Felician University’s new Interdisciplinary Humanities Program Prism Paterson is now in full swing.

The unique course focuses on the Paterson of poets and painters, novelists, and musicians, who have contributed to the rich cultural tapestry of the Silk City, instead of on rising crime, homelessness, opioid addiction, or any other problems currently plaguing Paterson.

Felician English Professor and Paterson resident, Dr. Sherida Yoder, got the idea for the unique place-based course after realizing that many writers, past and present, from novelists John Updike and Junot Diaz, to poets Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams, are associated in some way or other with Paterson. 

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“I thought I could pull these together and make a nice course on the literature of Paterson,” says Dr. Yoder, “but when I heard about the possibility of the NIH grant, I realized we could do more.”

And with a $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) – Humanities Initiatives at Hispanic Serving Institutions Grant, which funds this innovative program, the first of its kind at Felician, they are indeed doing more. The Literature of Paterson is just the beginning, because Prism Paterson offers six place-based classes in the School of Arts & Sciences minor, and certificate programs on Paterson.

The beauty of Prism Paterson, Dr. George Abaunza, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences says, is that students aren’t just learning in a classroom or from a textbook but are “learning about a place by actively engaging in that place in that community.”

Prism Paterson will feature a wide array of interesting studies including an art course called Graphic Design, Photography, & Architecture in Paterson taught by Felician Associate Professor of Art, Michael Nyklewicz, who studied directly with famous Paterson photographer George Tice.

Community writing will also be a part of Prism Paterson when Associate English Professor Julie O'Connell teaches Community Writing in Paterson: Great Falls. Dr. Kristen Abbey will teach Travel Writing: Destination Paterson, as well as Texts and Contexts: Social and Cultural History of Paterson taught by Felician English Professor Dr. McParland.

There is a musical component as well when Professor Barbara Gordon will teach Paterson Music Culture Past & Present: Classic, Hip Hop, Rap, R&B & more.

Students enrolled in the course are excited by the opportunity to learn more about the significant artists who were inspired by the city which played a major role in the Early Industrial Revolution. 

While Felician student Pat Grossano, a Hasbrouck Heights native saw, “a lot of poverty and things broken down,” for the ten years she worked in Paterson, the pediatric intensive care nurse decided to take the Prism Paterson course saying that she decided that she wanted to see “a better view, or a bigger view of what Paterson was about.”

Former Garfield teacher, Jacqui Mirandi, loves the rich history of Paterson and said, “I would recommend this fabulous class to everyone.”

Currently, Prism Paterson students are studying the work of William Carlos Williams, the Rutherford physician/poet who wrote the epic, nearly six-volume poem Paterson. “My son lived in Rutherford and I’m quite aware of Williams,” says student Peter Clifford,“ but I've never studied his poetry in depth like we're doing now, it’s a lot of fun.”

Field trips will be involved as well, including a visit to Haledon’s National Landmark, The Botto House, where Emma Goldman made speeches in support of striking workers, and to the Paterson Museum which features many of the machines used at textile plants. An excursion to Paterson’s St Paul’s Church is also planned for when the class studies Updike’s novel the Beauty of the Lilies, which tells the story of Clarence Wilmot, a Paterson clergyman who faces a crisis of faith. And of course, Prism Paterson wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the magnificent Great Falls of Paterson.

Officially, Prism Paterson has a much longer academic title, and the alliteration of its working title wasn’t an accident, because as Dr. Yoder says, “You can look at Paterson in so many different dimensions and see so many different aspects of it. And it all comes together in a beautiful whole.”

“There is almost no part of American History or culture or economics or art, that can’t be studied through the prism of Paterson,” Dr. Abaunza concluded. “The idea is looking at the Humanities through the lens of the rich cultural and artistic history of Paterson.”