Posts in: Block 5

Let’s Be Clear: The “Dear White People” TV show Is NOT Racist

In the second week of this class, we watched the movie Dear White People. Have you seen it? It came out in 2014 and Netflix ordered a TV version of it, also named “Dear White People” last May. While there was some backlash at the time to a tv series of “Dear White People,” it was nothing to how many (white) people reacted to the trailer that was released yesterday.

The video garnered over 1 million ‘dislikes’ in one day, with many taking to Twitter, denouncing the show for being “racist” and encouraging “white genocide” and cancelling their Netflix subscriptions.

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Let’s be clear. Let’s be super super clear. There is no such thing as reverse racism. You cannot be racist towards white people. All together now: Reverse racism does not exist.

Why is being racist towards white people NOT a thing? Because to be racist you need two things: power and prejudice. Racism connotes a system that disadvantages those based on race. Therefore,people of color cannot be racist– they can be prejudiced– but not racist because they do not hold power in a racist system and thereby cannot benefit from this system.

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When white people argue that people of color are being racist toward them, it is just untrue because this understanding of racism refers more to when someone (usually non-white) makes them feel bad (cue white tears) for their identity. This understanding also completely ignores structural systems of oppression that has and does consistently disenfranchise people of color in obvious and in invisible ways.

In the online article “What is Reverse Racism and Why It Doesn’t Actually Exist in the U.S.,” Phillip Lewis argues “But in reality, the United States has a long legacy of racism that makes it difficult for people of color to receive quality health care, access affordable housing, find stable employment and avoid getting wrapped up in the justice system.” (hyperlinks in original)

Thus when white people cry “racism,” it ignores this legacy of racism that still disenfranchises people of color in concrete and tangible ways.

Let’s say it all together just to make sure the people in the back heard us: REVERSE RACISM DOES NOT EXIST

Rather, these conversations about “reverse racism” or a TV show that questions race has much more to do with whiteness.

In “The Social Construction of Whiteness” Martha R. Mahoney (1995) argues “Whites have difficulty perceiving whiteness, both because of its cultural relevance and because of its cultural dominance. . .like culture, race is something whites notice in themselves only in relation to others. Privileged identity required reinforcement and maintenance, but protection against seeing the mechanisms that socially reproduce and maintain privilege is an important component of privilege itself” (331). And, I would argue, protection against these mechanisms that produce whiteness is an important aspect of whiteness.

When white people operate off the understanding that racism is just when someone of another color is mean to you, it simply reinforces the category and supremacy of whiteness to begin with. Learn your non-white history, read some articles like this one or this, and stop pretending reverse racism is a thing.

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Week Two Reflections: how do layered igneous rocks form?

The second week of Igneous Petrology was a whirlwind! We spent most of the week discussing all of the processes that can cause different rocks to form out of the same body of magma. We looked at several major igneous rock formations that are made up of distinct layers with different mineral compositions, even though they formed from a single body of magma. So how does the same magma body produce different rocks? One of the earliest hypotheses is the idea of gravity settling. Gravity settling is the idea that in a magma chamber heavier minerals that contain elements like iron would sink to the bottom of the chamber as they crystallized, while lighter (and less dense) minerals would float towards the top. Gravity settling has been a popular theory since geologists first began to study layered igneous rocks, but many scientists have started to question it in the recent years. Many of our labs this week focused on studying the distribution of minerals in a layered rock and deciding whether or not they formed through gravity settling or a more complex process. We started off studying a body of rock called the Muskox Intrusion, then looked at more complex formations: The Skaergard formation and the Palisades Sill (located in the eastern US). So how can we tell how the minerals settled in a rock? We looked at the mineralogy, textures, and geochemical data of samples from each layer of the different formations we studied in order to build a hypothesis about how they formed. Initially, many of us thought that the layers were the result of gravity settling, but as we progressed in our research we realized that far more complex processes were involved. Magma chambers are influenced by elaborate convection patterns in addition to gravity. The density and temperature of different crystals can affect how they circulate just as much (if not more) than gravity can. Beyond that, magma chambers don’t necessarily have constant temperatures – the edges are likely cooler than the middle. Occam’s razor holds true in many cases, but it certainly didn’t apply to our labs this week. One of the things I love about the geology major is how it forces me to challenge the initial assumptions I make. The more data I encounter, the more I have to change my hypothesis.

