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University Courses take on challenging, interdisciplinary topics

Law professor Laurie Blank (center), director of the International Humanitarian Law Clinic, joins professors from Rollins School of Public Health, Goizueta Business School and the Center for Ethics to facilitate “Global Security and Leadership in a Complex World," one of three University Courses this semester open to undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Emory Photo/Video

From examining the ethics surrounding what we eat and the complexities of disability and resilience to exploring issues of global security and leadership, this spring’s University Courses invite students to engage deeply with topics both challenging and timely.

Now in its seventh year, Emory’s University Course program strives to bring together students — undergraduate, graduate and professional — and a robust roster of faculty from across campus for an intensive, multidisciplinary exploration of subjects of common concern.

Coordinated through the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE), the courses typically attract a wide assortment of faculty participants representing a broad cross-section of disciplines, says Donna Troka, CFDE associate director of teaching and pedagogy and an adjunct assistant professor in Emory's Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts.

“The point is to look at things across disciplines with a variety of students, from a sophomore in Emory College to students finishing their MBAs or PhDs, along with faculty from across many schools,” Troka says.

Beyond allowing students to study topics through an interdisciplinary lens, “the collateral benefit is that these courses also allow for faculty development, connection and collaboration,” she notes.

Student interest in the three University Courses offered this semester has been notably strong, according to Troka. “Because the courses are discussion based, we try to keep the classes at a smaller seminar size,” she notes. “But across all three courses, we saw heightened student interest.”

By design, each course will feature a component that invites public participation, such as a special speaker or event. And for the first time, one of the courses will unite students on Emory’s Atlanta and Oxford College campuses, with classes live-streamed to both locations simultaneously, Troka says.

Two of this semester’s interdisciplinary University Courses arose from recent CoLA courses, flexible faculty and student learning communities supported through Emory’s Coalition of the Liberal Arts (CoLA).

The Spring 2017 University Courses are:

“Disability, Resilience, and the Mortal Self”


  • Bruce Greenfield, associate professor, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, and senior fellow, Center for Ethics

  • Aaron Stutz, associate professor, Department of Anthropology, Oxford College

  • Sarah Blanton, associate professor, Emory Department of Rehabilitation Medicine

  • Zoher Kapasi, interim director and associate professor, Division of Physical Therapy of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Participants will explore the complexity of disability and resilience throughout life by employing narrative composition, presentation, analysis and revision to help understand bodily capacity and experiences surrounding disability and resilience, illness and healing.

Faculty experts will also speak on topics such as the biopolitics of disability, religion and disability, and the portrayal of disability in visual art; participants will visit physical therapy research labs.

“We did this as a CoLA course last year with undergraduates,” says Greenfield. “When the opportunity arose to develop this into an interdisciplinary course that combines graduate and undergraduate students, it seemed like a good fit.”

For the University Course, “we’ll look at concepts such as mortality, normalcy, resiliency, inclusion and quality of life through the framework of disability,” he says. “We hope to help students develop insights into these existential concepts through the lens of disability, which is elusive and changing.”

The course will also use technology to bridge Emory's Oxford and Atlanta campuses.

"We are excited to bring Oxford College faculty and students into the classroom, too,” Stutz says. “The technology should make seminar interactions across the video screen rich enough and real enough to help everyone feel included.”

“Global Security and Leadership in a Complex World”


  • Laurie Blank, clinical professor of law, Emory School of Law

  • Dabney Evans, assistant professor of global health, Rollins School of Public Health

  • Ken Keen, associate dean for leadership development, Goizueta Business School

  • Edward Queen, director, Ethics and Servant Leadership Program, Emory Center for Ethics

With a scholarship focus on international law and armed conflict, Emory law professor Laurie Blank has built connections with faculty from across campus who share interests in issues of global security.

And speaking with classes across campus, she has also noticed a strong student interest “in what is going on in the world and how they can get involved as professionals with protecting people in emergency and conflict situations,” says Blank, director of Emory's International Humanitarian Law Clinic.

This semester’s University Course will help students examine issues of global security and leadership at a critical and complex time, exploring topics such as how international security can be promoted and sustained, practical aspects of leadership, and strategies in addressing real global challenges.

“We’re looking at a tour de force of topics,” Blank acknowledges, including sovereignty and borders, ethics and leadership, cybersecurity, global economics and development, human intervention and nation building, religion, multiculturalism and extremism, conflict resolution, and managing and responding to global health emergencies.

“Going out into the world, you have to understand your client’s business, goals and interests,” Blank says. “We’ll be bringing a lot of really interesting speakers to offer a real-world leadership component, including the types of decisions they’ve had to face and what they rely on in making those decisions.”

“Eating Ethics”


  • Jonathan K. Crane, Raymond F. Schinazi Scholar in Bioethics and Jewish Thought, Center for Ethics; associate professor, Department of Medicine; and associate professor, Department of Religion.

Three years ago, Jonathan Crane offered a course through Emory’s Department of Religion that considered what it means to “eat the world.”

But he soon realized there was only so far he could go with the topic in a traditional classroom. So he located a demo kitchen on campus and reinterpreted the class as a CoLA course.

Students were tasked with planning menus, shopping for and cooking ingredients, and serving communal meals. They “emerged with new interests and appreciation for the ethical complexity of our modern food environment along with new social networks and skills they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Crane says.

This semester, Crane is presenting the popular class as a University Course. Students will meet once a week at the Few Hall Demonstration Kitchen. Based on the week’s theme, they will collectively plan menus, shop, prep, cook and serve meals, along with keeping food blogs and diet diaries.

Topics include labeling laws, neuroscience and ethics, symbolic eating, disorderly eating, the cost of eating and eating to excess. They’ll also hear from experts in psychology, animal farming, environmental and natural resources law, anthropology, biology, gastroenterology, cardiology, endocrinology and metabolism.

“Whether it’s business, philosophy, anthropology or nursing, everyone is concerned about what food is, how we think about it, and its impact on ourselves and our living environments, our health, public policies and religious identities,” Crane says.

“What really excites me about putting this forward as a University Course is that Emory is uniquely situated to create a food studies program that could be a leader in what’s becoming a necessary field,” he says. “It touches nearly every department and certainly impacts every individual.”

"This course supports an ongoing cross-campus collaboration in creating a robust integrated eating ethics program here at Emory,” adds Crane, who has a book on eating ethics due out later this year.

For more information, call 404-727-4955 or email

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