Core Program


The Core Program is a cross-disciplinary array of courses required of all students providing the intellectual foundation for Occidental's commitment to excellence, equity, service, and community. Core classes ask students to engage in analytic and creative thinking: posing questions from different points of view, solving problems, formulating hypotheses, gathering evidence to support claims and arguments, drawing appropriate conclusions, and expressing ideas clearly. These classes explore the large questions which we believe all students must address in order to participate fully in their academic careers, their vocations, and their lives: questions of human cultures and beliefs, of creativity, and of the physical world. Students are asked to examine previously held ideas in the context of new and challenging ones, to experiment imaginatively, to articulate similarities and differences, and to revise both ideas and written work. Methods and materials vary, in disciplines ranging from the humanities to the social sciences, to science, mathematics, and art; and analytic thinking may take place in the context of a lab, in the close reading of a text, on a stage, in a lecture hall, on a computer screen, in a screening room, or in the field. Assignments will also vary from papers, to arguing a thesis, to problem sets, to research term papers, to lab reports, to paintings.

The first-year Cultural Studies Program Seminars are the centerpiece of the Core Program. These are small seminars, each designed by a faculty member around a topic in his or her field of expertise, emphasizing discussion, critical analysis, and intensive instruction in writing. Students take one seminar in the fall and one in the spring, for a total of 8 units. In the fall seminars, faculty and students jointly explore human culture from a variety of disciplinary as well as cultural perspectives. Spring seminars approach topics from a global perspective and stress the writing of scholarly research-based essays. Successful performance in Cultural Studies Seminars, along with a satisfactory writing evaluation, satisfies the college's first-stage writing requirement (see the College writing requirement) and is equivalent to two semesters of English composition. The Seminars for the coming year are described below. Students may not drop a Cultural Studies Program Seminar.

In addition, students participate in the study of culture as embodied in the arts and sciences as well as in the humanities and social sciences. We require a minimum of three courses (12 units) taken in academic departments that provide significant experiences in (a) diversity in the United States, (b) global connections between cultures, regions, and nations, and (c) a region of the world other than the United States. One of these (or an additional course) must focus on a period prior to 1800, and one (or an additional course) must treat the theory or practice of the fine arts. Individual courses can meet a maximum of two Core requirements.

Lifelong learning requires a basic understanding of the theory and methods of the sciences. Accordingly, students are required to take a total of three courses (12 units) in the sciences and mathematics. Of the three, at least one must be a laboratory science.

Finally, graduates of the College must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English. The various ways of satisfying this requirement are detailed in the requirements for Undergraduate Study.


1) Culture and Fine Arts:

A minimum of 12 units (16 or 20 units are recommended) continue and expand on the first-year CSP seminars by situating the study of culture and the arts in specific disciplinary and geographical contexts. Students must enroll in a minimum of four units in each of three different categories. Four units must represent study of historical periods prior to 1800, and four must be devoted to the fine arts. The pre-1800 and fine arts requirements may be met in courses also representing one of the three major categories of culture requirements, although no course may satisfy more than two requirements. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations may not be used to satisfy any of these requirements.

Students who matriculated at Occidental in fall 2013 or later must meet 12 units of the culture requirement as follows:

One four-unit course must be chosen from each of the following three categories:

Global Connections (CPGC)

Regional Focus (CPRF)

U.S. Diversity (CPUD)

Some of these courses are also designated Pre-1800 (CPPE) or Fine Arts (CPFA).

2) Science/Mathematics Requirement:

A minimum of 12 units in science and mathematics. Four units must be in a science course with a laboratory component. The remaining 8 units may be taken from among any of the courses that satisfy the Science/Mathematics requirement. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations may not be used to satisfy any of these requirements.

3) Foreign Language:

0-8 Units. All students must achieve Language 102-level proficiency in a language other than English. Students may not take Language 101 for credit if they have taken more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12)

Placement: Students may begin study of a new language at the 101 level if they have not taken it previously for more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12). They are not required to take the College’s placement exam. First-year students may take the Occidental College Placement Exam either on-line for French, German, and Spanish, or during orientation for other languages taught at Occidental if:

  • They have taken more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12)
  • They have participated in after-school or weekend language programs; or
  • They have extensive background in but no formal training in a language.

Students can fulfill Occidental's language requirement in one of five ways:

  1. By completing a language course numbered 102 at Occidental, or the equivalent course in any foreign language at another accredited institution.
  2. By receiving an exemption-level score on Occidental's placement and/or exemption exam given during orientation.
  3. By earning an appropriate Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) II score (560 or above on French, Spanish, or Latin; 550 or above on German or Chinese; 540 or above on Japanese; or 560 for other languages)
  4. By earning an Advanced Placement test score of 4 or above on a language exam.
  5. For some languages not taught at Occidental, students may by taking the ACTFL oral proficiency interview (OPI) and the writing proficiency test (WPT) in the languages currently available. Please see the Keck Language and Culture Studio about demonstrating proficiency via ACTFL.

Foreign Language Exemption Policy

International students whose language of education has been in a language other than English and who have completed six years of elementary education or more in a foreign language are exempt from the foreign language requirement. Such students should contact the chair of one of the foreign language departments to confirm their fulfillment of the foreign language requirement.


Transfer students may meet the Core requirements through classes taken before matriculation at Occidental, or through classes taken at Occidental, or (as is the case for most transfer students) through a combination of both. Transfer students must take the equivalent of two Cultural Studies Seminar (8 units or 2 classes), a minimum of 12 additional units or 3 classes in distribution courses in culture (including pre-1800) and the fine arts, as described above, and 12 units or 3 classes in science and/or mathematics, including a designated lab science course. They must also complete the language requirement. Appropriate equivalents are determined in consultation with the Core Program Office and the Registrar's Office.

Culture and Fine Arts Distribution Courses

(Minimum 12 units or 3 full classes, 16 or 20 - 4 or 5 full classes - recommended). Transfer students must take a minimum of 4 units or one full class from each of three groups listed above (U.S. Diversity, Global Connections, and Regional Focus), and must take 4 units or one full class in courses designated "pre-1800" and 4 units or one full class in courses designated as "fine arts." The pre-1800 and fine arts requirements may be met in courses also representing one of the three major categories of culture requirements, although no course may satisfy more than two requirements.

Mathematics and Science

(12 units or 3 full classes). Most transfer students have met at least some of these upon entry. Of these, at least one class must include a laboratory or field component.

All of these Core requirements should be completed by the end of the junior year.

Cultural Studies Seminar

Transfer students are not required to complete the CSP seminars as detailed above. 


Core Program Courses:

Cultural Studies Program Fall Writing Seminars

Cultural Studies Program Spring 2016 "Global Issues" Research Seminars

Other Cultural Studies Program Courses


Regular Faculty

John Swift, chair

Associate Dean for Core Curriculum and Student Issues; English; Core Program; Advisory Committee, Urban and Environmental Policy

B.A., Middlebury College M.A., Ph.D., University of Virginia

On Special Appointment

Lisa Filipe

Non Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Core Program

B.A., Occidental College; C.Phil., Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles

Anna Katz

Non Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Core Program

B.A. University of California, Berkeley; M.A., Ph.D. Princeton University

Suzanne Roszak

Non Tenure Track Instructor, Core Program

B.A. Columbia University; M.A., M.Phil, Yale University