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Course Info & Policies

Required Course Materials

All books are available via the UM bookstore or the links below. You can order your course materials from the bookstore and have them shipped to you. Required materials are listed in the order in which we will read them. The total cost to purchase/rent all required materials is around $65-80 (for new books), depending on where you buy them.

  • Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2005 (ISBN-13: 9780618711659)
  • Homeland episodes
    • “Pilot,” season 1, episode 1 (2011). Available to rent on Amazon for $2.99 an episode. Also available via a Showtime streaming subscription.
    • “Crossfire,” Season 1, episode 9 (2011). Available to rent on Amazon for $2.99 an episode. Also available via a Showtime streaming subscription.
  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West, 2017 (ISBN-13: 978-0735212206)
  • Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones, 2011 (ISBN-13: 978-1608196265)
  • Hustlers (2019), dir. Lorene Scafaria
    • Available to rent on FandangoNow for $2.99. Also available on Showtime streaming and DIRECTV. Available for purchase (but not to rent) on Amazon.
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen, 2014 (ISBN-13: 9781555976903)
  • All other course readings will be available via our course site and our class Google drive.

We will also read a significant portion of the below novel. To keep total costs under $100 (the novel is only available in hardcover right now), and because we will not read all of the novel, I will make the selections we read in class available to you as pdfs. But you may prefer to purchase the entire novel:

  • Ayad Akhtar, Homeland Elegies: A Novel, 2020 (ISBN-13: 978-0316496421)

We will refer to the assigned reading every single day in class, and we will often read passages aloud together. Make sure you have the assigned reading available to you to reference every day during class.

How This Course Will Work

This course will be delivered fully online. There are 2 ways to take this course: synchronously, and asynchronously. Everyone who is physically able to take the course synchronously (i.e., residing in a time zone where this is possible) will take the course synchronously. Each synchronous class session will be conducted via Zoom. Synchronous class sessions will be recorded for later viewing by those who are taking the course asynchronously. Each synchronous class session’s chat will also be saved as another record of class discussion.

Our class is scheduled to meet two times per week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, and we will meet synchronously over Zoom each of those class days. If our semester is interrupted in some way, we will re-evaluate this schedule and some of our class sessions may become asynchronous.

A) If you are taking the course synchronously:

On Mondays and Wednesdays, you will sign in to our class Zoom session for our class discussion. I will make each day’s slides or other class materials available in our shared Google drive folder. When we have group discussions in breakout rooms, sometimes your group will record your discussion/complete your discussion activities in a shared class Google doc. Sometimes designated reporters will report out to the rest of the class, and sometimes I will call on people from each group to report.

B) If you are taking the course asynchronously:

After each synchronous class meeting, you will have until our next synchronous class meeting to view the recording of our class and complete the activities announced during the recording. Often, these activities will be the same as those people did during class, but sometimes they will be different.


  • Participation: 20%
  • Response papers: 20%
  • Paper 1: 20%
  • Paper 2: 10%
  • Final project: 30%

Additional details on all course assignments can be found via the “Assignments” page on our course website.

Course Digital Infrastructure

We will make use of multiple online systems and programs in this course: a course site, Zoom, Google drive, and Blackboard. The “Passwords and Login Instructions” doc in our shared class folder on Gdrive will contain the passwords and other information you need to use our course digital systems.

Course site:

We will use our course site to manage course information and our schedule. You will find an online version of our course calendar there (including the most up-to-date version of reading assignments and due dates), as well as a copy of our course syllabus. You will also find all course assignment sheets there.


All of our synchronous class sessions will take place over Zoom. If you don’t have a Zoom account already, you will need to sign up for one via UMIT. You will need a laptop or a smartphone that can run Zoom, with a working microphone and camera.

You can find our class Zoom call info via our course Blackboard site. We will use this Zoom call link and password for all class sessions. We will use a separate Zoom session link for office hours.

To join our class Zoom or access recordings of class sessions (via Blackboard):

  1. Select “Class Meeting Zoom” from the left-hand menu on our Blackboard site.
  2. You will be taken to a screen with a link to our class Zoom meeting. Clicking “Join” will sign you into the meeting. This is how you will access this link throughout the semester.
  3. To view a recording of a class session, select “Cloud Recordings”. There, you will see a list of all of the class session recordings from the past 30 days. This is also how you access the class chat from each session. A class session recording is automatically deleted after 30 days.

