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University College Courses

In UC, students enroll in a Complex Problems seminar chosen specifically for this Living-Learning Community. The seminar satisfies one of your first AU Core requirements, introducing you to university-level inquiry. Students in UC ask and answer tough questions in a friendly and encouraging academic environment.


University College Cohorts 

Read below to discover the 8 cohorts of seminars. Use the course descriptions to identify your top choice seminars for Fall 2018. When you get to AU, you will live on the same floor as the students within your cohort. For now, choose your favorite seminars from any area!

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Enroll in UC

1) Read the UC seminar descriptions for Fall 2018
2) Choose six seminars that interest you
3) Fill out the form located on your MyAU Portal
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Global Citizenship - A

Slavery, or human trafficking in contemporary language, is one of the most controversial and enduring questions in history. Using interdisciplinary and international perspectives, this course explores changes and continuities in the institution of slavery from antiquity to the 21st century. While the Atlantic slave trade continues to define our understanding of slavery, we will also look into forms of slavery in Africa and the Indian Ocean World that predated the Atlantic trade by millennia and question strict dichotomies between slave and free. Our explorations across time and space will analyze how conceptualizations of gender, race, and religion shaped various forms of slavery. We will understand how the intersection of power, gender, and socio-economic status has made females particularly vulnerable to enslavement and human trafficking. This gendered dimension of slavery will further lead us to investigate its blurred boundaries with marriage and especially past and present practices of forced marriage. Instructor: Elke Stockreiter
Prejudice is the problem that afflicts everyone else. This course assumes that everyone is prejudiced to some extent (even when having the best intentions not to be) and considers potential origins of prejudice. We will examine the individual, socio-cultural, inter-group and systemic bases of prejudice. Through empirical readings, guest speakers, field trips, film, and even fairy tales, we will consider how prejudice develops, is maintained and can be reduced. Studying the many different theories for the origins of prejudice provides a foundation for a multi-faceted approach to combatting and undermining prejudice in ourselves and others. Instructor: Laura Duval
How does the international community work to support victims of mass violence, injustice, brutal dictatorships, and poverty around the world? Moreover, how has the inaction of the international community (in places such as Rwanda and Bosnia), as well as the recent failures of the West in the Middle East (e.g. Libya), shaped current military, humanitarian, and post-conflict peacebuilding interventions? Through readings, discussions, case studies, and video clips, students will survey interventions in contexts of mass violence where vulnerable populations are at the mercy of dictatorships or rebel groups with little regard for human life and the multiple perspectives associated with how, when, and if international actors should intervene. We will explore the responses of the international community in post-conflict contexts, the interplay between various actors in these contexts, standard processes of peacebuilding, and critiques of these approaches from different disciplines. Instructor: Alex Cromwell
With the recent rise of populism across the Western world, this course will help students with international aspirations to critically examine the emerging issues related to "being a global person." Course readings and team projects explore global citizenry and cover topics such as globalization, the sovereign state, economic interdependence, the global enterprise, ethics, prejudice, and intercultural skills. Outside class, student have the opportunity to meet global leaders to discuss this course's implications. Instructor: Bram Groen

Global Citizenship - B

Humans seldom seek conflict for its own sake, but nations, regional groupings, and ethnic groups often compete and sometimes clash. In reality, rivalries and conflicts are more often managed than "resolved." The course brings in Washington resources in addressing conflict (embassies, U.S. government, think tanks, regional advocacy groups, etc.) Readings and videos highlight strategy, comparative advantage, anthropological views of conflict, negotiation skills, and "tool kits" for use in a crisis. Simulations of real-life scenarios put students in roles such as governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, private sector, military, and intelligence organizations. Class modules draw from methods developed at US government agencies, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the United Nations. Instructor: Dan Whitman
During the past 10,000 years, humans have become the primary driver of changes to the Earth’s surface, ecosystems, biodiversity and chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans. The Anthropocene describes this new geological epoch of humans and the future of our planet is dependent on the choices we humans make, both individually and collectively. This course will explore the interface between humans and the natural world through an examination of cultural, economic, philosophical and scientific values of the environment and the role that humans continue to play in the alteration of the planet. Instructor: Angela van Doorn
Currently, around 65 million people across the globe are forcibly displaced, many of whom are classified as refugees. Half of the world’s displaced are children. The course introduces students to some of the critical issues of forced displacement in the 21st century. It examines some of the ethical and political questions surrounding forced displacement, and pertinent challenges that have arisen including anti-immigrant movements and questions of security regarding the world’s displaced. Through memoirs, scholarship, film, and guest speakers, students will have the opportunity to engage with some of the most pressing issues surrounding the crisis of global displacement in our times. Instructor: Tazreena Sajjad
Borders, migration, and globalization are terms invoked by the media and in everyday conversations; but it is important to dig deeply to understand what these terms mean. This course studies policies and the discourse around border security; the cause and effects of international migration; the origin of the term "globalization" and the theories associated with these phenomena. The course accounts for the social context that explains the rise of these ideas, as well as the push-back against what people see as the negative consequences of international migration and trade. Instructor: Ernesto Castañeda