What is Whiteness Studies??

When I told some of my white friends that I was taking Critical Whiteness Studies, I was met either with chuckles or furrowed brows and questions like “What even is that?”

Let’s talk about it.

Are you white? If so, how do you know you’re white? Did someone tell you?

Many of us know that race is socially constructed. But not many of us are able to draw the connection that being white is socially constructed also; white is a race.


In “Growing Up White in America?” Bonnie Kae Glover argues, “White is transparent. That’s the point of being the dominant race. Sure the whiteness is there, but you never think of it. If you’re white, you never have to think about it. Sometimes when folks make a point of thinking about it, some (not all) of them run the risk of being either sappy in the eyes of other whites or of being dangerous to nonwhites. And if white folks remind each other about being white, too often the reminder is about threats by outsiders–nonwhites– who steal white entitlements like good jobs, a fine education, nice neighborhoods, and the good life” (34)

From this perspective, whiteness is only visible when in relation to “other” races. It’s there, as Glover states, but it’s not a charged category. Being white is neutral, while other races are abnormal.

For me, I thought I was white for a long time. Growing up speaking only English, I understood most of what my mom would say as she spoke rapidly in Spanish to our relatives, but I never concerned myself with learning the language. I was the light sister, with dark blonde hair as a child. The only indication that I was not totally white were my heavy eyebrows, inherited from my Chicana great-grandmother. It was only until I was in high school and began learning more about my family’s heritage did I begin questioning my whiteness.


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Whiteness is purposefully hard to see and demarcate. Peggy McIntosh  characterizes whiteness as an “invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools,, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks”(291). (I bet you’re catching on to why this class is called Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack)

Whiteness is protected and insulated by the very mechanisms that reinforce and reproduce this dominance. In other words, the very fact that white people cannot see or notice the ways in which they may benefit from white privilege is one of the very mechanisms that bolster whiteness as a neutral or invisible category.

Even though I do not identify as white, I pass as white and people treat me like I’m white. I benefit from looking white, but I can also see its detrimental effects especially enacted upon my friends who are people of color.

Peggy McIntosh even writes a list of 46 items she is allowed to do as a white person to illustrate in more concrete terms what her whiteness affords her:

“17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color. . . 25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure that I haven’t been singled out because of my race. . . 40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places that I have chosen”(293-4)

Being white is not neutral; white is a race. Whatever your race is, in America it constitutes your experience– it decides if you can be putting pussyhats on police officers and taking pictures or if those officers will be charging at you in full riot gear on the street.

*Note I do not own these pictures*


Where does magma come from?

Hi! My name is Grace, and I’m a senior geology major here at CC. This block I’ll be sharing my experience in Igneous Petrology. I fell in love with geology because of how differently it makes me see the world. One of my favourite authors, John McPhee, says it well “A million years is a short time – the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet’s time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.” Like every geology class I’ve taken, I know that studying igneous petrology will further shift my perspective of our planet.

Igneous petrology is the study of the origin, composition, and chemical structure of igneous rocks. Igneous rocks are rocks that are formed by cooling magma. Rocks like granite form when magma cools below the surface, and volcanic rocks like basalt cool at the surface during volcanic eruptions. We spent our first day of class discussing how and where magma bodies are formed, and how they reach the surface to cool and form rocks. Magma can be generated in both the mantle in the crust. The specifics of these processes can be complex, but there are essentially only three ways to melt a rock and create magma: you can raise the temperature, lower the pressure, or change the rock’s melting temperature by adding volatiles such as water. It’s fascinating to think about the fact that every igneous rock started out this way, hundred to thousands of kilometers below our feet. The mighty Pikes Peak that towers over our campus today was once a liquid that slowly cooled and crystallized, then got uplifted to the surface, to become the iconic granite mountain that it is today.

