Here is a talk that my colleague Cal Murgu and I gave discussing the thought behind the COVID-19 course we designed for the Fall 2020 semester at New College as well as the issues we faced when coordinating it.
This Fall, I am coordinating together with my colleague Calin Murgu the course “COVID-19: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the Pandemic.” The course explores thecurrent COVID-19 crisis from a variety of disciplinary perspectives that include biology, epidemiology, data science, history, politics, economics, sociology, literature, ethics, religion, arts, and more. The course will try to understand the aetiology (causes) and epidemiology (spread) of the virus, the various national and global responses to the pandemic, its dramatic economic and political consequences, the ways in which we gathered data, analyzed it, and visualize it in order to understand the magnitude of the pandemic, the ways in which wealth, class, and race had an effect in the responses to the pandemic, and the way in which information (and misinformation) spread like the virus itself. The course will also explore the history of pandemics (from the black plague of the 14th century, to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80s), the rise of the germ theory of disease, the development of public health policies to respond to pandemics, ethical issues surrounding the response to a health crisis, the effects of religion in cultural, and personal responses to the virus, and the way in which art and literature have portrayed pandemics.
The class will also have a companion website that will include all of the materials and resources used in the class, which we hope will serve not only as a resource to understand the pandemic but also as a time-capsule of how we dealt and tried to make sense of this global crisis at this very particular time.
Students will also learn how to use a series of digital tools such as Juxtapose, Soundcite, Storyline, StoryMap, Timeline, Flourish, and DataWrapper that will help them process, analyze, visualize, and tell the story of how this crisis unfolded.
The course is coordinated by me and Digital Humanities Librarian Cal Murgu, and will be taught by a wide range of faculty members of New College, as well as invited speakers.
By Jim DeLa
A group of New College students are learning how to better cope with the stress of college life by spending several hours a week in meditation and practicing other stress reduction techniques.
They’re even getting credit for it.
More than 30 students, primarily first-years, are enrolled in an independent study project this month called “Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Focus and Creativity to Your College Experience.”
Created by Assistant Professor of Religion Manuel Lopez, the class is a collaboration between New College and the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute. For two weeks, instructors from the Institute will do various exercises with the class.
Students also meet with Lopez regularly to discuss assigned readings that explore how meditation can enhance focus, as well as discussing examples of writers, musicians and artists that have used meditation to develop creativity. They’re required to keep a meditation journal throughout the class and write a short reflection paper.
Lopez offered this ISP last year with 10 students. He says the ISP can be particularly helpful for students under pressure. “You see a lot of first-years struggling, not because they’re not intellectually prepared, but because they aren’t emotionally and mentally prepared” for college.
“They’re going to be able to learn techniques that will help them throughout their college career,” Lopez explained. “It’s going to be a very useful tool.”
The course uses a technique called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. At one session in the New College Music Room, instructor Lynne Lockie guided the class through short meditations designed to relax participants and foster a sense of awareness.
While meditation is used, it’s not the only way to be mindful, she said. “Mindfulness takes many forms,” Lockie said. “If meditation isn’t your thing, you can experience it in other ways … in the shower, opening a door or driving.
First-year student Claire Besancon said she hopes the class will help her. “I really like it. It’s so peaceful and calming,” she said. She said the class and other activities help her to be more focused in the moment. “It will help me with stress and anxiety.”
Second-year Michael Dwyer is in the class because he’s taken other classes with Professor Lopez, and this “seemed like it would be fun,” he said. “It’s been everything I thought it would be, it’s met every expectation.”
Mindfulness, according to the Institute’s website, is “the gentle effort to be continuously present with one’s experience. That means paying attention to what you are sensing, feeling or thinking without judging it as good or bad. Mindfulness is the opposite of being on ‘auto-pilot.’ When we are mindful, we respond rather than react.”
Jake Pavao, a second-year biology AOC, said he wanted to do something different during the January interterm. “It’s pretty enjoyable. It’s relaxing. It’s a nice way to break up the day.”
Lockie says while the Institute has programs for children of all ages, she sees particular benefits for college students. “Research says college students are very judgmental about themselves. They’re leaving home for the first time, starting their own lives. They have to deal with the stress of meeting expectations.”
This past summer I had the chance to be part of the NEH Institute Islam in Asia, that took place in Hawaii June 12-July 7. It was a great opportunity to learn about the history and impact that Islam has had in Asia from a great group of scholars, and incorporate what I learned into my own courses. The Institute was directed by Peter Hershock and Nelly van Doorn-Harder, and it included scholars such as Bruce Lawrence, Eric Tagliacozzo, Ronit Ricci, and Ebrahim Moosa. It was an incredible learning experience that allowed me to expand my intellectual horizons, as well as giving me the chance to meet other colleagues from a wide variety of institutions from whom I was also able to learn a lot.
Last year, during an ASIANetwork/Mellon Foundation sponsored trip to Japan, I learned about Green Legacy Hiroshima, an NGO that has as a mission “to safeguard and spread worldwide the seeds and saplings of Hiroshima’s A-Bomb survivor trees. It is hoped that many partners will join this initiative and become active ambassadors in their countries of Hiroshima, its peace message and its green legacy.” I was so impressed and moved by their work that, upon my return to the States, I connected my own institution (New College of Florida) and our local botanical garden (Selby Gardens) with them in order to import some seeds from those trees, and plant them in our community. With the help of my colleague at NCF Brad Oberle and the Bruce Holst, the main botanist at Selby, we were able to get the seeds and had a beautiful ceremony at Selby on August 1st, close to the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bomb detonating in Hiroshima. It was a lovely ceremony and we hope that those budding trees (camphor, holly, and persimmon) will be a symbol of the resilience of nature, and a reminder of the horrors of nuclear war.
We will have our own ceremony here at New College as soon as the seedlings are strong enough to be planted.
This would not have been possible without the great work of the people at Green Legacy: Nassrine Azimi, Nobuaki Nishikawa, and others. Thanks everyone for making this possible.
The ceremony in the local press: