Wheels of Change: Environmental and Social Justice by Bike Syllabus

SEMN 182: Wheels of Change: Environmental and Social Justice by Bike

MWF 11:55-1:10; Fall 2022

Image: Cyclists demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter Protest in Brooklyn on Jun 5, 2020. Photo by Shawn Pridgen in Bicycling magazine

Who Leads this Course

Faculty Instructor: Dr. Amelia Katanski, Professor of English and Critical Ethnic Studies

Office: Humphrey House 207

Contact me by: Email (Amelia.Katanski@kzoo.edu) or Teams chat; Please note that I will not be checking email or Teams messages between 5PM on Fridays and 9AM on Mondays. If you message me over the weekend, I’ll return your message on Monday.

Office Hours: Mondays 10-11AM; Wednesdays 1:30-2:30.
These are times I’m always in my office—no appointment needed. If these times don’t work for you, just send me a message and we’ll figure out another time to meet.

Teaching Assistant: Egan Vieira

Contact me by:
Email: egan.vieira19@kzoo.edu or Teams chat

Community Partners:

City of Kalamazoo, Open Roads, and Kalamazoo College Outdoor Programs

Contact them at:
Christina Anderson, City Planner, City of Kalamazoo andersonc@kalamazoocity.org
Isaac Green, Executive Director, Open Roads director@openroadsbike.org
Jory Horner (Director) and Jess Port (Assistant Director), Outdoor Programs, Kalamazoo College Jory.Horner@kzoo.edu; Jess.Port@kzoo.edu

Where to find course materials:

You will find our readings and assignments—and the most updated weekly schedule—on our class Teams site. You will also turn in your assignments and receive grades on Teams.

Where We Study Together

We gather on the land of the Council of the Three Fires—the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Bodewadmi. Indigenous nations of the Great Lakes are also known as Anishinaabe, or First People, and their language is Anishinaabemowin. We acknowledge the enduring relationship that exists between the People of the Three Fires and this land. We begin with this acknowledgement in recognition that it is a starting point that is meaningful in the context of the development and nurturing of ongoing relationship, reconciliation, and reparation.

Course Description

This community-engaged course explores cycling through the lenses of social and environmental justice. We will study the way bicycles—as vehicles of freedom and mobility–empowered women and people of color during the late 19th century “cycling craze,” and we will learn about policies based in racism and sexism that limited who could easily experience the liberating movement cycling offered. Understanding that history, we’ll focus on how, today, the bicycle offers hope for sustainable transportation that supports individual, community, and environmental health in ways that redress racism, and gender- and ability-based discrimination.

Working closely with community partners, including the City of Kalamazoo, Open Roads, and K College Outdoor Programs, we will explore how communities can build cycling infrastructure using an equity lens, developing a comparative international perspective by investigating how urban cycling thrives in Copenhagen, Denmark. We will work closely with partners on and off campus on projects that will help to provide equitable, sustainable cycling infrastructure for people of all races, genders, income levels, and ages. As we do this, we will come to know our community by bike, riding together regularly.

Our experiential learning culminates in traveling together to Copenhagen for a week after the end of the quarter (November 27-December 4, 2022) to experience this iconic cycling city by riding it and by meeting with and learning from city planners, other cycling movement leaders, and regular folks who ride. There will be opportunities to report back to the City of Kalamazoo and our other partners in the winter quarter (an optional partial unit course), and to continue your work by applying for internships later in the year with some of our community partners.

Course Goals and Learning Outcomes

  • Create a structured, yet responsive and engaged environment in which we can read, write, talk, and think about: the history of cycling, and the potential of the bicycle to serve as an agent of mobility, environmental sustainability, freedom and community-building; city planning issues that arise when considering the needs of cyclists–everything from infrastructure development to safety to equity (safe access across race, class, gender, and age); and health benefits—to individuals, communities, and the earth—of cycling.
  • Apply this knowledge to engage responsibly and respectfully with our community partners, to work on project designed to increase equitable, sustainable cycling infrastructure, policy, and programming within the City of Kalamazoo and on campus.
  • Come to know the City of Kalamazoo by bike and develop authentic relationships with community partners, thinking through the ways that cycling speaks to the possibilities for and barriers to our own mobility (individually and as part of the K College community) within the city.
  • Learn about maintaining and repairing a bicycle.
  • Improve the most important skills for success in college: reading actively and critically, writing clearly and expressively (and meeting the specific Tier 1 College writing requirement), discussing texts and ideas productively and with engagement, working collaboratively, and respecting our differences.
  • Develop a cooperative learning community in which all seminar members learn from and teach each other and take responsibility for the success and quality of the seminar learning experience.
  • Work toward developing some of the College’s “Indicators of Intercultural and International Competence,” through our academic work, engagement with the Kalamazoo community, and travel to Copenhagen.
  • Become familiar with the college library resources while learning to evaluate sources critically and use them to enhance your own ideas and opinions.
  • Be attentive to the process of writing, and develop individualized, effective writing processes.
  • See the connection between our coursework and other ways to participate in the Cities Pathway, including coursework, co-curricular activities, study abroad/study away, career development opportunities, and ongoing civic engagement.

Weekly Schedule

We will meet to discuss reading and complete in-class learning activities on Mondays and Wednesdays. Most Fridays will be set aside for project work, writing workshops, hands-on learning, or guided bike rides (so please keep this time clear in your schedule each week).

Assignments and Activities

Short Responses

You will write 3 short responses over the course of the quarter. Two of these will focus on readings. One will reflect on what you have learned about writing over the quarter. There will be multiple opportunities for responses, and you will sign up for 2. You will also be responsible for starting our class discussion (working individually or as teams) on the days your responses are due.

Research assignment/Policy Paper

You will research a topic of your interest/choice related to our course theme. You will start this research as part of your Beyond Google session, and will develop your research into a 5-page policy paper. You will peer workshop a draft of this essay and will also meet with me
individually to discuss your drafts before the final version is due.

Beyond Google Information Literacy Workshop

Our Seminar will participate in a workshop intended to help you develop and improve your research and information literacy skills, supporting your development as an independent scholar. Your work will be part of the research you do for your policy paper and will be led by one of our reference librarians and me. The steps in the Beyond Google process will be graded P/F

HILL Cluster Activities

Our class is one of a cluster of courses focusing on questions of location and dislocation in Kalamazoo. We will have three required cluster activities during the quarter: a lunch or dinner at a time of your choosing during 2nd week with a member of the “Finding a Home in the World”
Senior Seminar; a lunch and meeting with all of the courses in the cluster (Common Time/11-11:45AM 3rd Week Monday); and a critical reflection discussion with the “Finding a Home in the World” Senior Seminar (Common Time/11-11:45, 5th Week Monday). There are other, optional, cluster activities you may choose to take part in throughout the quarter.

Photo (and video?) Essay

Throughout the quarter, keep an eye open for people riding bikes on campus and around town. Take photos of as many different kinds of riding (types of bikes, purpose in riding, rider demographics, etc.) you come across. We want to represent the diversity of riding in Kalamazoo. Each student is required to contribute at least two photographs (or possibly short videos—we’ll discuss this early in the quarter!) to the overall photo essay. When we go to Copenhagen, you’ll be asked to create a parallel photo essay about Copenhagen cyclists.

Community-based Project/Structured Reflection

Students will work in 3 teams to complete community-based projects, working alongside community partners. One group will work with the City of Kalamazoo (and City Planner/K Alum Christina Anderson) on a project related to cycling infrastructure in Kalamazoo; a second group will work with Open Roads (and Executive Director Isaac Green) on a project focused on developing and implementing safe cycling routes for Kalamazoo-area children; and a third group will work with the Kalamazoo College Outdoor Programs office (and Director Jory Horner and Assistant Director Jess Port), investigating ways to make college-owned bikes more accessible to students, to promote and support cycling among students, and to develop a cycling culture on campus.—This might lead to work on campus (and maybe in collaboration with WMU and/or the City) on a bike share program. Teams will be assigned early in the quarter and will work on these projects throughout the quarter. You will need to work on your projects with your teams and your community partners outside of class time, and this workload is accounted for in your reading/writing load for the course. Individually, you will complete 2 structured-reflection assignments that ask you to connect your readings and other in-class work with your experiential work.

Project Reports and Presentations

At the end of the quarter, project teams will collaboratively write project reports, which gather together research, raw data, analysis, implementation/project sustainability plans, and reflections on their community-based project experiences. Teams will present their key
findings to one another, our community partners and other members of the College and Kalamazoo communities.

First-Year Forum Requirement

First-Year Forums are programs (usually 1-2 hours in length) offered throughout the fall term on topics important for first-year students (time management, study abroad/away, personal safety, civic engagement in Kalamazoo, career planning, and more!). These engaging programs are facilitated by faculty, staff, and sometimes even upper-class students. First-year students are required to attend one program in each of five different categories:

  • Social Justice and Civic Engagement
  • Intercultural Understanding
  • Personal Decision Making and Habits
  • Career and Professional Development
  • Academic Success and Independent Scholarship

Multiple unique programs are offered throughout the quarter in each of the five categories, so students can pick and choose what programs to attend based on their interest and schedule. Forum attendance is logged as part of the First-Year Seminar grade. If students do not attend at least one Forum in each group, two percentage points for each Forum missed will be deducted from the final Seminar grade. You can check your First-Year Forum attendance records.


