Spring 2024 Courses


SPCL 400.301 | Spontaneous Overflow: Poetry as Critical Theory

Student Instructor: Boatemaa Agyeman-Mensah
Faculty Mentor: Tyree Daye
M, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
103 Greenlaw Hall

Why is a stanza shorter than a paragraph? Why is a poem shorter than prose? Many believe this is because poetry is a bite sized container for simple truths. The reduction of words is read as metaphorical for the larger job of the poet—to cut out the fat that buries what we know to be true.

However, many poets reject this narrative of poetry as minimalistic truth-telling. For example, William Wordsworth has famously described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Poetry becomes a particularly potent tool when it is wielded as something expansive and uncontained. When it is read not only to ground our thoughts on existing theoretical concepts, but also to venture into the unknown. In this course, we will examine poetry/poetic craft lessons alongside academic essays/critical theory to see how the poetic form lends to the formation of novel ideas. We will explore how poetry deliberately employs space, music, and subversions of grammar to rupture time, produce groundbreaking questions, and imagine new moral landscapes. Ultimately, we will explore how poetry works as an act of creation rather than an act of reduction.

In this course, students can expect to survey the writings of authors who have doubled as theorists and poets throughout their careers (such as selections from Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Nikkey Finney, Melissa Harris-Perry, Rita Dove, Natalie Diaz, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Gabriel Garcia Lorca, Fred Moten, Gabrielle Civil, Monica Youn, etc.) to explore the intertextual riffs and play between prose and poetry. As well as display their knowledge by writing (and if comfortable, sharing) their own original poetry. By the end of this course students will be able to consider how poetic techniques may enhance their ability for articulating typically complex concepts and/or ineffable thoughts. Specifically, students will be able to explore how difficult academic ideas may be better conveyed if we diverge from traditional academic rhetoric in favor of poetic language.

No previous knowledge of poetry is required!

SPCL 400.302 | Asian American Coming of Age: An Intersectional Exploration of Gender, Sexuality, and Kinship Ties

Student Instructors: Divya Aikat & Joanna Yeh
Faculty Mentor: Kita Douglas
M, 4;00 pm – 6:00 pm
317 Greenlaw Hall

In this course, we will examine how gender and sexuality structure coming of age narratives in Asian American communities and their creative works. Examining the history of legal and cultural formations of Asian American family structures, this course takes an intimate look at how Asian Americans envision senses of self over generations and the relationships that form complex identities. Expanding the notion of family as blood, our readings often reimagine lineage as processes of queer kinship and unconventional forms of love and care. Studying the diverse experiences of queer Asian Americans will allow us to recognize historical marginalizations and struggles as well as celebrations of community formations and moments of joy.

Over the semester, we will consider a range of coming of age stories as creative and critical works, including Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, David Eng’s Q&A, Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and more. Introducing key concepts in Asian American studies, queer theory, and literary and media analysis, we will examine literature, film, music, zines, oral histories, and more. Through discussion and shared projects, we will explore how Asian Americans grow, love, change, and commune in these narratives.

SPCL 400.303 | Introduction to Digital Media

Student Instructor: Timothy Anderson
Faculty Mentor: Hong-An Truong
R, 5:15 pm – 7:15 pm
213 Graham Memorial

Can doomscrolling be a form of artistic research? Can TikTok Live be an archive? Can the Internet be a weapon?

This course seeks to develop a basic understanding of the technical and conceptual use of digital media in art production. Digital technology will serve as both subject and medium as we explore what it means to make art with and about various established and emerging technologies. Students will engage with artificial intelligence software like ChatGPT and Photoshop Generative Fill, social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, and objects like smartphones and screens as touchpoints with which to inform the creation of artistic work. Discussion of artwork made by other artists, creation of independent work, and group critique will be synthesized to develop an understanding of how art and technology coexist, as well as what the status of art is–or can be–in an increasingly technological world.

SPCL 400.304 | Alternative Economic Visions: Global Models for Socio-Ecological Wellbeing

Student Instructor: Eugenia Chow
Faculty Mentor: Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld
W, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
035 Graham Memorial

Most economics courses accept GDP growth as the main indicator of success. At the same time, our intersecting social, environmental, and economic crises are symptomatic of a flawed system that measures “everything except that which makes life worthwhile”
(Robert F. Kennedy, 1968). The climate crisis, in particular, is fueled by global capitalism, the over-exploitation of resources, and the linear concept of economic growth. This dominant narrative continues to guide Western policies at the cost of human and societal

This course aims to question the status quo about “success” and how this concept is valued. Exploring different cultural narratives, we will examine how models such as doughnut economics in Amsterdam, community currencies in Costa Rica, and rights of nature laws in Ecuador may contribute to greater social and ecological well-being and engage the following questions:

  • What does success look like in modern society and where do these ideas originate from?
  • How do our dominant conceptions of economic progress contribute to the global climate crisis?
  • What can we learn from existing frameworks that challenge our modern Western model of development?