On our second day of class we went from talking about massive bodies of magma to the microscopic properties of igneous rocks. One of the things I have always enjoyed about geology is the wide range of spatial and temporal scales that it covers, and this class is certainly no exception. We started the day with a lecture on optics and discussed what some common minerals look like under the microscope, then jumped into looking at thin sections for our lab. A thin section is an ultra thin (usually 30 microns) slice of rock that has been cut with a diamond saw and then sanded down until it is perfectly flat. The rock slice is then mounted onto a clear glass slide that can be studied under a petrographic microscope. Here is a photo of what one of our thin sections looks like under the microscope:

A thin section from GY310

A thin section from GY310

The bright colors you see here aren’t the true colors of the minerals in this rock. Instead, they’re interference colors that are caused by the light from the microscope breaking up as it passes through the crystals in the thin section. If you’ve ever shined a light through a prism and created a rainbow, you’ve seen interference colors! The interference colors that we see in thin sections can help us identify what minerals we’re looking at, since the physical properties of different minerals cause them to produce different colors. The first time I ever looked at a thin section, I was blown away by how much detail a thin section can reveal about the history of the rock. The proportions of different minerals, the shapes of their crystals, and the boundaries between crystals can all provide valuable clues about the rock’s crystallization history.

Festival Recap

It’s snowing in Park City. There’s at least a foot and a half on the ground right now. The sun peeks through a blanket of fog, but it’s not bright enough to rouse the rest of the house this morning. This is the first day in a long week that we have nothing to dash off to. With the festival over, I wonder what the town will feel like once we do meander into a few of the coffee shops. Over the last five days it has been a moving machine – with about two hour intervals between the movies we saw every day (from 2-6 of them) we only had time to send text reviews to each other and stop for coffee on the main street before sitting still for another 2 ½ hours in a dark theater. I’ve cried and laughed at the most amazing stories and spoken to some incredible filmmakers here, and barely have had time to process those feelings before I am running to the next thing. I’ll try to process them in smaller tidbits here.


Day 1 – Ticket mania, ticket “fomo,” I can’t find the right theatre, WOW I’M AT SUNDANCE, an intense historical fiction film about pregnant nuns and a French Red Cross doctor, a bad documentary about a film buff, and a new wave girlhood film about a 12 year old who turns from boxer to dancer. (Agnus Dei, Film Hawk, and The Fits.) Agnus Dei and The Fits were directed by women, and I babbled through an incomprehensive conversation (on my part) with Fits director Anna Rose Holmer to find out that most of her department heads were women as well. Encouragement!

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Day 2 – I am sitting here watching a movie about a doctor from the 30s who put goat testicles into impotent human male testicles. The documentary director is a spunky, screamingly intelligent woman who grew up on a ranch in the middle of the country and is screening a film that collaborated with seven different animators at the Sundance Festival. Later in the afternoon I see a film called Cameraperson – a meditation of visuals collected from one cinematographer’s portfolio. I think about death and life and sometimes I need to remember to breathe evenly while I’m watching it. Then we see a collection of documentary shorts that none of us are very impressed with. (NUTS!, Cameraperson)


Day 3 – I am seeing 5 films today, and I can barely keep my eyes open from yesterday. The first has a strong script, but I feel more engaged in my twenty-minute conversation with a senior from USC beforehand. We talked about theory versus practice while her mom interjected every once in a while to exclaim that this movie was her pick. Next I see a Columbian film that would go on to win the Audience Award for World Dramatic Cinema. The older man beside me ended up gripping my arm halfway through as we both tried to play it cool and stop sobbing. Afterwards the filmmakers spoke beautifully about their relationship with their audience and arts for arts sake, not commercial benefit. Too soon after the film is over, we are filed back into the same theatre for the Dramatic Shorts program. A policeman who dances at his mother’s funeral in Thunder Road makes us keel over with laughter, a great cure for my blotchy face. After a quick dinner I move on to a film about prostitutes in Mexico City. I’ve fallen in love with at least four of the women by the end. Much later we go to the midnight screening of an Indian film satirizing the class system, following 4 teenagers trying to get laid. It is not one for my 11 year old brother to see. (Mi Amiga Del Parque, Between Sea and Land, Dramatic Shorts Program, Plaza de la Soledad, and Brahman Naman.)

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman  Naman.

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman Naman.

