Spring 2018 Courses


SPCL 400.301 | Mobilizing Human Rights: Agents of Rights-Based Justice in and around Chapel Hill

Student Instructors: Rebekah Cockram & Hannah Sloan
Faculty Mentor: Eunice Sahle
W, 5:05-7:05 pm. Graham Memorial 213

Everyone has human rights…right? But how do we get them and who gives them to us? Our class will center on this question of mobilizing human rights: if we grant that human rights are important, who should enforce their protection and how?

In this course we will trace the historical context in which human rights emerged and evolved to frame conversation about the contested universality and content of human rights. We’ll explore major approaches and debates in human rights discourse, eventually narrowing our focus on one specific debate: who is an agent of human rights? While we’ll discuss global institutions, we will concentrate on bringing theory closer to “home”; we’ll pair the concept of rights-based justice, as advanced by scholars like Onora O’Neill, with speakers and field trips to a broad range of organizations in and around Chapel Hill that each work to fulfill one or more categories of human rights protections. Students will help choose the thematic lens we take (addressing topics such as women’s rights, refugee entitlements, education, civil and political rights, etc.) and will be encouraged to ask provocative questions about the efficacy of the organizations’ work and the relevance of their goals to state and national politics. Through continued engagement with the material, students will begin to unpack the complexities of human rights enforcement; they will critically examine the policies, politics and conflicts that shape who is and who ought to be an agent of rights-based justice in our modern world.

SPCL 400.302 | The Physical World of Animals and Plants

Student Instructor: Alexander Davis
Faculty Mentor: Bill Kier
W, 4:45-6:45 pm. Graham Memorial 212

Why does a paramecium feel like it is swimming through molasses? How can eels swim thousands of miles without food? What do bones and bridges have in common? These are the questions that biomechanists seek to answer by combining biology, physics, and mechanical engineering. Physical laws govern the world of animals and plants, and knowledge of these laws allow us to make powerful predictions about organismal function and better understand the evolution and ecology of different species.

In this course we will be exploring the physics of organismal function and movement. We will use fundamental principles of fluid and solid mechanics to guide class discussions of recent primary literature. PHYS 104, 114 or 118 strongly recommended.

SPCL 400.303 | Healthcare Innovation and Leadership

Student Instructor: Jordyn Druga
Faculty Mentor: Stephen Eckel
R, 4:30-6:30 pm. Graham Memorial 038

In response to the shift to value-based healthcare, disruptive innovation is necessary to dramatically improve health outcomes and reduce costs. Healthcare innovation can be described as the potential to drive change and redefine healthcare’s economic and/or social potential. This course will provide students with the knowledge and skills to identify and solve complex healthcare problems. The goal of this course is to bridge the divide between future entrepreneurs, business executives, and technology innovators, with future clinicians who will work on the front lines of patient care.

SPCL 400.304 | Mind over Matter: positive emotions, behavioral economics, and other invisible forces that shape our lives

Student Instructor: Leah Everist
Faculty Mentor: Barbara Fredrickson
R, 4:30-6:30 pm. Graham Memorial 212

Why are smokers happier when cigarette taxes increase? Why would experiencing positive emotions be linked with better cardiovascular health in the US but not in Japan? How can a UNC student be willing to pay up to $250 for a Duke ticket, and the moment she buys it be unwilling to sell it for less than $2500? How can happy people be as likely as the rest of the population to get  into car accidents but have lower odds of being seriously injured? What is happiness anyway, and what causes it?

Questions like these have driven psychologists, economists, policymakers, and now, students at UNC, to think about emotions, positivity, and behavior like never before.  In this course, students will explore the emotional science and behavioral economics that informs the way people feel, think, and make decisions. Drawing on theories from positive psychology, the class will begin by exploring the implications of positive emotions on behavior, health, and relationships of all kinds. The curriculum progresses into an examination of rationality and choice architecture, and ultimately culminates in student-led experiments to test some of the phenomena about which they have learned. Through activities, discussions, field trips, reflections, and physical and intellectual exploration, students in this course will unpack the meaning of nebulous ideas such as love and joy and find ways to more purposefully incorporate them into their lives.

SPCL 400.305 | Introduction to Cantonese Language and Culture

Student Instructor: Jiacheng “Coco” Liu
Faculty Mentor: Yi Zhou
MW, 4:00-5:00 pm. Alumni 207

Cantonese is one of the most important Chinese dialects widely used in Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas Chinese communities. The objective of this course is to enable students to communicate in Cantonese about daily life activities with the emphasis of proper pronunciation and the development of conversational proficiency.  In addition, students will be introduced to a diverse set of language-related culture phenomena, such as Cantonese cuisine (dim sum), movies, drama, and music. This course is designed for students who have no or little prior knowledge of Cantonese language and are interested to learn another dialect in addition to Mandarin Chinese.  Students are encouraged to take this class along with other Chinese language classes.
Prerequisite: CHIN 101 or higher

SPCL 400.306 | “Dreams of Peace and War”: Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American Post-War Literature

Student Instructor: My Linh Luu
Faculty Mentor: Inger Brodey
W, 5:05-7:05 pm. Graham Memorial 210

The Vietnam War is arguably one of the most defining conflicts in American history, with a death toll of 53,000 U.S. soldiers, 3 million Vietnamese, and a similar figure in Cambodia and Laos. Most non-Vietnamese are familiar with the narrative of the Vietnam War in popular culture, through movies such as Rambo, Platoon or Apocalypse Now, most of which depict a particular vision of Vietnam as a place of solely moral and physical tragedy, indeed the site of a modern-day apocalypse. This course aims to portray a more nuanced, complex and honest portrayal of the war by authors who are either Vietnamese or Vietnamese American.