There are many ways to participate in our course—completing the readings; taking part inclass discussion; showing up for team meetings and other project-related work; giving good feedback during workshops; attending office hours; etc. You may have your preferences, but you really can’t ignore any of these things and expect to receive an A for participation. A student earning an A in participation will, for example, come to class having read their assigned texts and thought through the reading, will make at least two contributions to most (if not all) class discussions, will provide thoughtful workshop feedback, and will meet their obligations to their team.


Not every written assignment will receive a grade. We’ll start the term with lots of feedback and less grading, then move to more graded work. I’ll be clear about how this works with each assignment.

Research project/Policy Paper20% (includes completion of Beyond Google Library Assignment)
Structured Reflection15%
Project Report and Presentation30%
Photo Essay5%

Required Activities

P/F—You must attend these activities (or complete an alternative assignment if you have an unavoidable conflict) to pass the class.


Your attendance is expected and required, except for cases of illness. In this time of Covid, it’s difficult to provide an unchangeable, one-size-fits-all attendance policy, but you should use the following as a guideline: If you miss more than 3 classes over the course of the quarter, you might expect your grade in the course to go down. The more absences, the lower the grade. Why? Because your presence in our class—to take part in discussions of reading and in-class work—does more than just give you a chance to go over concepts. Our work together actually creates meaning—and what we create as a class will necessarily be different (and poorer) without everyone’s presence and contribution.

Beyond the end of the quarter

Travel to Copenhagen will be a required part of the course. Our coursework will prepare us to engage fully with our experiences in Copenhagen. Our activities in Copenhagen will be designed to inform and deepen our learning/knowledge around our project topics, and we will focus on how to translate Copenhagen experiences back to Kalamazoo needs/opportunities as we travel. I will offer a partial-unit course in the winter of 2023 (optional, but open to students in “Wheels of Change”), where students can earn up to .5 units of credit for reflecting on the Copenhagen trip and use the knowledge and materials we’ve compiled while traveling to revise and deepen project reports from the fall. In addition to revised written reports, students completing the .5 unit winter course will also give two presentations about their work: one to the campus community and one to our community partners/others in the wider Kalamazoo community. There may also be opportunities to continue project work through internships with one or more of our partners either later in the academic year or in the summer, although this is not a guarantee.

HILL (Humanities Integrated Locational Learning)

In January, Kalamazoo College received a three-year Mellon grant. (For more information, see the grant announcement.) Known as Humanities Integrated Locational Learning (HILL), this initiative examines how many problems of our time can be analyzed through the lens of
location and dislocation. To develop a deeper knowledge with the aim of generating the potential for change, HILL supports the formation of class clusters linked to specific places within and beyond Kalamazoo.

Our class is part of the Kalamazoo cluster that explores dimensions of home and belonging. In the spirit of the grant, courses partner with Kalamazoo community organizations/members and with each other. The collaboration includes SEMN 132 – Radical Belonging, SEMN 163 – About Us: Disability Stories/Disability Rights, SEMN 182 – Wheels of Change, ENGL 155 – Identities: Home and Belonging, CES 240 (Critical Ethnic Studies) – Language: The Colonial and Imperial Difference, and SEMN 495 – Finding a Home in the World. Instructors for each course will communicate how and when they will collaborate throughout the term.

When considering the effects of location and dislocation, we understand that these concepts impact students who, for any number of reasons, may feel displaced or out of place on a college campus. The project, then, seeks to construct a sense of home on and off campus. By erasing the distinction between the classroom and “real world,” we seek to embrace how ways of learning within the humanities can facilitate a space to think about and create collective futures.

Learning Commons and Academic Support

I strongly encourage you to become familiar with and make use of the Learning Commons, which includes the Writing Center; ESL support; New Media Design; peer instruction and support in Chemistry, Biology, Math, Physics, and Economics and Business; Learning Support Coaching; and more. See the Learning Commons site for more information.

Academic Integrity

This course operates under the College Honor System.  That means: we treat each other with respect, we nurture independent thought, we take responsibility for personal behavior, and we accept environmental responsibility. Academic honesty is a critical part of our value system at K.  When you borrow an idea, express the idea in your own words, thus thinking it through and making it your own, and acknowledge the source of the idea in a citation, or, in certain situations, use the exact words of the source in quotation marks and acknowledge with a citation. If you have any questions about citing sources, the acceptable use of secondary materials, or issues regarding collaborative vs. individual work, PLEASE ASK ME. I will send any cases of academic dishonesty to the Dean of Students’ office to be addressed according to College policy. For the full policy, see the academic dishonesty page.


