Students Get Past Glitter and Glamour of Las Vegas


In a new January Term course, Saint Mary's students are looking beyond the neon and fast living of Las Vegas to understand the evolution of America's fastest growing city.

Before traveling to "Sin City," the students are spending two weeks in the classroom examining Las Vegas' explosive population growth, diverse demographics, booming economy and the role that the labor movement has played in the gaming industry.

"I hope to give students a multidimensional vision of Las Vegas so that they will see it as more than comprising the Strip," said Professor Paola Sensi-Isolani. She said the class will explore how, in just over a century, Las Vegas has grown from a mere stop on the Santa Fe Trail to the world's largest tourist center.

In addition to reading "Learning from Las Vegas" by Robert Venturi, the students are reading articles about the city's poverty and homelessness, environmental issues and consumption patterns.

"It's such a unique city that's totally different than anywhere else in the United States," said senior Rozlyn Goff. "I think we have to see it to really experience it and it's nice to be able to build knowledge about Las Vegas before we go visit so we'll be able to take more away from the trip than if we went like normal tourists."

During their weeklong stay in Las Vegas, the students will tour sites including the Hoover Dam, a soup kitchen and Fremont Street, the original center of Las Vegas. By looking beyond the casinos and flashy shows, the trip is designed to focus on the city's popular archaeology, architecture and urban development.

"I have taken students to Mexico, Italy, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala during January Term, but I think this might be the most challenging and exotic of all the destinations," Sensi-Isolani said.

Sensi-Isolani, who has taught at Saint Mary's for 30 years and currently serves as the chair of the anthropology department, said she not only looks forward to teaching about Las Vegas but also learning about the area with her students.

"I think Las Vegas represents what is best and what is worst about American culture and its values," she said. "It is brash, innovative and creative. At the same time, it is exploitive, crass and commercial. It provides visitors with an escape and illusion that they may often confuse with reality."

--Kevin Damore
Office of College Communications