prior to knowing what I was looking for. That said, do not leave both the readings and paper to the night before. You definitely need at least 2 days (I took 2-3). In addition to the 3 take-home exams we had to do a short issue brief (500-700 words) and a couple of posts to the discussion board. I had never dealt with issue briefs before, so I honestly had no idea what I was doing for the first draft. However, the first draft was graded only for completion, and we received feedback from our classmates and also had access to previous briefs done for the course prior to handing in the final draft. In conclusion, I'd definitely recommend this class. Professor Smith is very laid back and approachable, and it is clear that he is very interested in the topic. The lectures can be a bit dry at times, but you can definitely zone out or do other work during class time.

Apr 2015

I took this class despite the mediocre reviews on CULPA and I was so pleasantly surprised! The class gets off to a slow start and feels like a very broad intro level course, but it is interesting and gives a basic understanding of race in America. Professor Smith is a funny and engaging lecturer. He doesn't use slides, but rather a document projector so get ready to take good notes. That being said, it's okay to miss a few classes as long as you do the readings. Keep in mind that you don't always have to agree with the course material he assigns and that you're meant to engage with it. The paper topics are engaging and creative. Professor Smith makes an effort to get to know the students in the big lecture class as best he can and is super friendly. He also includes current events in the class and leaves them up for discussion. I think his sense of humor can be hard to catch and seem pretty harsh, but if you get used to it you can see he's a really caring softy.

Sep 2014

Professor Smith takes a statistical approach to race and American politics, a move I'm now guessing he does to promote his somewhat conservative views about race. These views seemed to be conveniently hidden beneath a very easy going demeanor. For example, I had mentioned in class that I read the book, American Apartheid, which is a groundbreaking text chronicling the history of de-jure and de-facto racial segregation in the United States. To this he responded, "Guys, apartheid is something that happened in South Africa many years ago that doesn't exist anymore. So please, don't mention it in class." This particular comment in response to one of the most important books in the field of race and American politics was a little disturbing. On another occasion, he randomly threw out this statistic by some social scientist stating that if you were to take into account all of the suffering and injustice blacks endured in America, it would amount to paying each of them $30,000. My first reaction was, "How can you quantify oppression?" I mentioned that no amount of money could ever replace the lives, culture, and quality of life lost through American slavery, Jim Crow, the Black Codes, neighborhood covenants, redlining, or the current drug war. To this he simply replied, "Yea well, it's a cruel world, what are you going to do." Don't get me wrong, professor Smith was very cordial throughout the course, but his views on race frightened me more than once. Some of his comments led me to believe that he didn't really feel sympathy for black Americans because Africans were complicit in the Atlantic Slave Trade. But to this I responded, "Then how can you feel sorry for Holocaust victims, or Americans who died in the Civil War, or basically any white person who kills another white person?" To this he just went silent for about ten seconds before replying, "Anyone want to comment on that?" I understand that race and American politics is a tricky subject, but this is no excuse for a professor in the field to attempt to impose his conservative views on unknowing undergraduates. Fortunately, I wasn't one of the "unknowing" students in class. Before I took professor Smith's course, I had read several groundbreaking texts in the field, including: The Souls of Black Folk, American Apartheid, The Wages of Whites, The Truly Disadvantaged, Dark Ghetto, and The New Jim Crow. Mr. Smith seemed to be unfamiliar with at least half of these texts, which scared me once again since he had a PhD in the field. Ultimately, I think Mr. Smith has good intentions, but his sheer ignorance of American racial history leads him to misinform his students through a statistical approach to the field.

Nov 2012

I took Professor Smith's Race & Ethnicity in American Politics over the summer and found the class to be somewhat informative at best. Mr. Smith has a very pleasant demeanor, however, something seemed to be bothering him throughout the course that he didn't really want to tell us, and I think this was reflected in our grades. I remember him giving us a short spiel on why we shouldn't go into academia. This made me feel he was being pressured by his superiors to do certain things he didn't want to do. The most unusual aspect of the course was that I seemed to get the same grade on everything, even when I knew I put much more time and effort into some assignments than others. This grade as a B+. I don't know if Professor Smith was pressured to do this, but either way, I hope things get better for him.