Day 4 – Snow is dumping today, and though I’m a Colorado native I have completely failed to prepare for this weather. Walmart shoes falling apart, I make my way to three films today. The first, a contemporary Romeo and Juliet love story between two women that makes me cry at 8:30am. The second, a hilarious, Little Miss Sunshine-esque family road trip featuring Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. The third is the Animation Spotlight collection. I am amazed at what people are able to imagine and make tangible… our technology is truly limitless. (Lovesong, Captain Fantastic, Animation Spotlight)


Day 5 – I only am able to get one ticket today because it’s the last day of the festival. I get into the World Documentary Grand Jury screening of Sonita. An Afghanistan teenage girl raps about the arranged marriage culture of Iran which she may be forced back into if she cannot escape her family. When I get out of this film, we see that there is already about six inches of snow on the ground, and a massive blizzard is predicted to blow up from Colorado Springs through Wyoming and Utah in the next two days…so we decide to stay in Park City. We all celebrate with a huge dinner in town, laughing and toasting to the amazing week we’ve had.

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther Chan

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther ChanTom Crandall

Tom Crandall

 Now there is two feet outside the window I’m sitting next to. The class is huddled around me in our cozy kitchen. Someone made tea for everyone, and our professor brought back bagels this morning after we took a class photo in front of the Sundance sign. We’ve got two snow days ahead of us, and I couldn’t ask to be surrounded by a better group of people for it.


Colorado College and the Sundance Kids

We’ve made it to the end of first week in the Film and Media Studies Sundance class and already it feels like we’re running a marathon! As part of our preparation for heading to the festival next week, we’ve had screenings of past years’ Sundance winners and in-class discussions on what makes indie films unique. So far we’ve been unable to come up with any concrete conclusion on that, but it seems that’s the whole point of Indie films ‘breaking the mold’ and transcending traditional storytelling conventions, isn’t it?

So far we’ve watched Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 film Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Damian Szifron’s 2014 shorts anthology film Wild Tales; Kimberly Pierce’s 1999 Boys Don’t Cry; and Craig Brewer’s 2005 Hustle and Flow.

What a roller coaster ride. In all these films covering such diverse subject matter, cinematic style, release dates, and production budgets, we have found common threads that may be able to help us narrow down what makes a Sundance movie a “Sundance Movie” .

Like any independently produced material, an indie film is going to either suffer or benefit from its financial limitations. Yes, an independent filmmaker may have to sell her soul to come up with the funds just to get the project on its feet, accepting from the beginning that she will likely make no profit from it should the thing ever be completed. But with this terrifying investment in self-expression comes a certain kind of freedom that filmmakers can’t always get working under the wing of a Hollywood studio. Because of this, the kinds of films that make it to Sundance exist because of the filmmakers’ determination to stretch the limitations of their own minds and, sometimes even out of desperation, create something out of nothing.

The “aesthetic” of Sundance, if we were to assign one, would be one of daring and sometimes even subversive storytelling methods. While not all Sundance films are devoid of happy endings or satisfying and expected ‘movie tropes’, many of them do test the best known formulas of script-writing and cinematic presentation.

As a class we have taken it upon ourselves to write a ‘Sundance’ anthology feature. Following a helpful 7-beat formula laid out by Clay Haskell, we have structured our scripts to align with recognizable story progression bullet points – or as Clay calls them– beats. The trick now is how to experiment with the beats in unexpected ways. The most liberating part of learning and understanding the rules to a formula is then knowing how to break them.

Hopefully after editing the last draft of our script this weekend, heading off to Sundance for a week to watch film after film until our brains are mush, and eventually returning to crash and burn in a final 48-hr film project, we will have succeeded in breaking just a few rules in recognizably ‘innovative and original’ Sundance ways.


More to come soon!
Thanks for reading.

Sundance Film

The Sundance class. A test of faith in today’s film industry. Will it do justice to our world’s best storytellers? What has the Sundance Festival become over the years… is is a portal to project new filmmakers into the blockbuster world? Will it toss anyone into that fray other than baseball cap wearing white men? (“No!” says the release of the late Jurassic World.) Or is the festival an end goal for independent filmmakers? Is it both a cannon and a finish line? What defines a Sundance film – what topics to they cover and how? Who is making the movie and where do they come from? How do these films compare to the Hollywood world? Around 2300 films were submitted to the Dramatic Features category in 2015. The Festival accepted 79. Is the scope of the indie world too massive to conquer these days, and what has that competitive nature done for the filmmakers vying for one of those spots? ALSO we get to go to this thing – did I forget to mention that? Who knows, this time next week I could be sharing a cheese plate with John Krasinski, foolishly reminding him of the best Office gags he pulled off.

The many many many questions we have asked ourselves within the first week of this class. My brain is exploding with tangents. Perhaps I’ve alluded to some of those answers by asking the questions…I hope so, because I hardly have definitive answers for any of them. In summary, yes, the festival has evolved into more than a screening festival, which is what we would call the Telluride Film Festival. Sundance is prestigious and selective, but does a much better job at supporting a variety of subjects and filmmakers than the Oscar/Hollywood worlds do. Today, 1.9% of Hollywood directors are women. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, 29.9% of directors are women. Still an appalling number when you say “only 29.9% of women are directing Sundance films,” but it makes me feel a lot better than that dismal attempt at a 2%. It’s one of my goals to see as many films by female directors next week as possible and bombard them my intellect so they hire me instantly. (This is very unlikely, as I sweat a lot when I try to talk to people after performances and end up exhibiting my elementary vocabulary well. “That was sooooooooo good, you are sooooooo good at stuff.”)

After watching four films this week and discussing them with my peers, it still seems there isn’t a formula for a perfect movie. Duh, right? We followed one structure to write our own 15 page screenplays (in one night – hello block plan), but still had an incredible variety of structures pop up in the results. We spent hours talking about the how the tiniest detail in a screenplay makes the entire film’s theme resonate perfectly. Hours of digging through taboo topics in the films we watched contemplating their successes and failures.


Filmmaking is a push and pull that you have to get a grasp on just long enough to connect with an audience so they’ll pay attention to you for an hour. Or even 30 seconds. It’s an overwhelming business at the same time that it’s an overwhelmingly beautiful art. In this class we are edging towards finding a balance between the two. We watch, write, talk, learn, yell, process, and start again.  We keep trudging down this path of doing, doing, doing until we can end up making something we admire. I hope to observe this admiration in the people I meet and the films I see next week, so I can be reminded again to keep doing (and stop staring at blank Word documents).

More to come! Thanks for reading.


Human Neuropsychology, Weeks 3 & 4

Today is the start of Block 6, which means I actually finished up with Human Neuropsychology last Wednesday when Block 5 ended. BUT, I wanted to be sure I didn’t leave my story unfinished. The last week of Block 5 was hectic and busy, but of course filled with amazing experiences. Here are the highlights: 1) a field trip to Craig Hospital in Denver, 2) a field trip to the International Neuropsychological Society conference in Denver, 3) preparing and giving a lecture, and finally 4) writing a critical review paper.

During third week, we went up to Denver two days in a row. First we went to Craig Hospital, a world-renowned neuro-rehabilitation facility. Visiting Craig was so valuable. We learned about their mission as a hospital and got a tour of the facilities. Craig Hospital has a very well-rounded and holistic approach to neuro-rehabilitation. They house families of the brain/spinal cord injured patient for up to 30 days at the hospital because they recognize just how important family support is during the healing and recovery process. They also help injured patients not only learn how to perform basic daily functions given their new situation, but they help them have fun. They help them enjoy things they may have never thought possible given their injury. The atmosphere was so positive at the hospital — which I didn’t expect, but I so appreciated that.

Craig Hospital has a gym that aids brain and spinal cord injured patients learn to be active again (in any capacity, whether that’s learning to stand again, walk, run, etc). Image Source:

The day after we visited Craig Hospital, we made our way back up to Denver for the International Neuropsychological Society (INS) conference. The conference had poster sessions as well as talks we could attend to learn about some of the recent research in the neuropsychology field. The last talk of the day, and probably my favorite, was a talk by Michael Gazzaniga. Gazzaniga is responsible for a lot of work done with split-brain research. In other words, what happens when the two hemispheres of the brain no longer communicate with each other. Gazzaniga didn’t speak about any current research during his talk, but instead gave a keynote speech about his overall journey and often encouraged the audience to “just do it” when it comes to research and investigating the unknown.

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I was responsible (along with an awesome partner) for teaching the class the Friday afternoon after our two field trips. Needless to say, I was exhausted. Lecturing is already difficult, but exhaustion makes it harder. My partner and I spent the week before our lecture reading the material, making notes and trying to find SOME way to create an intriguing and organized 90 minute lecture on our topic— emotional disorders. Thankfully, we powered through and our efforts paid off. This was the second time I had given a lecture at CC, and both times that hardest part was synthesizing the information into a good lecture. You can’t teach everything in the textbook. You don’t have time and it bores your audience. You have to teach the way you’d want to learn. And that’s hard. My partner and I chose a topic that unfortunately had a vague and somewhat disorganized chapter in the textbook. We weren’t given much structure to start with… but in order to engage the class and ensure that we actually taught them something, we had to think of a way to put some structure to the material, which was TOUGH. So, there were all of the challenges of normally preparing a lecture PLUS our exhaustion —  but we still succeeded! I took a long nap after that afternoon.

To end the block, we also had a critical review paper to finish up. I won’t bore any of you with the details of writing the paper (nobody wants to hear about that, we all know what that’s like, ha!). I will, however, share with you all what I wrote my paper on because that’s not boring. I wrote my paper on a neuropsychological disorder called Capgras Syndrome. Individuals with Capgras Syndrome believe that a close friend or family member has been replaced by an identical looking imposter. Crazy, right? So, if I went up to my mom I’d think that that wasn’t actually her, but an imposter who looks exactly like her. The idea behind this disorder is that the region in the brain that recognizes faces is functioning just fine, but this region is not communicating with the limbic system (which is all about emotional processing). An individual sees a familiar person and recognizes who he/she is but no longer feels any emotional response when recognizing that person. So the brain makes stuff up. If you don’t feel anything when seeing a familiar person, it must not be them, right? I wrote my paper on whether or not the basis for this syndrome is neurological (e.g., structural problems in the brain) or psychiatric (e.g., another cause that’s not brought on by any physical changes in the brain). I came to the conclusion that there may be pure Capgras Syndrome (in which the individual has no other psychological abnormalities except for these delusions) and Capgras-like symptoms (in which an individual has these delusions among many other delusional thoughts or psychological abnormalities). Capgras Syndrome appears to be neurological in origin, whereas many Capgras-like symptoms can occur from a psychiatric origin and are often comorbid with other psychiatric issues such as paranoid schizophrenia.

So, there it is. My reflections on the end of the block. I loved this class. For any neuroscience or psychology majors, I highly recommend it. You can’t NOT be interested in the material, our professor, Kristi, is awesome and you learn so much. I enjoyed sharing my experiences with all of you taking the time to read this. Please let me know if you’d like to hear more! I could talk about this stuff for hours.

Human Neuropsychology, Week 2

Imagine what it would be like to unknowingly ignore half of your world. Your vision is intact, but you have a severe a lack of attention directed towards an entire half of what you experience, almost as if you don’t actually see it, but you CAN. You can sense it, you just don’t attend to it. This is what patients with unilateral neglect, a type of attentional disorder, experience. It can occur after damage (a stroke, traumatic injury) to the brain, often to a region called the right inferior parietal lobe.

An example of how an individual with left hemispatial neglect may copy an image (left) and draw images of their own (right). The left side of the drawings are sparse or even completely ignored. Source:

Imagine that you can speak with excellent fluency regarding intonation and speed, but it’s all gibberish. People try and tell you that you’re not making sense, and although you can hear others’ speech, you are unable to comprehend what they’re saying. They try to tell you that you’re not saying anything meaningful, but you’re unaware because you can’t understand them. This is what it’d be like to live with Wernicke’s aphasia, a speech disorder that can occur after damage to a region in the left temporal lobe. To see and hear how a patient with Wernicke’s aphasia may act and speak, I recommend this video:

Imagine that your arms and hands function perfectly fine and you’re able to move them, but if somebody verbally asks you to act like you’re brushing your teeth, you can’t. You know how to brush your teeth, and you know what it looks like, but you cannot physically bring your hand up to your mouth and brush an imaginary toothbrush back and forth when VERBALLY asked to do so. But, if somebody shows you what this movement would look like, you could mimic it just fine. This is what patients with a disorder called dissociation apraxia experience. They have trouble taking a verbal command and turning it into a complex movement. This deficit results from damage to the pathway in the brain connecting Wernicke’s area (the comprehension area of the brain) to an area of the brain where the “instructions” on how to perform a movement are stored (a.k.a motor engrams in the left angular and supra marginal gyri for anybody who wants that level of detail).


