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Complex Problems Courses | Politics and Policy

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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.

Balancing Legal Interests

GNED 140
Michael Mass
TF 12:55- 2:10 OR 2:30 - 3:45pm

The law is a device for balancing societal and personal interests. Although it might seem that we should look to the law to provide rules for our personal and business conduct that are definitive and clear, in reality the law is more often balancing complex interests that involve many shades of gray. This course will examine a series of legal problems concerning the role of the law in our personal lives as well as in the economic life of our country as part of a community of nations. 

1) What should be the role of the legal system as a device to resolve disputes between parties?

2) What U.S. and international laws should govern trade between businesses across international borders?

3) When should the law award compensation when bad things happen to people?

4) When should the law limit the rights of parties to make deals with each other or impose duties upon private parties to serve the public good? 

Although the course will view these problems through a legal lens, it will be brazenly interdisciplinary: including economic, business, political and international relations perspectives. Most importantly, it will grapple with questions that have no single answer, but where students will have to learn enough about an area of law to develop their own solutions as well as an understanding of the opposing position. Course materials may include book chapters, articles, cases, statutory material, blogs and movies.

Borders, Migration and Globalization

GNED 130
Ernesto Castaneda
W 8:10 - 11:00am 

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. We will study 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. We will account 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.

Confronting Climate Change

GNED 250
Christine 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.

Education: Problem or Solution

GNED 140
Katharine Kravetz
W 2:30 - 5:20pm 

While there is agreement that education is key to individual and community well-being, much controversy exists over education’s goals and how to achieve them. What actually are our educational challenges? Which solutions are effective and why? How does social or economic status interact with education? What roles do political ideologies play? Is our society asking too little of education -- or too much? What can citizens, educators, and policymakers do to make a difference? Students will engage with a variety of speakers, site visits, and readings, and will discuss key issues, such as school choice and assessment, through creative exercises, as we collaboratively explore this complex topic.

Food Justice Matters

GNED 250
Stacey Snelling
MTh 9:45 - 11:00am

Should food marketing to children be restricted? Should agricultural subsidies be eliminated? How are stakeholders incorporating healthful eating practices into health policies? These are some of the questions we will explore as we critically think about food justice issues in the 21st century. Using local farms, local non-profit agencies, the department of health, and other related organizations, we will explore what DC and other states are doing to address food justice in their communities.

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.

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.

Imagining the Future

GNED 140
Despina Kakoudaki
TF 11:20 - 12:35 (Class) | Th 5:30 - 8:00pm (Film Screening) 

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.

Living and Dying in DC

GNED 250
Jessica Young
MTh 12:55- 2:10pm 

Why are some infants born in the capital of the world's wealthiest nation dying at rates higher than some developing countries? Why does the Metro stop people live near predict how long they are likely to live or if one will die from HIV/AIDS, cancer, asthma, or old age? This course will introduce students to health inequities and will use political, economic, historical, and sociological analyses of differences in power and privilege as it relates to quality of life, disease burden, and mortality in Washington, DC. Through local texts, site visits, discussions, and reflections, students will explore how DC residents, communities, health care providers, public health practitioners, and policymakers have shaped the social forces that influence health, and how they have worked together to ensure that all DC residents have the opportunity to live healthy and long lives.

Playing With Genes

GNED 250
Sarah Marvar
MTh 4:05 - 5:20pm 

We will explore divisive bioethical issues surrounding our growing ability to analyze and manipulate genes in humans, animals and plants. Students will be introduced to the basics of the human genome, the technology such as CRISPR that allows for genetic manipulation and the possibilities that provides in health and understanding genetic disease. Students will discuss selected readings, films and complete creative writing assignments while exploring the bioethical side of genetic manipulation, gene therapy, cloning and reproductive technologies, such as three parent babies. With the professor, guest speakers and their peers, students will consider personalized medicine and it’s impact on healthcare, in addition to genetic engineering of animals in the fight against disease (eg. Zika) and genetically modified foods.

Preventing Pollution

GNED 250
Jesse Meiller
W 8:10 – 11:00am

Today, contaminants enter our water, air, and land through many routes. This course will be broken into these three sections (water, air, and land) as we pursue issues surrounding pollution in our environment including how and why pollution occurs. We will investigate the sources of various pollutants snd the environmental and health effects of exposure to these contaminants. We will investigate potential solutions to pollution including prevention and mitigation. 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.

Quest for Justice

GNED 140
G. Borden Flanagan
TF 12:55 - 2:10pm

This course introduces students to an on-going dialogue at the core of Western intellectual history about how to think about justice. Though the course hits the major periods, it is not a tour of the history of political theory, and the purpose is not to accumulate opinions about that history. It is, rather, an extended exercise in how the attempt to achieve clarity about the fundamental problems of justice gives rise to new questions and problems that were not apparent at first, which in turn lead beyond themselves again, all while revolving nevertheless around common elements. The central theme of the course is intellectual surprise, as new questions emerge from old solutions and new solutions reveal old questions. We will address and illustrate questions about law, political obligation, freedom, equality, justice and human nature; we will examine different societies such as the ancient city, modern democracy and totalitarianism, and discuss contemporary issues such as race, culture and inequality.

Refugees, War, and Human Rights

GNED 130
David Vine
MTh 9:45 - 11:00am
Millions of refugees and other displaced people are fleeing war and violence from the Middle East to Central America and beyond. This course will examine this global phenomenon as well as 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 island in the Indian Ocean. The class will explore topics including the effects and causes of forced displacement, race and racism, environmental refugees, gentrification, and movements to combat human rights violations and assist the displaced. Participants will have opportunities to learn about and support refugees and other displaced peoples outside the classroom.

The Food Water Energy Nexus

GNED 250
Douglas Fox
TF 9:45 - 11:00am

Food, energy, and water resources are interconnected, so addressing one resource will cause scarcities in others. This complex problem requires innovative, cooperative, and interdisciplinary solutions utilizing the skills from multiple disciplines. Our next generation must be equipped with sustainability and resilience strategies for the Food Energy Water Nexus, requiring interdisciplinary approaches. Natural scientists, engineers, social scientists, economists, policy makers, and diplomats must work together to form an international collaboration for addressing these resource scarcities simultaneously.

The Highs and Lows of Drugs

GNED 140
Maria Gomez
W 11:20 - 2:10pm 

Every week we hear another story about how the heroin epidemic is ravaging communities across America. Drugs remain a complex problem, despite the investment of billions of dollars and many years into potential solutions. This class critically analyzes the varying approaches (e.g., scientific, public policy, law enforcement) that have been applied to the drug problem. After over 50 years of scientific research, we have extensive knowledge of how drugs work on the brain, but little progress has been made in reducing rates of drug addiction. Why? Are the right scientific questions being asked? Are we using the best legal approach?

The Material World

GNED 250
Nathan Harshman
TF 11:20 - 12:35pm 

This course will explore the matter that has mattered to humans, from stone and bronze through semiconductors and nanostructures. Cultures, economies, and nation‐states flourish and decline based in part on the material resources and technology which they can access and control. This course is half about material science, investigating the atom-stuff that we and our world are made of, and half a critical investigation of materialist theories of culture, history, economics, and politics. The primary student assessment is a portfolio demonstrating an integrated understanding of scientific and technical material (pun intended) into social, historical, artistic, economic, philosophical and political contexts.

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.

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.

Why Big Government

GNED 140
Gautham Rao
TF 11:20 - 12:35pm 

This interdisciplinary course explores a pressing intellectual challenge of our time: Americans’ ambivalent historical relationship with the state. It explores how Americans from the era of Alexander Hamilton to the Age of Obama conceptualize and confront the state by demanding, protesting, prohibiting, and expanding government power over their persons and their property. The course pursues these themes through classics of social and political thought, such as the writings of James Madison, Frederick Lloyd Garrison, John Dewey, and John Maynard Keynes, alongside compelling new frameworks offered by scholars such as sociologists Monica Prasad and Andrew Abbott, journalist Ta-Nahesi Coates, and philosopher Danielle Allen. The course will also draw upon visual media, such as screenings of The Wire and Birth of a Nation, while using the social media platform of Twitter to undertake some of our inquiries in public and in real time.

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.