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Complex Problems Community | Course Descriptions

Professor: Robert Johnson

Course Number: GNED-140 (Foundational Area 4)

Meets: Wednesdays 11:20-2:10 p.m.

Harsh Justice: Life, Death, and Solitary Confinement

America leads the western world in the use of harsh punishments: life sentences, death sentences, and extended solitary confinement. Each of these punishments is a type of death penalty: life sentence prisoners are sentenced to die in prison, death sentence prisoners are sentenced to be killed in prison, and prisoners sentenced to extended terms in solitary confinement (often in notorious “Supermax” prisons) are sentenced to what has been described as a “living death.” As a general matter, conditions in American prisons are uniquely painful and degrading, and have been described by researchers as “dehumanizing” and “hellish,” and ultimately “un-survivable” in the face of widespread violations of human dignity. We will consider harsh sanctions, and the prison experience in general, from different points of view, drawing on the arts (primarily poetry) and the social sciences (primarily criminology).

Professor: Claire Griggs

Course Number: GNED-140 (Foundational Area 4)

Meets: Wednesdays 2:30-5:20 p.m.

13 Going on 30 - But Only Legally

Juvenile delinquency poses difficult and interesting problems for youth policy and criminal justice policy. This course looks at the misconduct of youths that brings them within the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts, and focuses on the complex problem of whether a youth will stay in the juvenile delinquency system or be waived and transferred to the adult criminal justice system. We will look specifically at the legal, social, and policy determinations and implications of that decision. The course will explore the intersection between legal and mental culpability that is critical to understanding the issue of waiver.

Professor: David Vine 

Course Number: GNED-130 (Foundational Area 3)

Meets: Tuesdays & Fridays 11:20-12:35 p.m.

What Happens if You Lose Your Homeland?

Millions of refugees are fleeing war and violence from Syria to Central America and far beyond. This course will examine one of the world’s least well-known refugee crises—the forced removal of the Chagossian people by the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia, an isolated Indian Ocean island. The class will use one case to explore topics of global significance including the effects and causes of forced displacement, the health consequences of homelessness, the environmental impacts of militarization, race and racism, and struggles against human rights abuses. Course participants will help create the world’s first archive about the Chagossian exile.

Professor: Jill Klein

Course Number: GNED-130 (Foundational Area 3)

Meets: Thursdays 8:10-11:00 a.m.

Students in this seminar will also take AUx

Are You A Digital Citizen?

Digital Citizenship broadly describes what it means to live in our networked world. The Internet fundamentally improves the economic and social life of anyone who gains access. But every click leaves a trace of our digital footsteps. What does this mean to us as individuals, as a community and as a global society? And what about those less fortunate, who may never experience the power of the Internet? How should we seek to engage these individuals? Our class will raise more questions than it answers but will heighten our understanding for the evolving challenges and opportunities on our digital planet.


Professor: Karl Kippola

Course Number: GNED-110 (Foundational Area 1)

Meets: Mondays & Thursdays 11:20-12:35 p.m.

Students in this seminar will also take AUx

Act Like a Man: The Performance of American Masculinities

This course will examine the search for and performance of ideal models of American manhood on theatrical, political, and social stages. Through investigating gender theory and masculinity studies, reading and analyzing plays, viewing theatrical productions and films, unpacking political posturing, and scrutinizing human behavior, we will explore, demystify, and question the ways in which public masculine figures manipulate, challenge, and reflect lives of American males. From our country’s first play to Hamilton, from the Founding Fathers to Donald Trump, this class will investigate the ways in which American men learn to behave and misbehave.


Professor: Benjamin Stokes

Course Number: GNED-140 (Foundational Area 4)

Meets: Mondays & Thursdays 9:45-11:00 a.m. 

Students in this seminar will also take AUx

Who is DC?

Modern neighborhoods face intense pressure to change, as suburban populations shift to the urban core. Local stories can be powerful, shaping the vision for growth – and demands for justice. Outsiders often miss the vibrant neighborhoods of DC, which have deep histories and distinctive cultures. Through fieldwork and analysis, we will investigate specific “neighborhood identities” in Washington. We will analyze trade-offs in local campaigns to make strong places, from “buy local” to tactical urbanism and spatial equity. The purpose of this course is to deepen our own relationship with DC, while building skills to analyze the complexities of neighborhoods for development and justice. 

Professor: Noemi Enchautegui-de-Jesus

Course Number: GNED-120 (Foundational Area 2)

Meets: Thursdays 11:20-2:10 p.m. 

Students in this seminar will also take AUx

Why is (Im)migration a Challenge?

One of the challenges to advancing the debate over immigration in the U.S. is the tension between those who are apprehensive and those who are optimistic about the impact of newcomers on the receiving society. Since migration characterizes the formation of the country, this tension has been evident through multiple migrant waves. This course will explore from multiple perspectives what makes migration in the U.S. a challenge for newcomers and for the receiving society. The scope of the course will span from the personal experience (e.g., why and how leave the home of origin, the stressors of acculturation, a sense of identity in the new homeplace), to the experience of integration in the receiving community (e.g., education, work, family, and neighborhood), and lastly, to the bidirectional impact of society on the migrant and the migrant on society through attitudes and policies.

Professor: Despina Kakoudaki

Course Number: GNED-110 (Foundational Area 1)

Meets: Tuesdays & Fridays 9:45-11:00 a.m.

Imagining the Future

How do we imagine the political structures, landscapes, challenges, and bodies of the future? This interdisciplinary course traces the visual, literary, and political implications of the way we have imagined the future through the 20th and 21st centuries. Exciting and revealing, our visions of the future reflect both our dreams and our biases, and express our desire for global collaboration, our fears of nuclear or environmental disaster, and our cultural and political aspirations and limits. Starting from science fictional dreams of the future in literature and film, our class will interrogate concepts of utopian and dystopian futurity, collective action, danger and heroism, community, nationalism, and globalization.