The connections from Wernicke’s area to the supramarginal and angular gyri may be damaged in patients with dissociation apraxia. Source:

Imagine, now, that you can spell words with great proficiency, but you can’t physically write them. You can write numbers, but not letters. You can even explain what letters look like in enough detail to others that they know what letter you’re talking about. But nevertheless, you can’t write the letters down. You can write the digit “0” (zero), but not the letter “O” (oh). Somebody with agraphia, an impairment in writing capability, may have these experiences. This may occur due to damage in the left hemisphere of the brain as well. [Student presenters discussed this specific case study in class: “When writing 0 (zero) is easier than writing O (o): a neuropsychological case study of agraphia” by Delzer, Lochy, Jenner, Domahs & Benke, 2002].

The disorders I briefly described above are just a handful of the countless disorders we learned about during week 2 of Human Neuropsychology. They are all so fascinating, and often resulted in mini-existential crises during our class discussions. Despite how cool and exciting these disorders are to learn about, if you think about what it would be like to actually have or know somebody with any these disorders it’s quite mind-numbing. Something I really appreciate about this class is that we learn about more than just the disorders themselves. We learn about how these disorders affect real people. One of our texts for class, Michael Mason’s “Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath”, provides personal accounts and experiences regarding traumatic brain injuries. Rather than an anatomy and science heavy text, it’s the human and emotional side of brain injuries, a perspective that’s equally important when learning about the brain.

We’ve also had the chance to personally meet and speak with an individual who sustained a traumatic brain injury. She came to class and told us her story, starting with a car accident, leading to a coma, and subsequently months of rehabilitation. Despite everything she had gone through she was unbelievably positive, which was an extraordinary thing to see and hear.

We also talk a lot about neuro-rehabilitation in general in this class, something that can often be overlooked when it comes to many neuropsychological  disorders but is of utmost importance. Sometimes rehabilitation can help with these disorders, but other times our current resources may not be sufficient. But realizing the impact of neuro-rehabilitation, when it’s available, is crucial.

Tomorrow, we will be visiting Craig Hospital in Denver, CO ( I am really looking forward to it! Thursday we will be heading back up to Denver to attend the International Neuropsychological Society’s 43rd annual meeting. Then, I’ll be lecturing on Friday about emotional disorders. It’s a packed week…but, that’s the block plan! I love it.


Human Neuropsychology, Week 1

Happy block five, everyone! Actually, happy start of fifth block’s second week. First week flew by, as usual. My name is Jordyn for any of you who may not know me. I am a senior neuroscience major, biochemistry minor. I’m currently taking Human Neuropsychology, a 400-level senior seminar course with professor Kristi Erdal.
The class is fantastic so far. For so many reasons. To start, the subject matter is undoubtedly intriguing. Neuropsychology is the study of how the structure and function of the brain influence and mediate psychological processes (like memory or attention) and behavior. In our class we are talking a lot about what can go wrong and what deficits can arise from an insult to the brain. An insult may be physical trauma from a car accident, it could be death of brain tissue from a stroke, or it could be chemical damage from a toxin. Depending on the type of insult, and its location in the brain, a variety of deficits may develop. Discovering what those deficits are and subsequently leading the patient down the road to recovery are some responsibilities a clinical neuropsychologist may take on. Kristi, our professor, has training in this area. During class, she oftentimes includes personal stories of the types of injuries and deficits she’s seen in her patients.
Kristi is the second reason class has been fantastic so far. Kristi is fun to listen to. She always has interesting stories to add to lecture. She uses funny voices. She makes lecture an experience and something to look forward to. She’s entertaining. I highly recommend taking a class with her if you can. I will be taking one more course with her, Abnormal Psychology 7th block this spring, and I can’t wait.
This class is also great because of the students. It’s filled with bright, fun, passionate and dedicated people. Many of them, but not all, I have had classes with before. Your fellow peers in a class can really make or break the class, and I lucked out on this one— they’re all great.
The first day of week one consisted of going through a brief history of Neuropsychology and learning numerous vocab words and acronyms important to this field of study. We talk a lot in acronyms — TBI, MTBI, MRI, PET, VIQ, FSIQ, WAIS, etc.
Once we built a foundation of the language used by neuropsychologists we got to dive into the really fun stuff. We learned about different imaging techniques for the brain, and what each of these can tell you. MRI scans can show quite detailed images of the brain, but don’t tell you anything about the function of the brain. PET scans and fMRI scans can tell you about function and what parts of the brain may be active during a specific task, but have less resolution than strictly an MRI. I had learned about many of these imaging techniques before, but it was nice to learn more in depth what each can tell you and when they are appropriate to use.

