Upper Division Seminars

Two Upper Division Seminars (3 credits each) are required to graduate with Honors. Click for the dropdown menu to see the course description. Western professors can apply to teach an Honors seminar and each year, topics are chosen in a competition like fashion. Each seminar topic is offered no more than once every other year and is exclusive to Honors. Seminars typically have between 10 and 15 students.

Additionally, you can explore past years' seminars by clicking the below button to explore our archive.

Spring 2024

Thomas Hummel, Honors

Avoidance is an act of aloneness. Avoidance is stagnation or worse. Avoidance prefers prone to precaution, careless to cognizance, wounded to witness. And in our classrooms, our spaces of care and collaboration, when we avoid confrontations with cruelty, abuse, deprivation, and violation, when we choose not to interrogate violence and explicate damage, what we’re really doing is choosing—at our peril—present comfort over future capacity.

As an avoidance of avoidance, this course challenges the notion that safe spaces are built from safe materials. It is an exercise in existential encounter. It is an experiment in practice and proximity. We will engage our fears, histories, assumptions, and fragilities. We will develop a language of looking where we do not want to look. We will read together in silence. We will help. We will not have devices. There will not be a Canvas page. 

In every conceivable sense, the textual, visual, and auditory works we encounter will be difficult. They will cause discomfort. They will intimidate, unsettle, dismay. They will be intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally demanding. Through them, with one another, and in pursuit of collectivity alive with contemplation, we will use the time we have to reimagine presence, rethink confrontation, and redefine support.

Kathleen Brian, Honors 

A period of being away, of not-being-ness. Mental preoccupation or inattention, often with abnormal movements. Occasionally, with failure. Frequently want, lack, privation. A sudden loss or alteration of consciousness. An instance of this, as contrasted with presence.

Contemporary discourses are infused with imperatives of abundance, becoming, and flourishing.

Why, then, might we desire nullification?

When do we seek decay, vacuity, obliteration?

What possibilities might un-being reveal? How can we metabolize (in) a void?

Kamarie Chapman, Theatre 

This course will examine scripted performance (films/podcasts/plays/poetry/protests/sports/etc.) created by trans artists who live in the United States. Guided by the instructor, the course will engage participants to create the subjects studied in small collaborative groups, and require a final article, research dossier, or performance created by the individuals as a final. 

Sally Scopa, Art and Art History

For generations, to describe an artist’s work as “decorative” was to hurl at them the most bruising insult imaginable to members of the art world. To make work that was “decorative” was to make work that lacked conceptual rigor and was somehow “superficial”; work that departed from dominant art historical narratives of genius and purity; work that could easily be produced in multiple, or—more threateningly still—in community. In other words, to label an artist’s creative output as decorative was to imply that it fell outside the sphere of fine art and was in fact craft: a word negatively coded as “feminine” and “other”, for craft disciplines have historically been associated with women and non-western artists.

This studio seminar will explore the reasons behind the art/craft divide through reading and making. Our goals will be two-fold: the “seminar” portion of the course will be dedicated to understanding the political underpinnings of the art/craft divide, and why it arose in the first place. Our second overarching goal will be to understand the rigor and beauty of craft through making in the studio. In partnership with the Art Studio department, students will complete projects in three craft-based disciplines: shibori dyeing, ceramics, and natural pigment production. Students will acquire foundational knowledge in the chosen craft disciplines, and for their final project will create editioned works of art—i.e., each person will make a “limited edition” of an artwork that can be produced in multiple—using one or more of the techniques studied over the course of the semester. 

No prior experience in studio art is required for this course.

Jill Davishahl, Engineering and Design 

This hands-on, project-based course explores the past, present, and future of makerspaces through a lens of equity and inclusion. The course will provide an overview of makerspaces, the act of making, and associated technologies. Students will examine the traditional technocentric masculine nature of maker culture and will work to deconstruct existing stereotypes by encouraging & inviting new types of making. Using current research and best practices as a guide, students will brainstorm ways to diversify making and create inclusive maker cultures. The class is centered in the physical act of making and will involve a quarter-long, hands-on project. No prior knowledge of maker related equipment or technology required. 

