New course designed in part by students delves into the interrelationship between COVID-19 and systemic racism; Anthony Fauci to be special guest
How can studying different points of view on the coronavirus and its overlap with the movement for social justice help students find their own interests and galvanize them to action?
A new University of Colorado Boulder course investigates the challenges students face while building their ability to improve personal and collective wellness. Titled ARSC 1520: Health, Society and Wellness in COVID-19 Times, the one-credit, online class offers a series of lectures taught by 35 scholars from across the university and one special guest: Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“We decided that we would come up with, not only a course in which students think about the coronavirus, but think more broadly about health, society, disease, wellness, equality and inequality,” says Daryl Maeda, associate dean for student success in the College of Arts and Sciences.
One of the elements that is particularly captivating to me was the opportunity to work with students, faculty and staff to design a course that was immediately relevant to students."
The Renée Crown Wellness Institute at CU Boulder was pivotal in designing the course’s interdisciplinary approach. “The Crown Institute was founded with the belief that, if we are going to come together to address challenges that have been pervasive and enduring in our world, it requires bringing together multiple perspectives to create solutions,” says Sona Dimidjian, director of the Crown Institute.
The course will be co-taught by Maeda, who is also an associate professor of ethnic studies, Dimidjian, who is also professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Donna Mejia, associate professor of theater and dance.
Through the course, more than 3,500 incoming students in the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education and the College of Media, Communication and Information will critically analyze the interrelationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism, and gain tools to cultivate a socially responsible campus and maintain their wellness.
Kathy Schultz, who is dean of the School of Education and a faculty affiliate with the Crown Institute, was also able to arrange an exclusive interview in which Chancellor Phil DiStefano will ask Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about his career advising six U.S. presidents on global health issues. The interview, which is scheduled to occur in late October, is another example of the way the course examines issues pertinent to students’ everyday lives.
“One of the elements that is particularly captivating to me was the opportunity to work with students, faculty and staff to design a course that was immediately relevant to students,” says Dimidjian, adding:
“Core to the approach of the Crown Institute is the belief that, if we are going to come together to address challenges that have been pervasive and enduring in our world, it requires bringing together multiple perspectives to create solutions.”
A course designed in partnership with students
In spring 2020, two concepts to support CU Boulder students came together to inspire the new course.
CU Boulder leaders realized students needed practical information to stem the spread of COVID-19 and instruction in antiracism. Rather than study them separately, Maeda believed faculty could create an academic experience that explored the historical moments together.
“We are not treating the pandemic of COVID-19 and the recognition of the widespread, ongoing pandemic of racism in our society to be separate phenomena,” says Maeda. “For us, it's really important that students understand racism as a systemic problem that is often exacerbated in a time of crisis.”
At the same time, Dimidjian and her team at the Crown Institute began a wellness practice series to help improve the individual and community wellness of faculty and staff working remotely.
“In our discussions after that wellness series, Dr. Patricia Crown, who established the transformative endowment for the Crown Institute, asked how we could share more widely the tools that were of such benefit to our own teams,” says Dimidjian. “How could we come together to support our students and the CU Boulder community during these challenging times?”
Dimidjian contacted James W.C. White, interim dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Schultz about teaching a seminar exploring mindfulness and compassion-based practices. Excited by the content, they asked if she would partner with Maeda to blend their class ideas.
Together, Maeda and Dimidjian worked with partners Mejia and Schultz to forge a design team of faculty and staff from the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Education, College of Media, Communication and Information and the Office of Student Affairs, including Christine Jackson, Erica Van Steenis, Jennifer MacDuffie, Jade Gutierrez, Leah Peña Teeters, Kourtney Kelley, Krishna Pattisapu, Joey Levy, Paula Battistelli, Julia Zigarelli, Tina Pittman Wagers and Cindy White.
The course design team believed the challenges and stressors students face starting college at this point in history offered opportunities for them to think creatively and critically about the way they structured the class—which included asking students to co-design the course.
Fourteen students, including those from local high schools, as well as incoming, current and recently graduated CU Boulder students, identified content they thought students needed to know, skills that were most relevant to students’ circumstances and ways instructors could most effectively deliver that information.
Faculty were then invited to deliver 15-minute lessons to the student teams that demonstrated how their area of study intersected with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The outcome was revealing and astonishing,” says Meija. “There is no part of our complex lives untouched.”
No matter the faculty’s background or credentials, they were encouraged to synthesize students’ feedback into their final video lessons. Nobel Laureate Tom Cech was one of the first faculty to submit a lesson.
“He brought his first draft of his lecture to the student design team of high school students and college students and entering students. And they provided feedback from a student's perspective about elements to change and elements to keep,” says Dimidjian. “That’s a powerful opportunity to share knowledge that is accessible and actionable to students. It’s unique, and it’s baked into the design of the course.”
No matter the faculty’s background or credentials, they were encouraged to synthesize students’ feedback into their final video lessons."
“There's something in this class for everyone,” says Maeda. “If you're an artist, if you're a sociologist, if you are a microbiologist, any and all of these interests will be addressed.”
An unprecedented opportunity to shape campus community
Beyond showcasing CU Boulder’s interdisciplinary scholarship, Maeda says that the course offers an exciting opportunity to shape the way students create an inclusive community.
“Our hope is to convey to students that, as students at the University of Colorado Boulder, as CU Buffs, we have opportunities to support each other,” says Maeda. “To be a common community, and to build connections with each other that might not have been possible in a different world.”
Despite the class’s large scale, Dimidjian hopes students feel recognized and cared for as individual members of CU Boulder’s campus community. She explains that the class effectively models how cooperation and collaboration provide powerful, innovative solutions to complex challenges.
“I hope this course will provide students an experience of interdisciplinary learning and the ways in which the kinds of learning, which can happen at a university like ours, can help address the urgent questions and challenges of our time,” says Dimidjian.
“The complex problems of our world are asking us to come together in new, different ways and envision new futures.”