If you are a student with a disability who seeks accommodation or other assistance in this course, please let me know as soon as possible. Kalamazoo College is committed to making every effort to providing reasonable accommodations. If you want to discuss your overall needs for accommodation at the College, and receive formal accommodations, please direct questions to Dana Jansma, Senior Associate Dean of Students, at (269) 337-7209 or through email at Dana.Jansma@kzoo.edu . For more information, please see the disability services page. This website also contains resources for assistive technologies and neurodivergent students.

Writing Competencies

The First-Year Seminar faculty has established the following goals for fostering writing competencies that will help prepare students for writing in discipline-specific courses in the major and, eventually, for writing the SIP. We hope that every first-year student will develop greater competency in these areas:

Achieving clarity through revision

  • stating and developing a thesis
  • writing coherent sentences and well-developed paragraphs
  • using correct grammar and mechanics
  • being conscious of overall structure and impact
  • becoming proficient at editing and proof reading
  • writing frequently to gain fluency
  • expressing ideas directly and economically

Constructing an argument using evidence

  • understanding the difference between opinion, argument, and evidence, and becoming aware of which of the three serves the writing project at hand
  • synthesizing others’ ideas with one’s own
  • using sources to support ideas and positions
  • using quoted materials effectively and correctly

Gaining experience in research strategies

  • understanding why doing research is important
  • learning how to do research, beginning with the earliest stages
  • putting newly gained knowledge and skills into practice
  • working as independent scholars and contributing to scholarly discourse throughout college and beyond

Cultivating an authentic and versatile style of written communication

  • discovering one’s own way into material
  • making deliberate choices about structure, style, and voice, with a distinct awareness of audience, context and impact
  • writing in a natural, straightforward style
  • demonstrating or developing authenticity and ownership of the work

Schedule Weeks 1-5

Please note that this schedule is always subject to change. You’ll find the most up-to-date version of our
class schedule on our class Teams site.

Week 1: Why We Ride

Week 1 Items Due

Response 1 by class time (11:55AM), Friday: “Why I Ride” (See Teams for the prompt)

Hornet Passport Portal Information must be completed

Topics of discussion (and questions to consider while reading):
What brings our authors—and each of us—to cycling? What have been the barriers to our cycling? What has encouraged or fostered it? Why does cycling matter to individuals and communities? How do we (and our authors) think and talk and write about the concrete physical and practical aspects of cycling? How and why does the bicycle evoke emotion and imagination? How can cycling function as a metaphor?

M: Complete the following readings (all available as .pdf files on Teams) before Monday’s class:
Rosen, “Bicycle Planet” from Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle; Jennifer Weiner, “First I Cried. Then, I Rode My Bike.” (NY Times); Colville-Anderson, “The Bicycle’s Role in Urban Life,” from Copenhagenize.

Tuesday, 9/13: 7-8PM on campus at the Arcus Center: Christina Anderson presents information about Kalamazoo cycling infrastructure to Kalamazoo Bicycle Club. Attendance required.

W: Reading: Rosen, “Personal History” from Two Wheels Good. Nepenthes, “Per Rotas Ad Astra” from Trans-Galactic Bike Ride.

F: Class meets at our regular time
Class visit to Open Roads [4-6PM; travel by bike if possible]

Mobility and Exclusion in the History of Cycling

Topics of discussion:
The “cycling craze” of the 1890s; women and cycling in the late 19th/early 20th centuries; Race, mobility, and cycling in the late 19th/early 20th centuries in the US.

Week 2: Gender

M: Reading: from the American 1890s: A Cultural Studies Reader: Marguerite Merington, “Woman and the Bicycle: (1895); Edna Jackson, “A Fin de Cycle Incident” (1896);

W: Reading: excerpts from Hannah Ross, Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels.

F: Group Ride (start at 11?)

**Sometime during Week 2: HILL Cluster Activity—A meal with a member of the “Finding a Home in the World” Senior Seminar. (You will take one of the seniors to lunch or dinner in the caf.)

Week 3: Race

Week 3 Items Due

Response 2 Due in class (11:55AM), Wednesday: Freedom and Suppression (See prompt on Teams)

HILL Cluster Activity: 11:00-11:45 AM on Monday: Meet, Connect, Reflect (Please watch short video “course introductions” on Teams before we meet). Location TBA.