Rather than questioning who was “right” in this conflict, students will look at narratives by Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American writers about topics such as trauma, memory, and gender.

When asked about the biggest lie about the Vietnam War, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the novel The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen said: “That this was a war of symmetry. That the United States did what it did because the other side was doing as much” (Star Tribune).

In this course, students will answer questions such as what are the different sociocultural discourses on the Vietnam War in Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American literature? What discourses exist on trauma, survivor-witness burden and grief? What narratives separate individual psychic trauma from broader cultural representations of the traumatic event?

Students will assume the job of a cultural critic in looking at literary texts both in terms of stylistic technique, aesthetic, and discourses under the lenses of modernism, postmodernism, trauma theory, decolonizing trauma studies and post-colonial theory. Readings will include works such as The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.


SPCL 400.307 | From Bitcoin to Uber: Emerging Technologies and Their Social Impact

Student Instructor: Vishnu Ramachandran
Faculty Mentor: Neal Thomas
T, 5:00-7:00 pm. Graham Memorial 035

Every new program downloaded, and every new digital device purchased ripples outward to
shape social life, impacting it in disruptive and subtle ways. Economic competition, state
regulation, creative design and consumer choice all intersect to animate inert metal and software
code. And technology speciates to pull social change in different directions. Driven by cultural
and economic factors, there is a dizzying evolution underway, which is challenging traditional
norms and altering the material circumstances of our lives.

The seminar takes on this evolution, exposing students to both social-theoretical fundamentals that will help them to make sense of our increasingly “datafied” world. During the semester, we will learn about and critically analyze emerging information technologies, from cryptocurrency to autonomous vehicles. By focusing on their social, political, and ethical dimensions, students will better understand how engineering decisions have second and third-order consequences for the broader sociocultural environment. We will also spend time in maker spaces to get hands-on experience with new technologies.

Ultimately, the seminar will explore the landscape for emerging technologies through reading,
discussion, and debate. Where is innovation happening? How might these changes alter our
social fabric for better or worse? And most importantly, what should we do as practitioners?

Come predict the unpredictable and question the unquestioned with eclectic, engaged students.

SPCL 400.308 | From Armenia to Rwanda: A Comparative Study of Genocide in the Twentieth Century

Student Instructor: Sophie Rupp
Faculty Mentor: Karen Auerbach
T, 3:30-5:30 pm. Graham Memorial 212

This discussion-based course will provide an introduction to the field of genocide studies, traversing the globe in an effort to understand one of the world’s most horrific phenomena. As a class, we’ll discuss the genocides of the 20th-century, address their similarities and differences, and analyze their relationships to their respective societies. We’ll also learn about the cultures and political circumstances of the many nations where genocide has occurred, as well as about the actors who participated in or were the victims of genocide. Subjects addressed over the course of the semester will include: racism, religious conflict, starvation, rape, the role of government, international intervention, and colonialism as genocide. Finally, we’ll consider broader questions concerning the concept of genocide itself, and the political implications of genocide in the contemporary world. Students from all academic backgrounds are welcome.

SPCL 400.309 | International Approaches to Criminal Justice

Student Instructor: Emily Venturi
Faculty Mentor: Jonathan Weiler
W, 3:35-5:35 pm. Graham Memorial 038

French sociologist Loic Wacquant theorizes the prison as a political capacity whose selective deployment violates the ideals of democratic citizenship. Do you think he has a point? In this seminar, we will engage with theorists such as Wacquant, Foucault and Christie to discuss the controversial role of criminalization in contemporary societies. Why and how do states choose to utilize detention as a form of punishment, and with what consequences for the human experience of life and pain? In the second part of the course, the class will engage with guest speakers to build a comparative understanding of criminal justice. Across the United States, Russia, Brazil, China, Norway, Iran and South Africa, we will reflect on the role of detention in different cultural settings and governance systems. In conjunction with exploring justice systems around the world, students will be encouraged to grapple with the deeply personal experience that criminal justice can exert on the lives of those incarcerated and on societies as a whole. To this end, a visit to Raleigh Central Prison will also be included in the course.


SPCL 400.310 | Red Pill or Blue Pill? The Matrix Trilogy and Its Literary, Philosophic, and Religious Influences

Student Instructor: Julia Whitten
Faculty Mentor: Inger Brodey
T, 4:00-6:00 pm. Graham Memorial 210

Perhaps most famous for its introduction of the choice between “the red and the blue pill” and moving in “bullet time,” The Matrix films have garnered wide attention in popular culture and proved influential in the filming techniques of subsequent action movies. While certainly prominent in its own right, The Matrix Trilogy draws heavily from a pool of sources, ranging from anime and Hong Kong action film traditions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to Kantian concepts of reality and Plato’s theories of knowledge. This course aims to explore the various literary, philosophic, religious, and filmic sources that permeate the films of The Matrix Trilogy.

For class, we will read selections from influential texts of authors, some of which include Jean Beaudrillard, Sigmund Freud, Jorge Luis Borges, and Georges Bataille. We will also view related film projects, such as Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and The Lego Movie in tandem with viewing the primary films: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Matrix Revolutions. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual reality simulation at the Undergraduate Library and listen to a fellow UNC undergrad give a talk on his research in virtual reality. To cap off the course, students will undertake a final project in which they will explore in greater detail their choice of any film, text, or theme studied in class as it relates to The Matrix.