Problem to Policy - A

The United States 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," "hellish," and ultimately "unsurvivable" in the face of widespread violations of human dignity. This course considers 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). Instructor: Robert Johnson
Have you been confused about the health reform and repeal coverage in the news? This course covers an issue central to modern day life – health care – and the policy and politics around it. It provides an introduction to the arcane but important terms and ideas surrounding health care provision and policy in the U.S., and offers an opportunity to critical analyze the policies for moving forward from politically and philosophically diverse perspectives. We focus on the how health care is delivered and insured in this country and abroad; disparities in health and health care access; and the role of the individual, the market, and the government in health care and public health. The course will focus on the state and federal health legislation and implementation in real time, and the alternative proposals that have been developed by various groups. Instructor: Taryn Morrissey
This course explores not only the scientific basis for mental illness and treatment, but also how cultural, political, and economic forces impact mental health policy. Do patients have rights to refuse treatment? How do socio-cultural perspectives of mental illness influence treatment? How should mental illness affect culpability and sentencing in the courtroom? Students will read and respond to narratives by people with mental illness, clinical and legal case studies, scientific review articles and congressional testimony. Students will meet experts in mental health policy and advocacy both in the classroom and on Capitol Hill. Instructor: Laurie Stepanek
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.This course explores the challenges of immigrant integration into U.S. society from multiple perspectives. The scope of the course spans from the migrant's personal experience (e.g., why and how leave the home of origin, the stressors of acculturation, a sense of identity in the new homeplace) and changes in the receiving community (e.g., schools, employment, and neighborhoods), to the mutual influence evidenced through attitudes, cuisine, media, and policies. Instructor: Noemí Enchautegui-de-Jesús

Problem to Policy - B

This course focuses on the extent to which inequality and public policy affect a child's experience of childhood. The course draws on historical, sociological and legal perspectives to examine what rights children have (and when they might lose them), the role of the state in protecting children and how the zip code where a child is born may affect a child's life trajectory. The course will primarily focus on children's diverse experiences within the United States, but there will be some content related to international contexts. Instructor: Jane Palmer
From William Shakespeare to Lady Gaga, much of what we consider original art depends on borrowed text, recycled images, and familiar melodies. In this course, we consider questions of creative ownership. Drawing from scholarship by ethicists, cultural critics, and legal scholars, students will analyze case studies in music, film, literature, and visual art. Working in groups, students will be asked to trace intellectual property attitudes within a chosen genre or institution (i.e. Death Metal, Persian Poetry, Pixar Films). For the final project, after meeting working artists in the D.C. area, students will compose a creative work that borrows responsibly. Instructor: Edward Helfers
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. Instructor: Claire Griggs
So much of our lives today takes place in the virtual world of the internet that it is easy to forget or ignore the ways in which our physical environment affects our behavior and our self-understanding. This class will explore different theories of place and why it matters for politics. This will include an examination of how architecture and design can create or destroy community, the consequences of residential segregation, the importance of public space and monuments, the relationship between place and civic virtue and the meaningfulness of boundaries. Instructor: Sarah Houser