To meet with Prof Thomas during office hours:

  1. Go to our Blackboard site landing page, and click on the Zoom link under “Professor Thomas Spring 2021 Office Hours Zoom.” This is the Zoom link we will use throughout the semester for one-on-one meetings.
  2. These meetings will not be recorded. I have also enabled a waiting room for office hours, which you will enter first when signing on. I will then let you into the office hours Zoom room.

Google drive:

We will have a class Google drive folder, and at the beginning of the semester I will share you into this folder. We will use this folder to store slides and other materials from our class sessions. We will also use the class Google drive folder to distribute course readings. To protect your privacy, you will need to sign in to Google drive using your UM CaneID and password, and to use this account when working on materials related to this class. You will be shared into our class Gdrive folder via your UM email address.

To access our class Google drive folder:

  1. Go to and log in using your UM email address (the one given to you by UMIT, with the numbers in it, NOT an aliased email). If you are signed into Google drive via another account, you will need to sign out or select “add another account” by clicking on your account icon in the upper right corner of the screen.
  2. Entering your UM email address will redirect you to the UM single sign on page, where you will enter your CaneID and password.
  3. You will now be signed into Gdrive with your UM credentials. You will know you are signed in with your UM credentials because the U logo will appear in the upper right corner of your screen. If you do not see this logo, you are not signed in with your UM credentials. Signing in with your UM credentials is important because it protects your academic work behind UM’s firewall and ensures your privacy.
  4. Click on “Shared with me” in the left-hand menu, where you should see our class folder: “ENG 380/AMS 322 S21.”


You will submit your assignments via Blackboard. I will also use Grade Center to record your grades on course assignments, and you will also be able to access recordings of class sessions and chats via Blackboard.

Class Participation

Participation makes up 20% of your grade in this class. It is assessed on the following metrics:

  1. Attendance. This is a discussion-based class whose success depends on your consistent presence. When you’re not here, it disrupts our collective work. This is only more important under the current circumstances, when we all need to rely on each other more than ever. Attendance includes completing asynchronous class activities. You may miss up to 4 class sessions/asynchronous activities for any reason without penalty, and you don’t need to inform me of these absences in advance. Barring extended illness or emergency, any absence beyond this will lead to a drop not only in your participation grade, but also in your overall grade for the course. I will take attendance every day. If you would like to check on your attendance record, just ask. In general, if something comes up and you will need to be absent from class for an extended period, just communicate with me. We will work it out. Finally, I realize that wifi connection issues may occasionally interfere with your ability to attend class on a particular day. If this happens to you, you may attend the course asynchronously that day by viewing the synchronous class session and completing the asynchronous class activities for that day. You may also simply elect to miss class that day, and use it as one of your 4 allowed absences.
  2. Preparedness. Sign in to class having completed the reading and ready to discuss it. Conducting classes over Zoom requires that I call on people during class discussion. Therefore, you should come to class expecting to be called on and ready to contribute.
  3. Contributions to class discussion. These contributions can take multiple forms, including participation in small-group discussions, contributions to whole-class discussions, contributions to the class chat during class, and meeting with me in virtual office hours. It’s perfectly fine to be shy (I am also very shy!), and I understand that Zoom often rewards the gregarious (this is also why I will call on people during discussion). But if you are shy, make sure to take full advantage of the many written and asynchronous forms of participation available to you in this class.
  4. Thoughtful and respectful engagement with all members of the class community. This means giving the class your full attention while it is happening, and setting aside distractions, especially online distractions. I realize this is hard to do while you are attending a class online, but it is an important way of showing respect for others. This also means listening actively to everyone, acknowledging and interacting with the ideas of others, and speaking to others with respect and dignity. It means refraining from interfering with or dominating class conversation. Finally, it means refraining from posting confidential recordings or transcripts of class sessions on public forums (see below for more on that).