Tracey Pyscher, Secondary Education

Trauma is having a moment. Generations of researchers have exposed the capacity of systemic, intellectual, and popular discourses that contribute to reproducing the inequities of US society in relation to theorizing trauma. In this course, the category of trauma is not taken for granted but rather is unraveled and interrogated to assess the political and cultural work that trauma does especially in relation to our bodies, our social and cultural, and psychic experiences.  In designing final projects, students will move towards envisioning new conceptualizations of trauma based on their unique interdisciplinary interests. The course is a co-facilitated conversation between the professor and students.  

Tom Moore, Honors 

The relative void left by the diminished influence of Christianity in the late 20th c. opened up new ways of thinking about the transcendent, whether one thinks of it as the sublime, the Brachman, Jehovah, the Way or the great goddess.  Some of the texts we’ll read are T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, Hesse’s Siddhartha, and Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies.  As before, we’ll hear speakers representing a variety of religious traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Zen Buddhism, and others.   We’ll also screen films like Paths of the Soul and look at several of Joseph Campbell’s DVDs from The Power of Myth.

Paul Kearsley, Design 

This course will explore the unique paradigm of Systems Thinking; an interdisciplinary integration of perspectives from the natural and social sciences. Studying these emergent self-organizing patterns reveals system-level models and insights that allow for a deeper understanding of emergent behavior.  Coursework will focus on non-linear analysis of such systems including schematics, mapping, flow charts and diagrams as well as readings and written responses. 

Madison Nelson, Physics 

The world we live in has immense diversity in organism structure and function. While a wild flower appears vastly different than the human body, the underlying physics, which govern the form and function of each, are the same. Both are confined to the same building blocks on the periodic table and both are bound to the same physical laws. These physical laws guide how life is formed and grows. From how large a blue whale is, to how tall a tree may grow, all of these can be studied through a lens of physics. Because at the core, physics is the study of the fundamentals of the universe. 

In this seminar, we will examine how to recast the understanding and fundamentals of physics to more complex and nontraditional systems such as the human body. While these systems are dynamic and multifaceted, we will be using toy models and simplifications to look at the basic fundamentals of what drives processes. We will start on the microscopic scale and transition out to see how the physical constraints of the microscopic influences the macroscopic 

form and function. We will explore how to study the human body through delving into core physics topics such as entropy, diffusion and Brownian motion. Through the simplification of the systems, an understanding of underlying fundamental physics processes which govern everything in the universe will be gained. 

Summer 2024

Tristan Goldman, Honors 

A meditation upon the conceptual framework believed (by some) to be required to sustain a set of civil liberties meant to be shared by all.

Fall 2024

Lori Martindale, Honors

In this seminar, we will delve into Magical Realism in literature, folklore, fairy tales, musical ballads, and the visual arts (painting, book illustration, and film). Magical realism is an artistic way of storytelling characterized by inclusion of the mythical, with elements of folklore and fairy tales into a blend of the realistic and fantastic in art and fiction. Here, magic intervenes every day, and two or more realms coexist... We will read the magical realism stories of Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, Italo Calvino, Leslie Marmon Silko, and magical realism “fairy tale” retellings by Angela Carter and Eowyn Ivey. We will also study folktales and magical “wonder tales” from around the world, such as “The Vampire Skeleton,” (Iroquois) “The Magic Hat,” “Corpse Watchers” (Ireland), “Night Troll” (Iceland), “The Ghost at Fjelkinge” (Sweden), “The Witch”, “How the Milky Way Came to Be,” (Africa), and influential works like “The Snow Queen,” (Russia); “The Glass Casket,” (Italy),  “The Fairy Serpent” (China), “The Werewolf” (England), as well as other fairy tales and magical realism texts. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will also be studied. Students will work on journal writing throughout the quarter, and a research paper or their own creative project.

Julie Dugger, Honors

The distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is a slippery and shifting one, with genre fiction maybe best defined as everything that gets a separate name and shelf in the bookstore (mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, Western, horror, etc.). Literary fiction is often described as more culturally significant and less formulaic than genre fiction, but this distinction doesn’t always hold up under examination. Literary fiction can be formulaic, genre fiction maintains a massive cultural presence, works considered insignificant in one period may be defined as canonical in another, and literary and genre writers regularly borrow from one another’s material. So why the separate bookshelves and different assessments of quality?    

