Interdisciplinary Honors Courses Open Students' and Professor's Eyes

Summer 2013 Newsletter

Clarence Spigner
Clarence Spigner
Public Health, American Ethnic Studies

We believe students are best-prepared for life after Honors by learning to cross disciplinary boundaries. The world issues these future-graduates will work on are complex, involve multiple points-of-view, and need nimble thinkers. That's why interdisciplinary courses are a hallmark of the Honors core curriculum. Honors faculty Clarence Spigner, professor of health services in the School of Public Health and adjunct professor in the departments of American Ethnic Studies and Global Health, recently introduced two new core courses into the Honors core curriculum in which students confront difficult topics through an interdisciplinary lens.

In Spigner's first Honors course "'I am Charlotte Simmons': An Interactive Health Seminar Based on the Novel by Tom Wolfe," students engaged in intense discussions about student life, including issues such as self esteem, sexual risk-taking, cultures of drinking, date-rape, pathological narcissism, depression, social support, and family-ties.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: An Interactive Seminar on Race, Research and Medicine," was based on the best-selling and critically-acclaimed book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that documents an impoverished African American woman whose cells were removed without permission in 1951 by doctors. In Spigner's class, students examined the societal and institutional attitudes and practices of racial discrimination, the commodification of human tissues in the research establishment, and the social versus biological construction of race.

In teaching these courses, Spigner noted that he loves the dynamic environment of the Honors classroom. Students on their own, prompted by class discussions, brought to class articles on gender, women, environment, date rape drugs, incapacitated rape, race, stereotypes, many of which came from the American Journal of Public Health.

"In teaching these courses," Spigner reported, "I learned more than I taught. In fact, the experiences revealed that I never knew I loved teaching so much. Teaching in Honors has been a real eye-opener for me."

Jim Clauss
Jim Clauss, director of the Honors Program, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and professor of Classics