This semester is going to be hard and taxing for all of us. I recognize that many of you simply want things to go back to normal. I do, too – desperately. Unfortunately, this is not possible right now. If there is something happening in your life that is affecting your work in this class and you feel comfortable talking to me about it, please do so. I am on your side and I want to work with you, not against you. I will extend the benefit of the doubt to you, and I ask that you please extend it to others in the class in turn.


We are a large-ish online class. To help you meet other students in the class and to give you more opportunities to participate in discussion with a smaller group, at the beginning of the semester, you will be split into teams of 4-5 (I will split you randomly into these teams using Zoom’s breakout groups feature). When we do group activities during class (on average about once per week, but sometimes less), you will get into your teams and work with your teammates on these activities. You will also work with your teammates on response papers 1 and 2. About halfway through the semester, we will decide as a class if we want to switch up the teams or not.

Zoom Etiquette

Our class sessions will be conducted over Zoom. During class sessions, I ask that you please mute your microphone unless you are speaking. The university recommends that I require you to turn on your video during class, but I find that requirement distasteful. While I strongly encourage you to turn your video on if possible because I would like to be able to see your face, I do not feel it is my place to require it, and wifi connection issues can sometimes make it impossible.

Please do not attend class sessions while you are laying down in bed or on the couch.

I encourage you to participate in discussion via Zoom’s chat feature during class. You should feel free to ask and answer questions about the class or what we are discussing there. You should also use the chat feature to place yourself on stack if you would like to speak during class discussion. Please remember that the class Zoom chat will be automatically saved after every class session for future reference, so do not post anything there that you are not comfortable with everyone being able to read after the fact.

Finally, I ask that you refrain from using Zoom’s private message feature to try to message me during class. Because I’ll be busy leading discussion, it is unlikely that I will see your message. Instead, email me. (In general, just be careful with Zoom’s private message feature. When Zoom chats are active, I find it can be difficult to tell which messages are private and which are public. Please be careful and respectful.)

Discussion Guidelines: On trust, on difficulty and on being wrong

Class discussion is a process of creating knowledge together. This is not a lecture course, and the success of this class does not depend on me delivering information to you as you sit there passively. Rather, it depends on your continual engagement and participation in a collective project of knowledge making. This is why your participation in class is so vital. This is hard work – especially online – and it only works if we all commit to respecting each member of this class through our words and our actions. This doesn’t mean that you agree with everyone else, or with me, or with the author of the piece we are reading. It does mean that we all commit to supporting and trusting one another.

As you know, synchronous class discussion will be recorded for viewing by those who will be taking this class asynchronously. You will break our collective trust if you share recordings of class conversations with people outside of this class, or on public forums. Doing so will result in a failing grade in this class. Do not do this.

The things we read in this class will sometimes be difficult or boring or unfamiliar. It’s ok to not understand them when you first read them! It’s ok that you’ve never taken a class like this before, and/or that you feel frustrated by the reading. Figuring difficult things out together as a group is what class discussion is for. We will all be entering into uncharted territory in this class, and some of the ideas we discuss may confuse you, or make you uncomfortable and angry, or both. We will all experience moments of panic, of flailing, and of error. I ask that you accept this chance to make mistakes, and that you extend this acceptance to your classmates as well.

Language, Power, and History

This class takes seriously the need to examine rather than censor or look away from the messiness, complexity, and – often – ugliness of history. At the same time, our classroom is a contingent community and I treat it as such: we must be accountable to and respectful of each other as we collectively create a space for discussing difficult, and at times uncomfortable, issues.

In that spirit, I want to make explicit that some of the texts we will study this semester use the n-word and other racial slurs. We will not repeat these words aloud in class.

While, like many derogatory expressions, these words have a complex history of reclamation and resignification, they are not appropriate for casual classroom use. In each elision – in each unsaid syllable of this word – exists a moment to reflect on this country’s ongoing legacy of racial violence.

Reading Expectations for This Class

The reading in this class will require your time and attention. One of the most common comments I receive on my teaching evaluations at the end of every semester is that I assign “a lot” of reading (but students also generally say that doing all of the reading is “worth it”). You’ll be expected to do somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 minutes of reading a night (including the weekend!) for this class. (The estimated reading speed for this calculation is 138 words a minute, based on some research which I’m glad to discuss with you!) Sometimes, you’ll be asked to read a little more than this; sometimes, you’ll be asked to read a little less. When readings are more difficult to read or understand, I assign fewer pages. When we read novels, I assign more pages.