This class will examine how we establish a body of literature, a readership, or a set of cultural expectations by considering genre fiction: what it is, what it does, and how it compares to literary fiction. We’ll take a close look as a class at the genres of romance (which is often stereotyped as the lowest of low fiction) and fantasy, including fictional, critical, and contextual readings. We’ll then use these as a starting point for discussions about other genres.    

Writing assignments will include two short papers (one a critical analysis and the other either critical analysis or creative fiction) and a revision of one of these papers as a final.

Paul Dunn, Honors

Advances in biomedical technology have introduced new ethical questions into our lives and greatly complicated decision-making with regard to medicine and health care.  The social, political, and economic ramifications of these issues also touch on broader questions of justice, equity, and personal freedom.  

During this course we will become familiar with some of the major debates in biomedical ethics, hone the analytical and critical thinking skills required for understanding, articulating, and evaluating the moral arguments behind them, and become more adept at arguing for our own views on these subjects.  Along the way, we will also be reflecting on what it means to live ethically.  

Some of the questions we will explore in this course include:   

  • Should people have a right to terminate their own lives under certain circumstances, and what obligations should medical doctors have to assist or prevent this?    

  • Should parents be allowed to influence the genetic make-up of their unborn children?    

  • Should we learn everything we can about our individual genetic make-up, regardless of whether we can do anything about it?  Does an individual have an absolute right to privacy regarding such information?    

  • How should limited medical and health care resources be allocated—including in pandemic situations—and what role should individual freedom and personal responsibility have in those considerations?    

In exploring questions like these we will draw on sources from philosophy, the social sciences, and medical literature for a variety of perspectives.  Course requirements will include small weekly writing assignments, class participation, two short papers, and a longer final paper. 

Dan Pollard, Biology

This course surveys the field of human genetics and applies this knowledge to critically examine the history of scientific argumentation for human oppression and liberation. Research in the 21st century has radically rewritten our understanding of human biological and genetic variation. This new paradigm provides an opportunity to modify our perspectives on the meaning and accuracy of human categorization. Through this lens we will interpret the history of scientific reasoning about race, sex, gender, and ability as falling on the spectrum of oppression to liberation. We will also discuss ongoing gaps in our understanding of human genetics and what role science may play in the struggle for social justice in the future. 

Virginia Dawson, Linguistics

In this discussion-based seminar students will explore the fundamental connections between language and the law from the perspective of linguistics (the scientific study of language). The law is entirely dependent on language: legislation and contracts are written in language, testimonies are given in language, and crimes can be committed via language. But languages are complex cognitive systems that differ significantly across communities and individuals, radically complicating the picture. We consider how language and the law intersect in a variety of ways and discuss how the field of linguistics can inform both how language is viewed within our legal system and how language rights can be better implemented. 

Jill MacIntyre Witt, Health and Human Development

This seminar course provides weekly discussions and assignments around a variety of topics to help understand climate emotions, ultimately leading to the creation of a personalized climate wellness action plan. Students will examine their place in the world beginning with understanding implicit bias and how it relates to our position in society and our sphere of influence for change. Students will discover the breadth of climate emotions and how to navigate them and the role of climate emotions in climate justice work and looking at climate justice and what this means. We will also explore what activism entails and doesn’t regarding climate anxiety. We will examine positive psychology and how it relates to taking action as well as other interdisciplinary approaches to motivation, behavioral change, stress management, and building resiliency, wellness and habits. Students will develop personalized climate wellness action plans to present to the class to aid in accountability. Some of the questions we will explore include: What kinds of emotions do you encounter around the climate crisis? What are your personal strengths and values? How do you navigate through challenges on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? What are priorities for personal health and wellness, community, society, and the planet? What is your sustainable plan of action?