SPCL 400.305 | Game Dev Boot Camp

Student Instructor: Luke Diasio
Faculty Mentor: Joyce Rudinsky
W, 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm
201 New East

Have you ever wanted to learn how to make a video game, but never thought you’d have the time or structure to learn? What if there was a course that provided that structure for you?

Game Dev Boot Camp is that course. In one semester, you can go from knowing no code to being a small time game developer.

Through this course, each student will develop a basic but unique 2D platformer, with their own art, their own music, and their own setting. You won’t just learn how games are made, you will make one. Each class will open with a discussion of the weekly platformer game, followed by a lecture on a topic relevant to that class. Class time will be available for students to work on their games.

This course will also demonstrate various pioneering techniques for the use of Chatbots in developing video games.

The course will be taught by Luke Diasio, the president of the UNC-CH Game Dev Club, who has made 10 different video games.

SPCL 400.306 | Interoception in Mental Health

Student Instructor: Mia Foglesong
Faculty Mentor: Kristen Lindquist
T, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
210 Graham Memorial

Remember the last time you experienced your heart beating out of your chest, you felt hungry, and you needed to go to the bathroom. Do you wonder why you’re able to sense this? Interoception is our ability to sense and interpret our internal bodily sensations and occurs both consciously through influencing the way we think and feel and also subconsciously through maintaining our homeostatic functions. Our ability to integrate peripheral sensory information has been found to be important to motivation, emotion, social cognition, and self-awareness. But when these processes become dysregulated, how does it manifest in people?

In this seminar, we will dive into the world of interoception and understand how it’s researched in psychology and in neuroscience fields. This course will encourage critical thinking, and by the end of the course, students will be able to critically think about how interoception is important to clinical settings and beyond.

The following topics will be covered in this course:

  • The neurobiology of interoception
  • Interoception across different modalities of respiratory, digestive, and cardiovascular systems
  • How we measure interoception: we’ll measure yours.
  • How interoception is implicated in different psychiatric disorders like autism, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, medically undiagnosed disorders, substance abuse disorders, etc.

SPCL 400.307 | The Legislative Legacy of Reconstruction

Student Instructor: Andrew Gary
Faculty Mentor: William Barney
M, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
038 Graham Memorial

From the outset of hostilities in the American Civil War, it was always known that somehow the insurrectionary States would have to be brought back into the Union. The question of how to reintegrate these States economically and politically vexed the administrations of four presidents. Each would devise their own solution informed by both their own personal values and the economic, political, military, and social conditions at the time. The complex and often interconnected issues that dominated these discussions in many ways presented challenges that the 19th-century Federal government was ill-equipped to handle. The result of these factors was a patchwork system of policies that are now called Reconstruction. Over the course of the Reconstruction, dozens of laws and policies would be enacted that continue to shape America. Many of these laws are well-known by Americans, but others have been forgotten despite their massive impact on American history. This course will examine a selection of laws enacted during the Reconstruction to see how these laws have shaped the institutions of America.

SPCL 400.308 | De-Extinction: A New Era for Conservation

Student Instructor: Sara Hijer
Faculty Mentor: Mark Sorensen
M, 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm
212 Graham Memorial

Should we create a real-life Jurassic Park? What happens when reality catches up with science fiction? Is it ethical to bring the Woolly Mammoth back to life, in the midst of global warming? Is it ethical to create chimera organisms? Should scientists focus on saving species that are endangered now rather than de-extincting others?

With the accelerating cost of climate change on human life and animal ecosystems, de-extinction and the rewilding of animals offers assistance in offsetting today’s “climatastrophe”. De-extinction and rewilding, through their ability to mitigate a core set of detrimental human effects on the environment, may thereby interweave hope with science.

With the biotechnologies that exist today, scientists expect to have the ability to bring extinct animals back to life as soon as 2027. There will be a guest speaker who is currently conducting this research. Using approaches from evolution and ecology, this class will examine the bioethics of de-extinction and cutting-edge genome editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9. In order to explore the possibility of these biotechnology systems, we will create a model organism using CRISPR-Cas9 AI.

SPCL 400.309 | Understanding How Literature Shapes Our Perception of Mental Illness

Student Instructors: Jessica Hoffman & Ria Patel
Faculty Mentor: Kelsey Ludwig
M, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
210 Graham Memorial

How do the books we read affect our perception of others? How have authors in the last 70 years discussed mental health? How has their work affected treatment developments and understanding of those with mental illness? This course aims to answer these questions by analyzing a wide array of novels and short stories, spanning across cultural experiences of mental illness throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. In reading these texts, we hope to identify and subvert the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding what mental illness can or “should” look like. By adopting both a clinical and personal perspective, we will begin to understand that mental health is characterized by society’s definitions of “abnormal” and “normal,” and how by challenging these constructs, we can create more inclusive and accurate definitions for mental illness. Finally, we will observe how identity factors such as gender, socioeconomic status, and race can affect both how we experience mental illness and how we perceive it within others.