The Human Effect

Diseases, colloquially, are caught, transmitted, and contracted in many different ways: miasmas, bugs, germs, and vectors--to name just a few. How does the language people use to describe illness indicate beliefs about illness? This class studies historical, scientific, and popular accounts of illness to explore this question and others. Students explore whether disease creates immunity or results from lack of it, whether class, sexuality, race, gender, or geography protect against disease or expose people to it, how biomedical narratives of illness inflect cultural practices and social relations, and how the life cycles of pathogenic microorganisms shaped human history. This course's materials include science writing, theory, film, and literature--as well as images and objects from the National Library of Medicine and the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology at the Smithsonian Institute. Instructor: Sarah Marsh
Air pollution, water pollution, land pollution! In this course, students pursue issues surrounding pollution in the environment including how and why pollution occurs. We will investigate the sources of various air, water, and land pollutants and look at environmental and health effects and potential solutions. Students will participate in and benefit from diverse assignments including case studies, debates/ role-playing, peer-teaching, and facilitated discussions on assigned readings from written texts, documentaries, and topic-specific exhibits. Instructor: Jesse Meiller
"Yes," we nod in the affirmative to the statement that we, humans, are part of nature and whatever harms the rest of nature harms ourselves and future generations. And yet, when social scientists study society, we often analyze the social world as acting on, and thus distinct from, nature. And when environmentalists mobilize, they act to protect the environment from human activity. In this course we will delve into this paradox, which necessarily involves multiple and conflicting perspectives on the relationship between nature and society. Specifically, we will explore two present-day cases in which this paradox plays out: Both the Anthropocene literature and biosecurity policies and institutions reinforce the enduring nature-society binary and have invited critiques from scholars and activists alike. Instructor: Marion Wood Dixon
Surveillance has become a commonplace term, yet it is often dismissed as only the concern of those who have something to hide. In this course, we will explore the various ways we are monitored from birth by the state, healthcare system, employers, and parents, to businesses trying to sell us products. Why do we acquiesce? Who owns these technologies? Who has the ability to resist? And what are the effects on us emotionally, legally, and politically? Instructor: Randa Serhan

Culturescape

What does God look like? Is the divine representable? Is it morally dangerous to visualize divinity? Using DC’s rich art museums and centers of contemporary religious practice, this class explores the controversies and orthodoxies surrounding godly representations across geographies, temporalities, and cultures. Drawing on a wide range of sources – from analysis of ancient scriptural texts to engagement with DC community leaders – students will investigate arguments for and against representation of the divine, and analyze the visual strategies used by artists constrained by dogmatic limitations. In a globalized society which regularly witnesses terrorist destruction of religious images, depicting the divine is a complex and ancient problem still relevant today. Instructor: Joanne Allen
This course examines how dominant understandings of LGBT identity came into being in the Western world and, subsequently, the alternative paradigms for sexual and gender difference that have been offered by racial minorities, transgender communities, and non-Western cultures. Students will encounter literary texts as well as films, historical documents, and perspectives from sociology and anthropology. Assignments consist of various formal and informal writing assignments and class presentations. Students will explore the DC area's queer cultural resources, including (potentially) archives, performances, cinema, and exhibits. Instructor: Dustin Friedman
Religious ideas around the interaction between religion, society and state have given rise to competing ideological and nationalist movements in America and throughout the world. Methodically evaluating such case studies as Evangelicals, Muslim Brothers, Zionists, and Hindutva advocates, students will engage activists through readings as well as speakers and field visits. Individually and collectively, students will examine how different religious movements have shaped the struggles for identity, democracy and peace. Exploring these thorny issues experientially, students will find this course is founded on the notion that religion can be a source of harmony and peacemaking as it has been a source of division and conflict. Instructor: Mohamed Nimer
How have electronics impacted listening, musical creativity, responses, expectations and culture? These questions will be examined through multiple lenses and disciplines where the intersection of art, science, technology and society meet at a sometimes surprising but undeniable crossroads. The course will offer participants the opportunity to observe, analyze, experiment and even create with electronics. Special attention will be given to the advent of sound in film as well as to new language/vocabularies in music, new sounds as the result of newly designed instruments and synthesis techniques, digital vs analogue applications and, the computer. Instructor: Nancy Snider