M: Class Meets after the Cluster Activity. Reading: Nathan Cardon, “Cycling on the Color Line: Race, Technology, and Bicycle Mobilities in the Early Jim Crow South, 1887-1905.” (Technology and Culture Oct, 2021)

W: Tamika L Butler, “Why We Must Talk About Race When We Talk About Bikes” (Bicycling, Aug., 2020)

F: Project Work

City Planning, Bike Infrastructure, and Equity

Topics of discussion:
Bicycle urbanism; City planning perspectives on cycling; cycling as community-building; bringing an equity lens to non-motorized transportation/cycling infrastructure

Week 4

Week 4 Items Due

Response 3 Due in class (11:55AM), Monday

Tuesday by 11:55AM: Complete Beyond Google Assignment

M: Sadik-Khan, “How to Read the Street” from Street Fight and Montgomery, “Mobilicities I: how moving feels, and why it does not feel better; and Mobilicities II: freedom” from Happy City

W: Beyond Google Workshop—Class Meets in the Library

F: Group Ride (Start at 11?)

Week 5

Week 5 Items Due

Structured Reflection 1 Due in class (11:55AM), Wednesday

HILL Cluster Activity: 11:00-11:45 AM on Monday Structured Reflection with “Finding a Home in the World” Senior Seminar. Location TBA.

M: Class meets after Cluster activity. Reading: excerpts from Hoffman, Bike Lanes are White Lanes: Bicycle Advocacy and Urban Planning; Cycling for Sustainable Cities; and Colville-Anderson, Copenhagenize

W: Reading: Furth, “Bicycling Infrastructure for All” from Cycling for Sustainable Cities.

F: Fall Break. No classes today.

Overview of topics/assignments for the second half of the quarter
(details to come . . .)

Week 6: The Economics of Cycling

Topics of discussion: Transportation costs (individual and infrastructure); triple bottom line and “the good life”; Class and cycling; the cost of cycling; Bike shares

Readings: excerpts from Elly Blue, Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy; Elliot Fishman and Susan Shaheen, “Bikesharing’s Ongoing Evolution and Expansion” (in Cycling for Sustainable Cities);

Assignments: Policy Paper Draft Due; Peer Workshop and individual meetings

Homecoming Pathways Event

Week 7: Cycling for a Healthy Earth—the carbon footprint of cycling

Week 7 Items Due

Policy Paper Due

Topics of discussion: Environmental impact of cycling (on an individual and community level)

Readings: excerpts from: Peter Walker, How Cycling Can Save the World; “Can Portland be a Climate Leader without Reducing Driving?”; “The climate change mitigation impacts of active travel: Evidence from a longitudinal panel study in seven European cities”, Global Environmental Change (2021)

Week 8: Cycling for Healthy Humans—Health Impacts of Cycling; and Safety and Access Issues

Week 8 Items Due

Response 4 Due

Topics of discussion: How cycling impacts human physical and mental health; Bike safety education; Planning/infrastructure approaches to safer cycling; Safety and access for populations with specific concerns/needs including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Readings: (Students will select from these readings based on community-based projects): Garrard, Rissel, and Bauman, “Health Benefits of Cycling” (in Cycling for Sustainable Cities); Kay Inckle, “Disability, Cycling, and Health: Impacts and (Missed) Opportunities in Public Health”; Lenton and Finlay, “Public Health Approaches to Safer Cycling for Children based on Developmental and Physiological Readiness: Implications for Practice”; Pucher and Buehler, “Safer Cycling Through Improved Infrastructure”; and additional selections from Cycling for Sustainable Cities

Week 9: Cycling and Resistance

Week 10 Items Due

Structured Reflection 2 Due

Topics of discussion: Return to considerations of cycling as instrument of social justice

Readings: Brett Simpson,”Why Cars Don’t Deserve the Right of Way: The simplest way to make roads safer and reduce police violence at the same time” (The Atlantic 10/15/21); Jody Rosen, “The Bicycle as a Vehicle of Protest” (New Yorker 6/10/20); Martens, Golub, and Hamre, “Social Justice and Cycling” (in Cycling for Sustainable Cities)

Week 10: Presentations, Connections, Conclusions and Preparations

Week 10 Important Note

Project Reports, Photo Essay Contributions, and Presentations Due

Reading: from Copenhagenize; Koglin, Brömmelstroet, and van Wee, “Cycling in Copenhagen and Amsterdam” (in Cycling for Sustainable Cities)

Exam Week

Exam Week Items Due

Response 5 (writing reflection)

Giant Bikes at Col d’Aubisque in the French Pyrenees, representing the overall leader (yellow), King of the Mountains/climbing leader (polka dot) and sprint leader (green) in the Tour de France.
Photo: A Katanski, July 2022