Reflections on “The American Road Trip”

By Porter Reyes ‘25

At Pomona, every first-year student takes one of around 30 unique Critical Inquiry seminars to hone their writing skills. My Critical Inquiry seminar, The American Road Trip, was transformative for me as a writer and a thinker. Taught by Professor of Politics, and Coordinator of the Pomona Public Policy Analysis program, Susan McWilliams, the class was one I came to every day excited to discuss the readings, and I always learned a lot from my peers’ perspectives.

Route 66 graphic with mountain backgroundMy enthusiasm for the course is thanks to Professor McWilliams, who fostered intellectually riveting conversations every day and prioritized engaging with each of her students to help them grow as students and people despite her busy schedule. After each paper, Professor McWilliams gave one to two pages of typed feedback, which was invaluable for improving my writing. At the end of the course, we had an opportunity to compile a writing portfolio and reflect on how our writing evolved over the course of the semester. When I reviewed my pieces of writing throughout the semester, I noticed how Professor McWilliam’s feedback changed overtime; this enabled me to understand which aspects of my writing had improved and which still need work.

cover art for book Flaming Iguanas with woman on motorcycle pulling shirt downDuring class discussions, we explored the political and cultural aspects of American life that are revealed through stories about American road trips. We engaged with a combination of mediums, including books, films, graphic novels, and poetry. Some of my favorite works that we studied include Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing by Erica Lopez, and the Oscar-award-winning film Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao. During class discussions, we explored the political and cultural aspects of American life that are revealed through stories about American road trips.

I was thrilled by the variety of writing styles I had the opportunity to engage in this class. In particular, I enjoyed the creative writing prompts. Not only did they allow me to practice creative writing, a hobby I don’t find nearly enough time for, but they also enabled me to learn about the material in academically untraditional ways. For example, I wrote a fictional journalistic piece entitled “The Sexual Motivations of the Hell’s Angels,” where I tried to emulate Hunter Thompson’s style of Gonzo journalism, which gave me a better understanding of the medium than writing an analytical essay would have.

This course also taught me lessons about writing that will stick with me:

  • write with brevity
  • get your words as close as possible to the meaning you are trying to convey
  • beware of indistinct pronouns, and
  • consider competing perspectives in your writing to make your argument more nuanced.

photo from film Nomadland of character in lawn chairI am sad that my Critical Inquiry seminar is over, but I am so grateful for the knowledge I learned; it will serve me well throughout my life. Moreover, I am confident that my Critical Inquiry seminar has prepared me for the academic challenges I will face during the rest of my time at Pomona.