Undergraduate Symposium 2013

The 2013 Undergraduate Symposium “American Controversies” presented a wide range of controversial topics that concern today’s America and was aimed at fostering the understanding of the complexities of American politics, culture, and literature.

Below you can find the participants’ abstracts for their presentations.


  • What shapes American Political Behavior?
The aim of our project was to determine what shapes American Political Behavior. Due to the recent election we had a special focus on voting behavior- why do people vote for one party over the other? In order to examine this issue we split into two groups, one argued that political behavior was influenced by politics more than anything else, the other group instead said that in reality politics was all about the economy. We used four different swing states as case studies- Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia, in order to reflect the diversity of American politics.
  • The Latino Vote in the Election 2012
They are united by its common origin and divided by its different nationalities: The Latinos. In the last decades they emerged as one of the largest minority and fastest growing population group in the US. Therefore, the Latinos had a significant influence on the outcome of the presidential election 2012. A total of 71% of the Hispanic voters helped President Obama to stay in the White House. In our presentation we showed that those 71% did not only cast their ballots for Barack Obama, because of his racial background, but also because they perceive him as a Common Man, who is able to see their true social needs. To prove this assumption we chose three particular groups with different characteristics, interest and motives: Women, young Latinos and Catholics
  • Someone had to go, and Anna took my place” – Bioethical issues and the dysfunctional family in Jodi Picoult’s novel “My Sister’s keeper”
Organ donation is a serious topic, in every country in the world. And while the waiting list of patients hoping for a matching organ is long, The list of available donors is incredibly short. Some diseases can be only treated or cured by the help of a genetically matching donor. However, as statistics show, such donors are very rare. Today though, using modern reproductive technologies, it is made possible for parents of a child suffering from a genetic disease, to conceive another child that could be a genetically matching donor. Such a child is called a ‘savior sibling’ and the technology used to create such a genetically matching sibling is referred to as PGD, or preimplantation genetic diagnosis. The creation of a savior sibling with the aid of PGD has spurred a major public debate since it raises everal ethical issues. While all savior siblings born until now have donated only cord blood, many people fear that, if not regulated properly, reproductive technologies such as PGD could escalate. Fears also concern the potential negative impacts on the physical and emotional welfare of the savior sibling and the possibility that such a child may be used instrumentally, as an object or “harvest crop”. In “My Sister’s Keeper” (2004), Jodi Picoult plays exactly with this public fear. In the novel, Sara and Brian Fitzgerald decide to conceive Anna in the hope that she will be able to save her leukemia-stricken sister Kate. For Anna, however, medical procedures do not end with the umbilical cord and she becomes a regular donor for her sister until she is faced with the request to donate one of her kidneys. In the presentation given by Jana Müller, Katharine Hinz, Patricia Schumacher, and Xiaofeng Feng, major themes and metaphors that appear in the novel are analyzed and it is argued that Anna’s death at the end of the novel is portrayed to be unavoidable since she has to fulfill her purpose as a savior sibling.
  • Complexity of Hispanic Representation in the US
Hispanics are the biggest and fastest growing minority in the United States, they make up close to 17% of the total population. Hispanics are mostly received as an uneducated and impoverished minority group, their population growth is seen as a threat to some Americans who are mostly afraid of losing Anglo – Saxon traditions. This image is strongly influenced by the continues problem of illegal immigration. In the last decade, this utterly negative image of Hispanics has gained a positive twist. New trends show that more and more Hispanics have entered the middle class. Being able to afford consumer goods, such a house, a car and insurance, Hispanics are able to portray themselves in a better position, shedding a better light on the American identity. Our research proves that even though more Hispanics entered the Middle Class, the broad Hispanic population does not have equal access to the American mainstream. Due to limited educational opportunities Hispanics are not able to actively represent their culture. Partially Hispanics have been able to present their culture through murals and Hispanic literature, such as poems by Alurista. But the image of Hispanics created by marketing and cooperations through stereotype dominate the Hispanic representation.