Aug 2012

Overall, I enjoyed the class. Prof. Smith is not your typical blazer-wearing, grandiose polisci professor, and I think that is part of his charm. He wears a north face and jeans to every lecture, and sticks pieces of paper under the projector thing that are often too small to read or clearly from the 1980's. So, not the most organized person on campus. But he was great to listen to. I looked forward to his classes. I maybe took a grand total of three pages of notes all semester because I wasn't sure what to write down, but if you sit attentively in class and listen, that's generally all you'll need. There are three papers, he gives a week for each. Graded by the TA (pray you don't get the one I had.) There is quite a bit of reading that you don't really need to do, just skim through when you write the papers.....this tactic may have been why I hated my TA though so maybe don't listen to my advice on that one. (If you choose to go my route, the books are in the IAB library so you don't need to buy them.) In all, this class will not radically change your life, but it's not boring and it's not a lot of useless work, so I would say it's a good elective to take. (You don't even really have to go to class, although I would say it's the best part.)

May 2008

I really don't understand why Professor Smith gets such negative reviews. He's one of the nicest, most down to earth professors in the whole department, and he's done some really interesting research on minority collective action that translates well with the material covered. I always enjoyed the in-class group projects as a means of reinforcing material in practical settings. These courses exposed me to the Eyes on the Prize PBS series and - finally - Robert Dahl's classics, oftentimes referenced in other courses in the department though rarely read. If you're looking for an easy large lecture filler, I wouldn't suggest the Race and Ethnicity course. You really should have an interest in the material. If you go in thinking its all common sense, you probably won't leave learning anything new. It's really a nice window into how issues are advanced and elections are won. Furthermore, Smith is easily approachable and always quickly responds to emails (within 24 hours, usually sooner).

Jan 2008

This course is easy to sit through, what will get you is the fact that your grade is based solely on papers. The paper topics are difficult to tackle, so do the reading on time. Also, be sure to UNDERSTAND the question, because if you dont, it'll cost you your grade.

Jan 2008

I took this class because it counted twice: political science, and major cultures. However, I still wonder whether it was worth it. The material is not difficult, but the class is boring. The work feels like unnecessary and insignificant busy work. The data Prof Smith uses is out-dated, and the way he covers part of the projected information makes me feel as though I am back in elementary school and incapable of paying attention to the teacher. It was very hard to be motivated in such a dry class, and despite the title and subject matter, the class is neither interesting nor engaging.

Jan 2007

Reading the last 2 reviews, I feel vindicated. Really, I thought I was the only one suffering through that class. It was the thorn in my back the entire semester because it all seemed so arbitrary. The highlight of the class was when he dimmed the lights to play us videos of violent race riots. That said, I know its an Urban Studies requirement (the only reason why I took it, and justification of why switching my major from Poli Sci to URBS was a godsend choice), I still don't know how he can garner that many students to come semester after semester. Do they not read CULPA? Is his class another of those Poli Sci fixed requirements? WHY?

Jan 2007

I think this class was a total waste of time. If you have taken American Government and/or any other class dealing with race/ethnicity you already know everything you'll learn here. You didn't have to do any of the reading because it wasn't tested except your ability to look things up in the books for your take home essay tests. The 3 take home tests/essays were all on bad questions and graded a little bit harder than they should have been. There were also a few sections in class that seemed like exercises you would have done in high school. The final was pointless, you needed very few facts if any you just had to have an understanding of the vocabulary/issues covered in class.