Liz Mogford, Sociology

The media is inundated with images and stories of global inequities and injustice, and witnessing the pain and suffering of people and the planet creates cognitive, emotional, and spiritual dissonance. As a result, many conscientious, empathetic individuals feel compelled to do something about the injustices they learn about or witness. This course contextualizes and problematizes Westerners’ drive to ‘save the world’, weaving a tapestry that links good intentions with the Savior Industrial Complex. We will study how the modern manifestation of global charity is a byproduct of the social construction of race, which itself is tied to the doctrine of discovery and colonialism. We will investigate the historical Western premise that the philosophies, epistemologies (ways of knowing), and ontologies (ways of being) of the Western world are superior, and therefore should be imposed upon (colonialism) or offered (development aid), to the rest of the world. The goal is to scaffold individuals’ instincts and urges to help/fix/aid with a deep questioning of motives, enabling us to evaluate why we want to help whom, where, when and how. We will work towards each student situating their identity and positionality in a global movement built upon principles of equity and justice. The course readings will primarily be voices and authors from the Global South and/or individuals who have been on the receiving end of saviorism. Class will be structured as interactive and discussion-based, focusing on history, cultural manifestations of saviorism in art/film/writing, case studies, potential solutions, and a field trip to Seattle to visit local and global nonprofit organizations.

Will Makoyiisaaminaa, Elementary Education 

Annaikowa [respect] - respect for self; respect for spomitapiiksi [above beings], naatoyitapiiksi [spirit beings], ksahkomitapiiksi [Earth beings], soyiitapiiksi [water beings]; respect for land, water, air; respect for others 

Kimmapiiyipitsinni ([compassion]) kii ([and]) isspomotsisinni ([sharing and support]) [reciprocity] - being accountable to all relationships 

Isskanaitaptssti [relationality] - being in relationship, connected to all natural and supernatural alliances 

The foundations of Indigenous communities are built on annaikowa [respect], kimmapiiyipitsinni kii  isspomotsisinni [reciprocity], and isskanaitaptssti [relationality]; walking on our journey with Aloha. Since time immemorial, Indigenous communities have lived, thrived, survived, persisted, and shown remarkable resilience in spite of the impacts of colonization, Christianity, erasure, and trauma. Through readings written by Indigenous writers, conversations, Indigenous ceremonies, Indigenous medicines, indigenous circle protocols, Indigenous storywork, Indigenous visitors, instructional presentations, group research, group projects, and group presentations/demonstrations/celebrations, we will explore the interrelation of the individual aspects of respect, reciprocity, and relationality, as well as their intersection within historical and contemporary contexts. Throughout this course, participants will gain a deep understanding of respect, reciprocity, and relationality through the coursework, through the stories of our guests, through Indigenous storywork, through place and time, and through the experiences of group work.

Francisco Laso, Environmental Studies

Have you ever wondered how the extraction of natural resources in Latin America affects the environment, society, and economy? Using case studies like oil, minerals, fishing, and industrial agriculture, this course delves into Latin America's extractivism and its alternatives. It focuses on building a systemic perspective of extractive industries and their environmental, social, and economic impacts. The course uses texts and video documentaries to explore the historical context for the exploitation of natural resources in Latin America, as well as ways that people are resisting extractive economies and re-imagining our relationship with the Earth and each other. By taking this course, you will learn how to use systems thinking, engage in critical discussions, and conduct literature review to explore the ecological, social, and economic dimensions of a specific resource and region of your choice. 

Winter 2025

Kathleen Brian, Honors 

Upon request. Into crater. Into sea. Off house. Off wall. Off top of monument. By coal. By arsenic. From boat. From bridge. From cliff. From the Whispering Galley. Afterwards, in imitation, in much the same manner. 

Tim Kowalczyk, Chemistry/ AMSEC/ IES 

Smart contracts are the engines powering several emerging cultural phenomena, including decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), digital artwork expressed as nonfungible tokens (NFTs), and decentralized finance. These contracts typically reside and operate on a public blockchain. What is a blockchain, anyway? A glorified database? The foundation of a new monetary system? A wasteful environmental crisis in the making? This course aims to bring students from any discipline together to study the evolution of smart contract technologies and to examine current narratives around the societal, political, and environmental implications of smart contract adoption. Through cross-disciplinary analysis and experiential learning, we will explore the current capabilities and limitations of smart contracts while critically assessing how effectively they are achieving the visions of their developers. 

Melanie Bowers, Political Science/ Honors

In academia we often focus on the myriad problems facing society. While this is important, it can also skew our perspective and make us think that the world is irreparably broken. In reality, governments, organizations and private citizens work every day at all levels to improve things. In this course, we will explore the ways that institutions and individuals can, and do, create change. Through academic and popular texts, podcasts, and documentaries we will work to answer key questions like how we define problems and who gets to identify solutions, how those without power find influence, the mechanisms that facilitate systemic change, and the everyday tools that average people can access to alter the environments and situations they face. Through theory and real-world examples, we will evaluate tools for change that range from social media campaigns to long-term community organizing. By looking at these tools and case studies of change, we will also interrogate a central question: is it better to work within the system or try to tear it down? Although we will explore these topics in a US context, many of the theories and ideas we explore have broad applicability and students will have the opportunity to explore international contexts through their class assignments. This class does not assume prior knowledge, but students will be asked to reflect on their life experience as we move through class content.

Imran Sheikh, Environmental Sciences

Solving the climate crisis requires an understanding of science, technology, economics, human behavior, and communication strategies. Energy is inherently an interdisciplinary area of study and understanding our energy options and their implications requires diverse perspectives and whole-systems thinking in order to find lasting solutions. This seminar aims to rapidly cover the causes of climate change and the necessary components of equitable and durable solutions. In this course, we will synthesize these components of climate solutions and apply them to a real-world policy or design problem.

Tori Talkington, Fairhaven

STEM research produces compelling and meaningful data but is often portrayed in mediums lacking emotion and creativity. Quantitative research does not need to be removed from tactile or interactive tools like printing, mixed media, animation, and textile design. In fact, the integration of art and research deepen our understanding and connection to both fields. This course is designed to explore the intersection between scientific research and art, helping us to communicate academic topics with passion and creativity. The course will push students to articulate ideas in new and unique ways.  Students learn material composition, sourcing, and the process of making art from a scientific framework, gaining unique exposure to techniques based in chemistry and biology such as metal-working, biomaterial creation, botanical printing, microscopy, and fabric dying.  

Weekly readings and activities dictate discussions, where students address such topics as race representation and biases in medical depictions, sustainability of the scientific process, cultural relevance and appropriation in art making, using biomimicry in mixed media, and AI in the art field.  Students are expected to create art, conveying their own research or academic interest.  This course merges cases studies, seminar style discussion, a quarterly field trip, and studio art making. No prior experience in studio art is required for this course.

Johann Neem, History

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the history of Black political thought in America. The course will explore African American political thought from a variety of perspectives, emphasizing how Black thinkers engaged with each other and with the central questions of American history: race, gender, democracy, equality, and belonging. During the quarter, we will analyze the core questions African American political thinkers asked and how their questions illuminate the limits and possibilities of American democracy. 

Mary Erickson, Communication Studies

This course investigates the concept of celebrity through case studies of two powerful women in the music industry, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Both are involved in music, film, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and politics, and generate an intense amount of conversation among fans, in the popular press, and in academic circles. The intense success, visibility, and career longevity of both women signals a meaningful moment to explore the cultural meanings of celebrity. The overall objective of this course is to develop students’ critical media literacy skills by examining two globally celebrated artists and public figures who have become cultural phenomena in their own right. We will learn how to apply the lessons of our Bey/Tay analyses to our understanding of celebrity and media more broadly. 

R. Mata, Modern and Classical Languages/ Linguistics

This project-based course delves into the sociolinguistic underpinnings of contemporary discourse, exploring how language functions as both a reflection and shaper of popular culture, we all as a unique lens through which we can analyze societal dynamics, identity formation, and power structures. In this course you will explore how language manifests in diverse cultural artifacts (e.g., popular song lyrics, reality television, board games, film, television series), media platforms (e.g., social media, Netflix), and communication practices (e.g., resemiotisation and recontextualization), gaining insights into the multifaceted ways in which language influences and is influenced by the broader cultural landscape of the 21st century. 

Ernest Hartwell, Modern and Classical Languages

As History has traditionally recorded perspectives of dominant and victorious groups, colonial literature such as Sigüenza y Góngora’s Infortunios de Alonso Ramírez (1690) and Basarás’s Origen, costumbres y estado presente de mexicanos y filipinos (1763) proves useful in preserving a multiplicity of popular voices. Both of these texts also bridge a space I call the “Spanish Pacific,” a network of symbolic and concrete exchanges between the Philippines and Mexico, the terminals of the Manila Galleon maritime trading path (16th-19th centuries). The theoretical framework of this class centers “gossip” as a tool to understand the constructiveness and divisiveness of “chisme,” “tsismis,” and “hearsay” on Spain’s colonial frontiers, drawing from methods and texts in anthropology, sociology, history, and literature, while training students to understand and analyze both primary and secondary source documents from the 16th to the 21st centuries. The students’ final project will be to compose a fictional or factual autoethnography of life at Western, in Bellingham, or in another community or subculture that is important for them, employing methods of cultural analysis studied in class to critically engage with theoretical debates on gossip, popular culture, and insurgent subjectivities. 

Brandon Dupont, Economics

This seminar will explore one of the most contentious and important issues of our time: the future of capitalism.  To understand the future of our market-based economic system requires that we understand its evolution over time, and the impact that a market economy has on a variety of key indicators of social and economic well-being.  Market economies have on the one hand generated levels of wealth and prosperity that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors.  But when they are not adequately regulated, free markets can cause considerable harm. In this seminar, we explore questions like: To what extent is inequality a natural outcome of capitalism?  Does a free-market system work in a world of automation and artificial intelligence?  If so, what kinds of regulations are required?  If not, what alternative economic systems should we be considering?  Previous coursework in economics would be helpful but is not required. 

Derek Moscato, Journalism

From the 2024 Olympics in Paris to North America’s 2026 World Cup of Soccer, global sport pursued at professional and amateur levels serves as a conduit through which to understand larger economic, cultural, and media systems. This is underscored by the political economy generated by professional associations like the Premier League, LIV Golf, Formula One, the National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball; and the diplomatic efforts of international sport institutions such as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the Olympic Games Organizing Committee, the International Cricket Council, and the International Ice Hockey Federation. More recently—and locally—it is emphasized by the multibillion-dollar investments made by public and private stakeholders to bring major sporting events to the cross-border Cascadia region, including the upcoming World Cup in Seattle and Vancouver, and British Columbia’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2010.

Using global sport as a relevant and evolving touchstone for students, this class draws from the political economy of media paradigm, which includes broadcasting rights, marketing, labor, branding, merchandise, and larger media convergences. Given this focus on media, audiences and nations, this course also connects sport to public diplomacy, which is defined as communicating strategically on behalf of nations in order to establish dialogue and influence international publics. The facilitation of sporting exchange highlights the role of sport in mediating national relations between nations from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Spring 2025

Arna Elezovic, Honors/ History

What is time? We all experience time, and never seem to have enough of it. Historians categorize human activity through time into eras, epochs, periods, and ages. Timelines represent events and things on a linear scale simplified scale, one which implies a sense of progression. And our western calendar is culturally Christian because it contains a moment of rupture with the birth of Jesus, with a distinct before and after division of time (BC/AD). We use clocks, watches, phones, calendars, schedules, and other measurements of time to dictate the rhythm and sequence of events in life. But why? How and when did we agree upon these conventions to organize ourselves and society? How has the idea of time evolved in history? How and why do we perceive time differently depending on what we do during the day? 

There are no ready answers to those questions. This course will serve as a preliminary investigation, so you have historical context to find your own answers to those questions. The course will approach the history of time from a western civilizational perspective, but we will compare those conventions to other global systems and practices. Readings will be historical texts, selections from work by scientists, and other media. Coursework will be discussions with some writing to assist in the endeavor to understand the complexity of time. Final projects can be creative and in the media of your choice.

Thomas Hummel, Honors

Given the deadlines and commitments that plague our creative lives, it’s difficult to see beyond the project at hand. If only for momentum, we chisel and chase whatever we’re working on, then chisel and chase the next. And so it goes, one by one.  

