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Complex Problems Courses | Diversity, Identity & Prejudice

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GNED 110
Elizabeth Gerbi
TF 11:20 - 12:35pm 

Many scholars have regarded the 21st century to be watershed era for inclusiveness on Broadway. This course examines a chronology of such representation on "The Great White Way," including titles from current and/or Broadway seasons such as "Falsettos" and "Hamilton." This course will offer students the opportunity to watch both live and archived performances of musicals past and present, as well as read, verbally deconstruct, and even perform excerpts from these shows with the goal of practicing rational, respectful, and empathetic difficult dialogues/critical conversations. 

Act Like a Man

GNED 110
Karl Kippola
W 11:20 - 2:10pm 

Act Like a Man: The Performance of American Masculinities. This course examines 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, students explore, demystify, and question the ways in which public masculine figures manipulate, challenge, and reflect lives of American males. From the first American play to Hamilton, from the Founding Fathers to Donald Trump, the course investigates the ways in which American men learn to behave and misbehave.

A Kid's Day In Court

GNED 140
Claire Griggs
MTh 2:30 - 3:45pm

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.

Cities: Destroyed & Reinvented

GNED 120
Andrew Demshuk
W 2:30 – 5:20pm 

The turmoil and traumas of modernity have transformed urban spaces into architectural and commemorative battlegrounds. Revolutions, riots, racial conflict, ethnic cleansing, wars, and regime changes have led power elites to erase poignant structures, monuments, decorations, and even cemeteries, and then “set in stone” the history that suits their own politics of memory. Utopian visions of building a modern future have imposed cement wastelands to serve diverse ideological platforms, prompting grassroots preservation protest movements. This seminar introduces theories of memory and nationalism alongside controversies over architecture and planning with special case examples from twentieth-century European urban transformations. Our dynamic environment in the US capital also informs the course. Critical thinking, reading, and writing are encouraged through intense discussion of weekly readings, the composition of short response essays, and a terse essay/presentation assessing the intersection between urban change and the politics of memory in a context of the student’s choice.

Confronting Climate Change

GNED 250
Christie Pondell
MTh 4:05 - 5:20pm

The issue of climate change is a dividing topic in America, and the demand for action regarding climate is a hotly debated topic in political, economic, and social discussions. However, the effects of climate change are seen worldwide, and dialogue surrounding this issue must take into account perspectives from the global community. Throughout the course, we will focus on analyzing the impact of climate change on people of developing and industrialized nations, and evaluate the influence of potential mitigation strategies on the economic, political, and social structure of cultures from around the world.

Constructions of the Self & Other through Technology

GNED 130
Zoe Charlton
T 5:30 – 8:00pm

Establishing one’s identitie(s) is both real and invented. How one reads other’s projected identitie(s) in a multi-platform culture is complicated, not only by how people adorn themselves, but by our media choices. From avatars on social media (Instagram, YouTube, Tinder) to online simulation platforms (Open Simulator and SecondLife), and from fan conventions (Otakon, Comic Con) to festivals (Afropunk), notions of the constructed self destabilizes conventional models of the singular identity. Using an interdisciplinary and inter-media approach, Understanding Constructions of the Self and Other through Contemporary Technology introduces the ways people shape their identities across a variety of cultural perspectives. Readings and Class Discussions are central to the experience of this course. 

Envisioning an Inclusive Future

GNED 140
Lauren Wells
TF 4:05 - 5:20pm 

This course seeks to: (1) dismantle the ideologies which reproduce social inequality and prevent inclusiveness in our schools and society; (2) develop a collective vision for an inclusive future; and (3) identify the role schools and other social institutions must play in an inclusive society. Among other activities, we will consider texts, social and cultural institutions, social movements, and personal histories to investigate and analyze the roots of diversity in America, and reimagine the contemporary landscape of our diverse society.

Harsh Justice

GNED 140
Robert Johnson
M 5:30 - 8:00pm

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).

How Are Latinx Changing US

GNED 130
Salvador Vidal-Ortiz
W 8:10 - 11:00am

This class adopts a less Western-centric way of framing knowledge by focusing on a U.S. ethno-racial minority group within the U.S. (The double meaning of “us” will guide our quest.) Latinx, a gender-fluid nomenclature used more frequently since 2015, is code for change, and Latinxs are shifting the economic, political, cultural, and social landscape of USAmerican society. Yet Latinx identity is marked as foreign, irrespective of the increasingly lower number of immigrants and the higher number of US born Latinxs. Latinx communities bring forth questions of nation and ethnicity, along with intersectional aspects of class, gender, sexuality, ability, and migratory/documented status to a discussion of who the U.S. is as a nation—or who is this “us” we refer to constantly. We will visit or bring in leaders of local organizations and advocacy groups, as well as national entities, to better understand the contributions and challenges of Latinxs in the U.S. We will also explore themes through movies and documentaries, and engage in an analysis of how Latinxs are portrayed in the media. Our focus in the class is discussion based, including group work, with less emphasis on individual research.


GNED 140
Lauren Weis
MTh 12:55 - 2:10pm 

In our society, divided by inequality and ideology, many demand civil discourse to solve the problem of incivility. This course will challenge 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 will read texts from disciplines such as literature, philosophy, political science, anthropology, technology studies, gender studies, and sociology; engage in collaborative projects; visits to Congress, Belmont-Paul National Monument, National Museum of African American Culture; and observe or participate in a protest action in Washington, DC. 