Dec 2006

you'd have to be an IDIOT to take this class. this class is honestly a waste of your time and money. the class is easy but since all of his students in years past have gotten b+'s in above the poly sci dept. is coming down on him so his grading is much harder than it should be. this is a joke class and a joke class w/o the easy A is pointless. don't take you take this class you WILL regret it. that is all

Dec 2006

This class is awful. Basically, all of the material involves putting common sense into fancy terms. Most of what you'll "learn" in this class is pretty useless. Example: "Postethnicity" denotes a society in which we do not judge other people by their race, but instead use "color blind" methods of classifying others. Uhhh....okay, and soon we'll have world peace, too! Very useful. Each of the three take-home exams that you'll write is a joke. Still, the TAs grade them pretty harshly, and you'll be expected to regurgitate a lot of inane facts for the final exam (which, admittedly, is very short--only about an hour). I wouldn't recommend going to the TAs for any extra help--mostly, they're just as clueless about the validity of the coursework as you'll be. The amount of reading is negligible (and it's all pretty boring and/or useless, so you don't even have to bother with it), and lectures pretty much involve Prof Smith reiterating titillating things like about the controversiality of affirmative action. Enlightening concept, there. STAY AWAY.

Sep 2006

He is a terrible professor. The class is huge and the only thing that he does is reiterate what the textbooks say. so either go to lecture or read the books but you do not need to do both. I don't recommend taking this course. The topic, and the books are great, but the professor is not.

Jan 2006

I enjoyed Professor Smith's course and found him to be engaging and thought-provoking. He is a good lecturer and very accessible. The material is also interesting and Smith uses interesting graphs, charts, and media to illustrate his points. I highly recommend his class.

May 2005

so everyone reviews Professor Smith as boring, immature, unanalytical, and as a teacher, at best, for junior high-- BELIEVE THEM. I took this class as a requirement, and was miserable all the way through. There is no analytical analysis- just boring power-points that state facts and never truly reveal anything about our political environment.... and whats worse is that the T.A.s grade really unfairly and harshly-- just to prove something... I got an A- in the class- so Im not being harsh out of bitterness- I just wish someone had told me all this.

May 2005

I really liked Professor Smith's class even after taking his into to American Politics . His lectures are clear and interesting and he is very helpful outside the classroom. The only bad thing that I can say about this class is the grading that was done by TAs. I have no idea what kind of criteria they had but sometimes my comments on the paper would say : "As I specified in the margin..." and there would be not a single mark in the whole paper, so it is just the matter of luck: if you get a good TA you can get a good grade.

May 2005

Ray is the man! He's funny. He's really nice. And he puts the notes on the projector, every class. This class is easy. That being said, I could have taken the final in high school. I did not learn a single thing this semester that was not common sense. Give it a try.

May 2005

I totally agree with the other reviewer. The title of the class sounds amazing, but, unfortunately, the class isn't. I took this class after taking Introduction to American Government so I felt much more prepared than the other students. Indeed, nearly 1/3 of the material covered matches the material in his Intro class. So, if you're going to take the class, just take his introductory class and it'll be a breeze. However, even though the class itself is a breeze, be forewarned about the grading from TAs. The TAs arbitrarily hand out grades on papers with no constructive criticism at all. For example, you'll get a comment that says, "This essay is superb. Amazing work." and get a B+. Uhhh...ok. What was wrong with it? Grading aside, the class is still not interesting because everyone finds a lot of the material to be common sense. All you really do in the class is learn fancy terms to put on the knowledge you already know. But I guess that's just Political Science. So yeah, the class is pretty mediocre and, if you take it during the spring, you'll much rather want to lay out in the sun than go to his boring class. However, he's nice and is always willing to meet with you to discuss paper topics. He's very responsive. I have no idea what the other reviewers are talking about.

May 2005

One of the most awful classes I've taken at Columbia. The material itself is interesting but Smith absolutely kills the class. Although the class was easy (the final consisted of one essay that you had to complete in an hour and 15 minutes) I still had to do the bitchwork to get by. I won't deny that this is an easy way to fulfill your poli sci requirement but Smith's lethargic teaching style (a lot of the times he's show up and make us watch a video for half the lecture) will make even the slacker indignant.

May 2005

Great class if you know nothing about race relations...if you do, steer clear. It will teach you little that you don't already know, not to mention he might as well call it "African Americans (and a few Latinos) in American Politics." No real discussion of any other groups. As I said, if you haven't really studied race relations in any depth before, this class will likely be eye opening. Otherwise, I barely went to class and did absolutely none of the reading and still averaged an A-/B+

Apr 2005

The title of the class makes it sound amazing. It's not. By the end of the semester I compromised and go to this class once a week. If you have taken poly sci, it's probably easy. This is my first poly sci class and although it's not exactly easy, it's completely boring and seems like common knowledge. A weird combination. Raymond is not a bad guy, he's just really painfully boring. Don't take this class unless you have to.

