Instructor Spotlight: Caroline Vandis and Ella McConnell

The ExCollege caught up with Ella McConnell and Caroline Vandis, the Explorations team behind, Governments in Dystopian Fiction & Film.
Ella McConnell and Caroline Vandis

What inspired this course?

Caroline Vandis and Ella McConnell: Freshman year, Caroline took an Explorations course about presidential campaigns. She loved the experience so much that she wanted to be on the other side of things and bring it to other freshmen. She asked Ella to join her to relive the magic together and the rest is history! Initially, the course was about governments in YA Fiction, but as we began planning, we knew we had to broaden our scope. Ella's FMS background helped with that, and our syllabus really improved with the movies we added.

What has the experience of teaching/designing this course taught you?

CV & EM: The best part about this is that we both really like different parts of teaching and lesson planning. Ella is really amazing at coming up with activities and building out the lesson plan and Caroline likes executing the activities in class and a lot of the administrative side of things. We're great as a team, because it is a lot of work and it's nice to have another person who likes to do the things you sometimes don't feel like doing. Learning how to lead a class and fill the class time definitely comes with a major learning curve, and we're also very intentional about creating a fun environment that the students want to come to and engage with.

Could you explain the difference between dystopia and utopia?

CV & EM: Haha, what a question! It's definitely something we were thinking about in building out our syllabus, because a lot of the dystopian governments we cover in class definitely had some form of belief that they were attempting to create a utopia and being mindful that what a utopia is for some might be a dystopia for others. This came up during our discussion about the Handmaid's Tale when we talked about how Gilead is really a dystopia for white women, and a lot of Margaret Atwood's choices in writing the book took inspiration from the ways Black women have been treated over the course of American history. It's also a question we'll dive deeper into later in the semester with texts like Dave Eggers' The Circle and the Black Mirror episode, Nosedive.

What assignments have your students been working on? Which assignments are you looking forward to?

CV & EM: We've done an assignment where the students had to analyze the government of a dystopia of their choice and we were really impressed by the range of dystopias that were chosen and the presentations and papers that we saw! Our upcoming assignment is to compare a dystopia and a real-life government, and we can't wait to see what they come up with. We have no doubt it will be incredible.

What’s something that you are particularly excited to teach?

CV & EM: Ella is really excited about our week 8 case study, Children of Men, something that we watched together freshman year and scarred Caroline just a bit. Caroline was most excited for the YA weeks, which just happened, and unfortunately did not get to sneak her favorite book The Selection in.

What do you hope students will take away from this class?

CV & EM: Honestly, we hope that they just get 12 new faces to say hi to on the streets (14, if you count us). We're really excited about the content, and we hope they are too, but ultimately the best part of an Explorations Course is the little bit of community that you get on campus for 2.5 hours on Wednesday nights your freshman fall.

Caroline Vandis (she/her) is a Political Science and Urban Studies major from Westport, CT. She is the chair of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ), the Tufts Daily Social Media Executive, and plays for Club Lacrosse.

Ella McConnell is from San Francisco and is a Film and Media Studies Major. Ella is a part of Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), Tufts Radio (WMFO), and works at The Sink.