SPCL 400.310 | Queering 21st-Century Asian American Poetry

Student Instructor: Luna Hou
Faculty Mentor: Eliza Richards
F, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
201 Stone Center

What luminosities exist within the intersectionality of Asian America, queerness, and language art? Why do so many queer Asian American poets portray their bodies in unearthly ways—as myth, cyborg, ghost? How do we strive to treat ourselves with tenderness amid personal and collective apocalypse? These perspectives are ones that grapple deeply with identity, encouraging readers of all different backgrounds to reimagine ourselves in new, revelatory ways.

In this hybrid discussion/workshop-based course, we will combine close reading and creative writing to discover how poems can make way for our own making. We’ll explore the thrillingly diverse world of contemporary poetry through the lens of queer Asian American voices, discussing how poets like Ocean Vuong, Franny Choi, Paul Tran, and Sarah Kay approach writing about their embodied experiences; consider the particular strengths of poetry as a method of self-expression, challenging the boundaries of language, syntax, and form; situate the poems we read within ongoing social, political, and historical movements; and write and share poems engaging with our own unique, multifaceted selves. Class activities include writing an imitation poem of Franny Choi’s “Glossary of Terms” (look it up!), attending a local poetry reading, creating a collaborative literary zine, and more. No previous experience in reading or writing poetry is required, and students of all identities are welcome.

Countless individuals have turned to the written page seeking to immerse themselves more fully in this world we live in, these bodies we inhabit; together, we will endeavor to understand why and how, creating our own space to belong and become.

SPCL 400.311 | Pathologizing Identity [CANCELED]

Student Instructor: Maura O’Sullivan
Faculty Mentor: Sue Estroff
T, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
035 Graham Memorial

In 1972, a psychologist wearing a Richard Nixon mask spoke to a convention of his peers about a grave affliction. Standing before the crowd, Dr. H. Anonymous came out as gay. His speech laid out an argument for the removal of homosexuality from the DSM, and shocked some of his colleagues. At the time, homosexuality was considered a form of sociopathic personality disturbance. If identified, Dr. Anonymous might have lost his license. Today, queer sexuality is not only legal, but publicly celebrated in some, if not all, places. But Dr. Anonymous and the movement behind him raise important questions about the role of psychology and psychiatry in the systematic oppression and pathologizing of difference. How does medicine reflect, create and enforce social norms? Where is the line between identity and ailment? And how, if the experience of a condition is in one’s head and the authorities who define and distribute diagnosis are outside of it, can we tell the difference?

Drawing from social justice narratives within psychology and psychiatry, including the disability justice and anti-psychiatry movements, this course will explore the interpretations of various types of identity over time by mental health clinicians and researchers.  From sexuality & gender to the modern disability rights movement, we will discuss how stigma, as well as social and medical models of identity, have interacted since the emergence of psychiatric diagnoses.

Course objectives will include the following:

  • Discuss how the legacy of medicalizing and pathologizing behaviors  in the medical field applies to a variety of identities.
  • Analyze the power dynamics that exist between the medical field and minoritized groups by learning about the mechanisms and systems of control and oppression.
  • Understand how medical institutions use and misuse power to define and create a vocabulary of  pathologized identities
  • Recognize how advocacy? activities and community can counteract institutional oppression.
  • Identify modern-day personal and structural biases about/toward? What/whom?  () and take steps to oppose or counteract those biases.
  • Evaluate the effects of medicalization on identity-based social groups in the modern day.

This course will appeal to students interested in health care, bioethics, and social justice movements, but all are welcome! Readings will include media ranging from film to academic literature to self-published protest pamphlets and will emphasize primary source literature from both physicians and affected individuals

SPCL 400.312 | Understanding Decision-Making: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Student Instructor: Yifei Pei
Faculty Mentor: Steven Buzinski
W, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
212 Graham Memorial

In this course, we will delve into the nitty-gritty of decision-making. We make decisions every day, both consciously and unconsciously. In our fast-paced world, brimming with various kinds of information, how do we make decisions efficiently and effectively? As social beings, how are we influenced by our social environments and the groups we belong to? Together, we will explore: (a) How human minds employ clever heuristics to facilitate decision-making and how these heuristics can sometimes result in biases and (b) How we, as social agents, navigate the process of decision-making both individually and in group.

