Contact Us
Emily Balch Seminar Program
Gail Hemmeter, Director
English House
101 North Merion Ave
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-2899

Phone: (610) 526-5306
Fax: (610) 526-7477
The Balch Seminars

Urban Identities: Difference, Conflict, and Community

In this seminar, students investigate life in the contemporary U.S. city, particularly in light of how city dwellers negotiate their diverse identities in shared living spaces. How do different people experience and express their experiences of the city? What can we learn from investigating how race and ethnicity, social class, and other identity markers, including gender, sexuality, and religion, both shape and are shaped by urban spaces? How do culturally diverse people deal with conflict and build communities? Students look at life in cities as represented in memoir, drama, essays, and fiction, as well as in photographs and film.

photo of Jody Cohen

Senior Lecturer in Education

“In ‘Urban Identities,’ students have the opportunity to hear, share, and sometimes wrestle with one another’s ideas in relation to the texts we are discussing. For example, Anna Deveare Smith creates one-woman theater pieces that express multiple perspectives based on oral interviews, often with people in settings of urban conflict. After students read her text and view a video of her performance, it is exciting to hear them express their different experiences and understandings of the work. Their disagreements are opportunities for them to ask, ‘Why did I view it that way? Why did others view it differently?’

“In this seminar, we talk across difference. I see that as the work of the world, and I am passionate about doing it in my corner of the world.”

Jody Cohen's teaching and research focus on the perspectives of students and teachers in schooling and school change, particularly in urban settings, and on multicultural education, including how college students work with diversity in the classroom.  She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and joined the College in 1995.  Jody received the College's Rosalyn R. Schwartz Teaching Award in 2006.

Photo of Lily Cole-Chu

“I grew up living in a rural setting but went to school in an urban setting. That clash was always apparent to me, and very interesting. I fell in love with the city side of my life, so the ‘Urban Identities’ seminar ‘spoke’ to me.

“My seminar was the first class in which I felt passionate about what I was saying, which was really exciting for me. In high school, I was too self-conscious to share my ideas, but at Bryn Mawr, I wanted to share my ideas and to be on the same level as my incredible classmates. That motivated me to think more deeply and develop interesting new ideas.”


“My seminar was the quintessential college class. People came from different areas of the country and world, from different religions, and from different socio-economic statuses—and that made our conversations fantastic. We could talk about anything, and that made the class really close.

“We sometimes got into difficult, provocative conversations about race and socio-economic status, based on the materials we were working with in class. For example, we talked about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and about the riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King beating. Sometimes we still had so much to think about after class that we’d all go to the College’s Uncommon Grounds Café to talk more.

“The great thing about this seminar is that I ended up seeing other perspectives as well. At the beginning, we were all so adamant about making our own points that we weren’t really able to listen to each other. Over time, we came to respect each other’s opinions, and this helped us to question the validity of our own points. We taught each other so much through that process.”


photo of Hannah Roos