A simple MRI scan of the brain. Resolution is quite good, but there is no information about function. Source:


A PET scan can provide insight regarding function. Here, the red and yellow indicate areas of higher activity in the brain when an individual performed two tasks. The resolution of a PET scan is poor, but it offers functional information. Source:

Something else I really appreciate about Kristi is how interactive her classes are. Wednesday we talked about different neuropsychological assessments. How do we test somebody’s mental status? Their language? Visual-spatial functioning? Memory? Intelligence? What about executive functioning? Rather than a boring lecture of “this test can be used to test __________”, Kristi brought out neuropsychological tests and we ran through many of them ourselves. For example, the Rey Complex Figure can be used to test visual-spatial functioning.

The Rey Complex Figure. Source:

A person is shown an image, gets to view it for a short period of time, and then the image is taken away and the individual must draw the image. How the individual approaches drawing the figure, and what the figure looks like when they’re finished can provide insight regarding the health of parts of the brain important for visual-spatial abilities. We did this in class, and although many of us forgot some of the details, we were able to draw the figure with proficient success. However, an individual with damage to the right hemisphere may only draw the finer details of the image and lose sight of the overall, holistic image. Simple tests like this are very telling about brain functioning (if administered and interpreted appropriately).

An example of how an individual with right hemisphere brain damage may draw the Rey Complex Figure. Source: Ha, J.-W., Pyun, S.-B., Hwang, Y.-M., & Sim, H. (2012). Lateralization of cognitive functions in aphasia after right brain damage. Yonsei Medical Journal, 53, 486-494.

To end first week, we talked about perceptual disorders. We talked about disorders involving vision, hearing and tactile (touch) sensations. I could go on for hours (or, I guess, pages?) about these disorders. I’ll tell you about one of the most fascinating ones. Anton’s Syndrome is a visual perceptive disorder. Individuals with this disorder are blind, but they’re unaware of it. Think about that for a minute. Somebody cannot see the world around them, but they believe and act as if they can. How this type of deficit can arise is mind boggling, and the precise anatomy of the disorder is still incompletely understood. But essentially, in addition to damage that resulted in the blindness, there is a disconnect between the part of the brain that allows for vision and the area of the brain that allows for conscious awareness that you are in fact seeing. Patients may come up with excuses as to why they bump into chairs when walking or why they can’t identify an object when asked to do so visually. They may say “Oh, I just wasn’t paying attention when I bumped into that, clumsy me” or “Ahhh, I’m wearing my old glasses, can you bring it closer?” This is just ONE of many disorders we discussed on Friday alone. THEY ARE ALL SO COOL TO LEARN ABOUT. This coming week, we will learn about motor disorders, attentional disorders and language disorders. I am so excited. Something else unique about this class (and many other 400-level seminar courses in the psychology department) is that we will be learning from our peers. Rather than Kristi lecturing from now on, we will learn from our peers and we will teach our peers. It is an intimidating experience at first, but it is an incredibly worthwhile experience for everyone involved (my last class, PY433 Neuropharmacology was set up the set up the same way). I will be lecturing with another peer on emotional disorders the end of third week, and I’ll be sure to share my experience from the preparation of the lecture to the delivery of it when the time comes.
If you couldn’t tell already, I love this class, and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all!