But in the going, something comes. As our compositions accumulate—each with its own form, subject, and concern—the individual works create content that they don’t contain. They give glimpses of unwritten ideas and preoccupations. Futures, pasts. Just be sheer proximity, by being placed alongside one another, our stand-alone pieces combine to shape a larger project. They build our bodies of work. 

This class, as both creative writing workshop and exploratory seminar, will consider the intricacies, pitfalls, and excitements of developing and understanding our bodies of work. Alongside the critique and creation of original compositions, students will undertake a quarter-long dialogue with a specific artist’s body of work, navigating and dissecting its inner workings. The combination of these pursuits will provide opportunities to identify primary concerns and inquires, determine which forms and methods best serve those concerns, and cultivate new modes of critical assessment. 

Kamarie Chapman, Theatre and Dance

In a world shaped by the countless advancements of Artificial Intelligence (AI), its impact on society is undeniably profound. Amidst the myriad of perspectives that range from skepticism to unwavering enthusiasm, the role of AI in the realm of art, particularly in the Performing Arts, has garnered significant attention. Over the past five years, AI has not only been creating art alongside artists but has also taken the center stage, raising ethical dilemmas that demand exploration and research. This course is designed as a community-informed exploration of the ethical dimensions surrounding the integration of AI in the Performing Arts. As we delve into the ethical considerations, we will grapple with questions about the impact of AI on artistic expression, creativity, and the role of the artist.

Jeanine Amacher, Chemistry

Targeted genome editing by CRISPR/Cas9 technology is revolutionizing molecular biology and drug discovery. Until 2012, the ability to edit the genomes of living human cells was incredibly challenging, time-consuming, and prone to technically fatal errors. However, a paper published in the journal Science from Drs. Jennifer Doudna (UC Berkeley) and Emmanuelle Charpentier (then at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Sweden) revealed the mechanism of adaptive bacterial immunity from RNA viruses, whereby bacteria incorporate viral DNA into their genomes using CRISPR sequence repeats and the enzyme Cas9. Using the same molecular components, CRISPR/Cas9 can be used to successfully edit the genomes of most organisms, with dramatic consequences for scientific research, human health and disease, agricultural uses, de-extinction, etc. The first drug using CRISPR/Cas9, for sickle cell anemia, was approved by the FDA in 2023, and Doudna/Charpentier shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discoveries. Considering that most new drug development pipelines can take much longer, this spotlights how quickly the technology is being embraced. With that comes some very interesting questions.

Specifically, who makes the rules for how genome editing should proceed in society? What should those rules be? Goals/objectives of the course: In this course, we will focus on both past emergent technologies in molecular biology, as well as genome editing specifically, to guide our formation of “guidelines for the appropriate use of genetic engineering using CRISPR/Cas9 technology.” Although CRISPR/Cas9 will be our core focus, we will also discuss artificial intelligence, another rapidly expanding technology with important cultural, political, and biological applications. Together, we will propose, discuss, and revise our guidelines by thinking about genome editing from both scientific and ethical viewpoints.

Melissa Osborne, Sociology

This seminar will explore the ways in which the social world is explored, reflected, contested, and subverted through video games and gaming. As with other forms of media, video games can be understood as a reflection of social life that can be engaged and analyzed to better understand the social world and the lived experiences of those within in. The lens of a game provides the player with a new avenue for understanding and thinking through the social world it depicts. In addition, games provide a valuable window into the relationship between rules, constraints, order, and disorder that invite thought about formal, historical, cultural, and sociopolitical dimensions of game and its role as a mechanism for critique and representation in society.

This class will explore topics like the role and status of games in society, the development of video games across different digital mediums, how games are situated culturally, the representation and (dis)inclusion of identity in games, game design and social impact, the role of community in game play and development, race, gender, and sexuality within games and the game design world, and the future of game design. We will leverage the lens provided by a variety of video games to explore themes around inequality and stratification, identity formation, race and racism, gender and sexualities, childhood and youth, capitalism and the state, surveillance and social control, forms of violence, resistance, global warming, public health, and immigration. In addition to more traditional course readings and discussion, this class will include a significant amount of individual and group gameplay both in and outside of class. Prior experience or specific gaming platforms not required.