This course adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the study of decision-making, drawing upon insights and knowledge from the fields of psychology, behavioral economics, and behavioral science. Through this interdisciplinary exploration, students will develop valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of decision-making and its relevance in improving the quality of choices made in various real-world scenarios.

SPCL 400.313 | Highway to Hell: Urban Transportation in the US

Student Instructor: Lydia Rowen
Faculty Mentor: Tab Combs
T, 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm
306 Dey Hall

How does our movement in urban spaces affect our opportunities and social networks? Urban mobility has an enormous influence on our quality of life. Yet the state of transportation in many American cities is woefully inadequate and exacerbates social and climate wrongs. How and why did we get here, and what is needed to achieve freedom of mobility and transportation justice in our cities?

This course will examine the policies, politics, and planning of urban transportation systems in the United States. A broad range of topics will be explored, such as bicycle/pedestrian urbanism, public transit, land use policies, accessibility, and the infamous car. Sustainable and equitable transportation will be central themes throughout the course. Students will be encouraged to think critically about the movement of peoples and goods within urban spaces.

Students from all majors are welcome! We all have valuable lived experiences from navigating our geographies.

SPCL 400.314 | Reading Revolutionary History through Moral Philosophy [CANCELED]

Student Instructor: Shea Seufert
Faculty Mentor: Jay Smith
M, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
212 Graham Memorial

Unfortunately, it is immediately recognizable that we live in a world filled with violence. History is often marked by wars, uprisings, and conflicts. However, not all these instances are the same. There are numerous episodes of what some might consider righteous violence done by the exploited in an effort to improve their conditions and gain liberty. Revolutions are some of the most complicated historical events, and they remain challenging to morally evaluate even by contemporary historians. What makes a revolution different from other historical uprisings? What are the moral frameworks we can use to decide if violence is permissible or condemnable? This course will use moral frameworks from philosophers from different periods of history, different corners of the world, and different conceptions of morality to come to a closer understanding of these issues. These moral thinkers will include Mengzi, de Beauvoir, d’Eaubonne, Fanon, Hegel, Marx, and others. Events studied will include the American, the French, the Haitian, and the Chinese Cultural revolutions, among others.

There is no clear-cut moral answer when evaluating these events. As such, this course will mainly be focused on discussion and interaction with classmates in a seminar style. We will use the moral frameworks provided as guidance, but students will be encouraged to offer their thoughts on these frameworks and disagree as they see fit to make their own personal judgements on revolutionary history.

SPCL 400.315 | Sundance Rejects

Student Instructor: Amir Shaheen
Faculty Mentor: Bradley Hammer
W, 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm
213 Graham Memorial

Who do you go to for your movie recommendations? A friend? Roger Ebert? Or maybe, you refer to premier film festivals. But can we even trust these so-called ‘arbiters of film excellence?’ Although Sundance Film Festival has earned global recognition for its ability to gauge film quality, several films which were originally rejected from Sundance eventually became internationally acclaimed projects. Even talented and internationally recognized artists, such as Christopher Nolan, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, and Stanley Tucci, have fallen short of Sundance’s metrics of film review. By examining this disjuncture, in the context of 5 discrete genres of film, the students and I will ultimately question the definitions of film “quality” (from cinematography and scoring to dialogue and production value), and thereby extend the contexts for “excellence” in cinema. Further, as a cohort, we will examine the complex ways in which material disparities exist between the Sundance Film Festival submission/evaluation criteria and any evolving metrics of film review.

This course will explore these concerns in the context of modern American film. Specifically, the class will deconstruct the evolution of situational archetypes, unconventional character arcs, and the shifting climate of film and documentary production. Throughout the semester, we will examine the historical modes of cinema analysis, its core nomenclature, the structures of film narrative and their links to ever-shifting Sundance criteria. By the end of the semester, students will be equipped with a more critical understanding of premier film festivals’ recommendations.

SPCL 400.316 | Social Media! “Is it good, or bad?”

Student Instructor: Eleazar Yisrael
Faculty Mentor: David Monje
T, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
517 Hamilton Hall

How many times in the past decade have you heard the effects of social media on young people being discussed?.. Ok, let me ask a fairer question, have the effects of social media been debated often in a wide variety of spaces? This course makes sense of the noisy conversations around social media regarding its influence on society and people. 98% of college students use social media, so let’s finally develop an understanding for it.

“Social Media! “Is it good, or bad?”” will discuss the history/development of social media in order to arrive at its present-day landscape. We will, of course, talk about the trajectory of the debate surrounding social media and the different sides of the argument. In addition, an understanding of how social media influences health, psychology, and social well-being, will develop for students throughout the course. All the elements above will be gained by applying hands-on approaches, watching movies/documentaries, and analyzing real-world examples.

We mostly all use it… But do we truly understand social media and the true effect of it? With this course, you can!