Inventing Queer Lives

GNED 140
Dustin Friedman
MTh 4:05 – 5:20pm

What lives have queers imagined living? How did dominant understandings of LGBT identity come into being in the Western world at the turn of the twentieth century? What alternative paradigms for sexual and gender difference have been offered by racial minorities, transgender communities, and non-Western cultures? Though we will find some answers in literary texts, we will also examine films, historical documents, and perspectives from sociology and anthropology. We will tackle various formal and informal writing assignments and class presentations, and we will also explore the DC area’s queer cultural resources, including (potentially) archives, performances, cinema, and art exhibits.

Is It Still Possible To Be A Global Citizen

GNED 130
Bram Groen
W 8:10 - 11:00am

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 will cover topics such as Globalization; the Sovereign State; Economic Interdependence; the Global Enterprise; Ethics; Prejudice; and Intercultural Skills -- all intended to explore “global citizenry.” This course will be in “debate” format and seeks to improve your public presentation skills, while course grading will take unique forms. Outside class, you will have the opportunity to meet global leaders to discuss this course’s implications.

Normalizing Bodies

GNED 140
Perry Zurn
MTh 2:30 - 3:45pm 

This course will examine the distinction between “normal” and “abnormal” bodies and investigate 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. We anticipate a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History to speak with the curator and specialist of disability, and guest lectures on normalizing surgical interventions for children.

Perspectives on Mental Illness

GNED 250
Laurie Stepanek
W 11:20 - 2:10pm 

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 the mentally ill, clinical and legal case studies, scientific review articles and congressional testimony, as well as lectures by experts in the field. Students will also examine the portrayal of mental illness in film and literature.

Plagues, Plots, and People

GNED 250
Sarah Marsh
TF 9:45 - 11:00am 

Diseases, we say, are caught, transmitted, and contracted in many different ways: miasmas, bugs, germs, and vectors--to name just a few. So what do the things we say about illness teach us about what we think makes us sick? This class will study historical, scientific, and popular accounts of illness to explore this question and others: Does disease create immunity or result from lack of it? Do class, sexuality, race, gender, or geography protect against disease, or expose people to it? How do biomedical narratives of illness inflect cultural practices and social relations? And how have 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.

The Politics of Place

GNED 140
Sarah Houser
TF 12:55- 2:10pm

The Politics of Place course will explore the question of how the built environment can shape human behavior in ways which are relevant to democratic politics. For example, the architecture of a building can be inspiring or intimidating; the layout of streets can encourage segregation or interaction among diverse people. In this course students will learn how our physical environment can encourage and facilitate the spread of problems such as poverty, crime and societal fragmentation and how it can help to alleviate those problems through fostering of community. Activities will include architectural and planning tours of D.C.

Underpresenation in STEM

GNED 250
Meg Bentley
W 8:10 – 11:00am 

Will your science professor be black? Many argue that underrepresentation in STEM fields is a problem that needs addressing, lest we face consequences in technological innovation. We will begin the course with an introduction to the professional STEM pipeline, and its unique characteristics. Then, students will find evidence as to whether the problem of underrepresentation truly exists and whether it has tangible consequences. We will expand our net to consider minorities, people with mental and physical disabilities, LGBTQ populations, and women. We will examine strategies to correct underrepresentation in the sciences and other fields and ask whether STEM is different from other professions. Readings will include scholarly and popular press articles from multiple disciplines including the natural sciences, social sciences, law and policy.

Visual Identities

GNED 140
Andrea Pearson
MTh 9:45 - 11:00am 

Drawing on museum collections in D.C., “Visual Identities” explores how visual images constructed, claimed, and sometimes contested identities across the geohistorical spectrum. How do images convey identities tied to cultural conceptions about politics, religions, race, gender, disability, and sexuality? What can such works teach us about visual strategies for conveying identity, past and present? In what ways are these strategies culturally distinctive or analogous? To answer these questions, images will be analyzed comparatively, in a case-study approach across specific cultures. Individual and group projects will develop critical thinking, writing, and presentation skills. Whose Hip Hop Cultures GNED 130 Kendra Salois TF 4:05 - 5:20pm Who lays claim to hip hop when its arts and cultures are shared worldwide? This course traces hip hop's movement from a transnational, Afro-diasporic South Bronx to six continents over its forty years. To understand its circulation, we also explore the racialization of United States popular musics, a history and practice of difference-making that profoundly informs the way hip hop has been and continues to be perceived in the US. Along with weekly reading and listening assignments, students will visit DC institutions, conduct research in the residence halls, and learn to make historical, cultural, and musical connections between songs. 

Why Are People Prejudiced

GNED 140
Laura Duval
W 5:30 – 8:00pm 

Prejudice is an attitude (usually negative) about members of another social group. The concept of prejudice has strong negative connotations such that most people do not freely admit to having such feelings and assume those who do are small-minded, evil, ignorant individuals. This course is based on the assumption that everyone is prejudiced to some extent (even when having the best intentions not to be) and considers potential origins of prejudice. Prejudice is a complex problem that has been examined from evolutionary, cultural, economic, physiological and psychological perspectives. 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.

Why is (Im)Migration a Challenge

GNED 120
Noemi Enchautegui-de-Jesus
W 5:30 – 8:00pm

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 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 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.