Conversation to Action

The course will look broadly and critically at the issues of war and peace in U.S. society, focusing on Washington, D.C. institutions that play a key role in both areas. Students will explore both historical and modern issues addressing how the United States creates, maintains and, at times, contributes to a global culture of violence. Students will explore these subjects as they simultaneously work to understand the human cost of war through readings, speakers, films, documentaries and site visits in the city. The course will help students also understand the activist communities at work trying to stop interventions and actions abroad as it also looks at media institutions that play a role in shaping public opinion. Instructor: Margot Susca
Have you ever thought about how podcasts influence your knowledge and opinions? Any topic or theme you can imagine has a podcast covering it; they are modern, flexible modes of storytelling. But, the sense of shared experience and bond between listener and host means we are less likely to challenge the purpose, presented information, and analysis. Through listening and analyzing podcasts, we’ll explore how podcasts inform and shape our experiences and our understanding of ourselves and others in complex, compelling ways. Instructor: Kristina Oakes
Decision making is one of our most important activities in both our professional and personal lives. In this course, decision-making processes will be unpacked and thoroughly analyzed. They will be viewed through the lenses of psychology, business, economics as well as various cultural perspectives to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Students will be guided to see patterns and will come to understand that there are not “right or wrong” approaches but rather “better or worse” approaches to decision making. Instructor: Robert Sicina
In our society, divided by inequality and ideology, many demand civil discourse to solve the problem of incivility. This course challenges our assumptions about incivility and "civil discourse." Course themes may include how ideals of civility connect to language and emotion; how the normalization of civility connects to colonialism, imperialism, and globalization; whether movements employing 'uncivil' practices (suffrage, labor, civil rights, feminist, LGBTQ, disability rights, Occupy, Black Lives Matter) reject civility as an ideal and/or challenge us to think more deeply about truly "civil discourse." Students read texts from disciplines such as literature, philosophy, political science, anthropology, technology studies, gender studies, and sociology. Instructor: Lauren Weis
How have organizers, nonprofits and marketers used digital tools to try to make the world a better place? Students will explore the role of information literacy, how to engage those without technological access, whether online campaigns lead to offline action, and hashtag activism. Readings will cover a range of topics, disciplines, and case studies, pushing us to question the role that social media plays in helping the public. No prior experience with social media, activism or advocacy required. Instructor: Stef Woods
Great minds of every generation have struggled to explain why bad things happen to good people, why humans are cruel to one another, and, especially for the followers of the Abrahamic faiths, how a world can have evil in it if it’s been created by a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. We’ll discuss the religious origins of the classic “problem of evil,” scientific contributions to the discussion, and the legal ramifications of beliefs about evil. This reading-and-discussion heavy course will look for guidance from texts and films nonfiction and fiction (such as philosopher Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and writings on neuroscience from David Eagleman), along with visits to sites around D.C. (such as the Holocaust Museum). Instructor: Adam Tamashasky
This course examines the distinction between "normal" and "abnormal" bodies and investigates the complex ways in which abnormal bodies become "problems" for medicine. Looking at historical examples, e.g. pathologization of slaves' desires to flee captivity, nineteenth century diagnosis and treatment of "hysteria," medical treatment of height (tallness in girls, short stature in boys) and atypical sex anatomies (intersex bodies), we will ask what normality means, and explore the effects of meanings we may too often take for granted. Students visit the Smithsonian Museum of American History to speak with the curator and specialist of disability, and hear guest lectures on normalizing surgical interventions for children. Instructor: Perry Zurn

Moving Forward

How can individuals grow their own resilience to prevent mood disorders? This course will explore the complexity of preventing mental illness, specifically the mood disorders of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, in the US. Through a mix of readings including the popular press, social media, academic articles, memoir, and self-exploration texts; reflection and active seminars; field trips to view 'outsider art'; and homework on building personal and communal resilience, students will work on two underlying complex problems: how to integrate individual and systemic responsibility for mental wellness and how people change. Instructor: Cynthia Potter
Sequencing the human genome began as a 13 year, $3 billion, multi-institutional project. Today, you can have your DNA sequenced for just $79 during the holiday-sale through ancestry.com. If we have advanced this much in just 15 years, what does the future hold? This course will use readings, film, and critical essays to begin by covering the basics of genetic inheritance and work its way to applications such human migration patterns, forensics, and personalized medicine. We will end with a discussion of where to go from here. Instructor: Jennifer Axe
What is reality? Seemingly contradicting everyday experience, current theories of physics suggest we live in a quantum universe in which objects exist simultaneously in multiple locations, and where cause and effect, even time and space, may be an illusion. Together we will explore, via discussions, readings, interactive demonstrations, guest speakers, hands-on activities, and experiments, scientific ideas about the nature of reality, critically examining the evidence and arguments for these theories, and debating the implications. Our investigations will be informed by physics, astronomy, computer science, and philosophy. Instructor: Philip Johnson
Happiness is considered by many to be the ultimate goal in life; indeed, virtually everyone wants to be happy. The American Colonies’ Declaration of Independence takes it as a self-evident truth that the “pursuit of happiness” is an “inalienable right” comparable to life and liberty. This Complex Problems course explores what makes happiness so elusive, a problem as true in the age of antiquities as it is today. The course content first presents diverse perspectives aiming to define happiness, then examines individual practices designed to bring happiness to one's life, and lastly assesses larger scale initiatives, such as social policies, behavioral incentives, and the role of institutions in supplying the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Students of this course will engage with these aspects through the prism of their own personal experiences, and along the way confronting and reassessing their assumptions about "the good life." Instructor: Robert Kelley