Andrew Blick

In this seminar, we will explore the intersections of technology, discourse, and information design. Beginning with reading definitions and foundational works that attempt to describe the nature of technology, we will draw from interdisciplinary perspectives to consider how technology shapes our interactions with the world. We will use methods from discourse studies and rhetoric to explore the role technology plays in language and communication and we will analyze our varied relationships with new media and emerging technologies.

Assignments will include reflections, class participation, and an individual research project. Students will conduct academic research on an area of study related to the course themes and their individual interests. This course is a writing proficiency course (WP3) and will include discussions on writing strategies and revisions of written assignments.

Course Learning Objectives (CLOs)  

Students will be able to...  

  • Explore interdisciplinary perspectives on technology, discourse, and design.  

  • Analyze the principles of user-centered design and design thinking.  

  • Implement strategies for analyzing technological and design artifacts.  

  • Consider how technology can create equitable and justice-centered spaces.  

  • Research a topic of interest related to the course themes and individual academic interests. 

Tracey Pyscher, Secondary Education

In this seminar, we will explore the ways that race and childhood experiences of trauma intersect in the exploding US prison population. We will investigate how this narrative does not begin in our nation’s penitentiaries, but begins in our nation’s schools. The goal of this course is to understand and then deconstruct how these pipelines emerge and are sustained. Emphasis is on issues of power and institutionalized racism and trauma including the educational segregation and attempted deculturalization of historically racialized/minoritized and youth from domestic violence-marginalized groups and how these realities create and sustain school-to-prison pipelines (STPs). Philosophical, legal, cultural and ethical perspectives related to STPs are explored as honor seminar students develop critical awareness of issues and their own philosophies for dismantling school-to-prison pipelines through a final project design from their respective fields of study/programs, in-class debates, and other discussion formats. Guiding questions include: 

How did we get here? How are school-to-prison pipelines created and sustained? 

Who are the players in the creation and sustainability of school-to-prison pipelines?  

What are the major factors in the emergence and sustainability of school-to-prison pipelines? 

What are the future implications of school-to-prison pipelines for marginalized communities and the country as a whole?  

What now? How do you envision dismantling school-to-prison pipelines from your respective fields of study? 

Tom Moore, Honors/ History

This course will dip into the world of fairy tales, from the vignettes of the Grimms’ Brothers to the folk tales of China and Africa, with stopovers in Bettelheim’s Uses of Enchantment and an anthology of creation myths from around the world.  Simply put, human beings are inherently story tellers, the most ancient of which are those that explore the child’s subconscious or those that ask why is something rather than nothing? There will be writing, possibly thinking, and definitely talking. 

Jennifer Devenport, Psychology

One of the most common forms of evidence presented in a criminal trial is eyewitness testimony - testimony provided by a victim or bystander that describes what they observed. Although the American criminal justice system has established numerous safeguards to prevent the conviction of innocent individuals, an increasing body of evidence has shown that eyewitness memory is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.  This seminar will explore the fallibility of human memory and will use a scientific lens to discuss how the legal system can reduce the errors that have led to wrongful convictions in legal cases. We will also explore the impact of mistaken eyewitness identifications on those who have identified the wrong suspect as well as those who have been wrongfully identified and convicted. 

Susan DeBari, Geology

This seminar provides a multidisciplinary look at how volcanic eruptions have played an integral role in shaping Earth, life, civilizations, cultural traditions, climate, economic systems, and even art and literature. Four main themes of the course will be developed through student discussions of relevant readings from the popular scientific press, review articles and book chapters, and cultural storytelling. These themes are as follows: 1) Volcanism and development/eradication of life on Earth are intricately entwined; 2) Volcanism has impacted culture and society (powerful mythology in religion, the fall of civilizations; 3) Volcanism has and will continue to impact climate (which in turn affects economic and political systems); 4) Human/political/educational decision-making strongly affects the impacts of volcanic eruptions on nearby populations. Students will help develop discussion prompts for discussion leaders and will be asked to produce two open-ended writing projects.