A few tips for staying on top of the reading: (1) Read every day. Make some leisure time for this, and don’t try to cram all the pages into the night or morning before class. (2) Read at odd hours. Read between classes. Read before you fall asleep. Read instead of endlessly scrolling your social media of choice. (3) Read ahead. If you ever find yourself with some extra prep time, do your future self a favor.

Late Work

All assignments should be submitted on the due date and in the format indicated in the assignment sheet. Due dates are important because they allow me to organize the work of responding to your assignments in ways that best contribute to your learning. However, life also sometimes gets in the way (especially this year). If you find that you need an extension on a particular assignment, please contact me as soon as possible to arrange an alternative due date (please try to contact me at least 24 hours before the assignment is due, but the sooner the better).

On a personal level, like everyone else, I dislike being lied to. I am not here to judge you; rather, I want to work with you, and I actually do want you to learn. I would much rather that you take a few extra days to complete an assignment to the best of your ability than you turn in something thrown together because you did not have the time you needed to devote to it. But I do ask that you communicate this with me. You do not need to concoct elaborate stories if requesting an extension on an assignment, or if your work will be late. Simply be honest with me about needing more time and we will work it out.


All students are required to check their official UM email accounts regularly. I will send course information and announcements through email, and we will all be relying even more than usual on email this semester. I endeavor to respond to all emails that you send me within 24 hours during the week and within 48 hours over the weekend, but please do not send me urgent emails regarding your assignments in the hours before they are due and expect a reply.

If you have more involved questions about course material, assignments, or policies, the best thing to do is to talk to me in a one-on-one appointment over Zoom. In fact, the best thing to do in almost any situation that affects your class work is simply to talk to me about it. I am happy to answer questions about the course via email, but I recommend that more involved questions and conversations be conducted over Zoom. I am also happy to read and discuss advance drafts of your assignments with you over Zoom, but I will not read and comment on drafts of assignments via email before they are due.

Technological Failures Are Not Emergencies

Technological failures and mishaps – file corruption, computer crashes, wifi connection problems, uploading the wrong file to Blackboard – are predictable facts of twenty-first century life. They happen all of the time and are thus NOT emergencies. For this course, for all of your courses, for your career, for the rest of your life on this earth, and especially now that most everything has moved online for the time being, you need to develop strategies that take such failures into account. Start your work early, save it often, and save backup copies of important documents off-site on an external hard drive or in the cloud using services like Dropbox and Google drive. Technological failure or mishap – including uploading the wrong file to Blackboard – is not an excuse for late or unfinished work (although it may very well make it difficult for you to attend class on a given day – I understand this).

Please note that I will grade whatever you upload to Blackboard for grading. It is your responsibility to turn in the correct version of your assignment for grading.


The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations, especially plagiarism, are treated gravely. In terms of this course, academic integrity means that when you are responsible for a task, you – and no one else – will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in performing an aspect of that work, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form. Turning in work for this class that you have not done yourself or that you have previously completed for other courses is a violation of academic integrity. The University of Miami’s honor code can be found here: Ignorance of what constitutes academic dishonesty is not an acceptable excuse for academic dishonesty.

Violations of academic integrity constitute grounds for failure of the course and possible expulsion from the university. If you have questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please contact me.

Writing and Tutoring Resources

The Writing Center offers free, one-on-one assistance with any aspect of the writing process. I strongly suggest you take advantage of this resource. You can schedule a consultation via their website at

The Camner Center for Academic Resources also offers free tutoring for UM students. You can learn more and schedule an appointment here:

Counseling Resources

UM offers counseling free of charge to students who have already paid the Health and Counseling Center fee. The Counseling Center website is, and you can make an appointment by following the steps outlined here:

Resources for Students with Disabilities

It is important to me that all learning experiences be as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience academic barriers due to your disability (including mental health, learning disorders and chronic medical conditions), please let me know immediately so that we can privately discuss options. To establish reasonable accommodations, you also need to contact the Office of Disability Services,