Feb 2005

Gans is very down to earth and has a lot of patience with everyone in class. He lets students express themselves without interpretting them, although you know he probably has the answer their looking for. He gives great comments on projects.

May 2004

I have to say that overall I enjoyed the class. I have not taken a poli sci class before, and even for me the concepts sometimes seemed a bit redundant, but on the whole the content of the class is very good. A word of caution applies: again, I'm not very experienced in the ways of poli sci grading, but I would urge students to at least skim the required books, since the exams pretty clearly ask you to combine material from lectures and readings for your answers. Many people seemed to be shocked to learn that they actually needed to do the readings, and often paid with their grades when they didn't.

May 2004

Easy grader, lots of A's, makes the readings very understandable and simple in lecture. BUT, dense readings that are very dull, can be engaging at times but often repetitive in lectures. As far as Poli Sci goes, no instructor will give you a lighter reading load

May 2003

This was one of my favorite classes at Columbia. I developed a great sense of appreciation for the work of minorities to achieve equality. The class was pretty laid-back, and Prof. Smith was a really nice guy. It wasnt difficult to do pretty wel either, and the 5 texts that were assigned were useful but not essential in terms of getting a good grade. I'd definitely recommend this class.

Dec 2002

It meets at 9 a.m. and is thus chock full of atheletes. Most ppl didn't come to class and didn't seem to care about the course material. Overall, Smith oversimplifies a lot of complex things and overlaps with most of Intro to Amer Pols, but the material and readings are really interesting, especially case studies of the Civil-Rights Mvmnt and the Rodney King riots. Smith is a really clear speaker and uses clear Powerpoint outlines; his biggest fault, as noted by a previous reviewer, is his ridiculous political correctness, as though he felt bad for being a white American male (with the last name Smith, for God's sake!). He actually apologized on the last day in case anyone was offended that he did not talk enough about their own ethnic group.

Nov 2002

This class is an embarassment to the department. Smith assigns six good-sized books, and then addresses none of them. Rather, he spends most of his time recapping everything in w1201 and every time he does get around to talking about race and ethnicity, it's so muddled in unnecessary political correctness that he never actually says anything interesting. Then again, what are we to expect when the guy, in my opinion, threw his syllabus together at the last minute....

May 2002

While Thompson may be correct in his belief that American society is in no way a meritocracy, the same can certainly be said regarding his class. Those who rejoice when they see the light workload on the syllabus should be forewarned that not only will they learn very little in this class but also that they are susceptible to seeing grades that neither they nor their friends have ever seen before in a social science class. Yes, it is true that one may be able to submit garbage and get an A, but it is also true that one can hand in a masterpiece and receive a C. Also, the class completely lacks structure and usually serves solely as a pulpit for Thompson's ultra-liberal diatribes. If you want to either learn some political science or get a grade that corresponds to the quality of your work then avoid this professor's class like the plague.

May 2002

Coming to this class at 9am twice a week would have been a painful experience. Luckily, the class was SO easy that, with a basic background in american politics, I didn't find the need to attend regularly. The lectures are easy to follow, but totally superficial and only cover the most obvious aspects of the topic. I found the reading interesting, but frusteratingly unncessary. This subject has much potential, unfortunately is it not realized in this course.

Jan 2000

He's a real fire and brimstone preacher type and he'll definitely wake you up at 9am. But if you hold conservative political views, be warned: this man is so liberal, he's off the spectrum. He told my class that he thinks black people are just as oppressed now as they were during the days of slavery, and that if blacks and Latinos do poorly, it is NOT their fault, but entirely due to the fact that society discriminates against them. Everything is take-home, so it's easy to get an okay or good grade. But again, be sure to express LIBERAL views only in your writings if you're going for top grades.