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Exploring Complex Questions Learning Communities

During fall semester, all new students take GENS 175: Exploring Complex Questions, which introduces students to the liberal arts through collaborative, discussion-based courses.

Exploring Complex Questions is made up of learning communities, which include faculty from at least three different departments and explore a common topic or theme. You may have a shared syllabus, common texts or combined activities with the other classes in your learning community.

New students will receive an email survey in the summer and be able to pick the four learning communities that most interest them. This survey will be used to place students into classes.

GENS 175: Exploring Complex Questions

Fall 2024 Learning Communities

This seminar introduces students to the liberal arts through an interdisciplinary discussion of th­­e locus of a moving, experiencing self as the foundation of cognition and being in the world — the body. The course includes interdisciplinary plenaries that explore both text and movement in the form of somatic/dance practices. Both textual analysis and movement investigate the body's relationship to power as both shaped by, and resisted through, culture, race, gender, and dis/ability. Through exploration of the body historically and politically at both the local and global level, the course begins with and continually returns to the most basic question: What is the body? How do the boundaries of the body exist in intersection with the environment? How is the body a site of past experience?

Participating Faculty: Peter de Grass, Patrick Frierson, Mary Raschko

Human, environmental, and ecological systems of all kinds are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. How can we remain hopeful and optimistic in the face of a constant stream of information predicting doom and catastrophe? We must act now. This First Year Seminar course will explore a broad range of approaches to address our shared environmental emergencies. Taught by faculty with expertise in Geology, History, and Theology, this class will address several core themes and questions: Where are we now at this moment of the climate crisis? How did we get here? What are successful examples by artists, engineers, scientists, writers, and other creative thinkers to imagine and build a more just, equitable, sustainable future? What do we need to do as individuals and communities to prepare ourselves to act? And how can we act with urgency, while also avoiding unintended consequences? This course will utilize a broad range of media—from written texts to podcasts, video, artwork and design—to address these complex questions, with an emphasis on current, concrete examples of efforts to create positive change for a better climate future.

Participating Faculty: Kazi Joshua, Nina Lerman, Kirsten Nicolaysen

Games are interwoven into the fabric of every society and culture. Some of the oldest stories and historical evidence suggest that games are a core element of social connection. How are games connected to humanity and what can we learn from them? In this course we will seek to answer this question by playing games and examining games and our experiences of play through several academic lenses. Our theoretical framework will be partly informed by selected readings from C. Thi Nguyen’s book Games: Agency as Art, which provides new philosophical models for the rich complexity of game playing and through careful reading of a number of other books and articles about games.

Some of the questions we will consider include:

  • What is a game?
  • In what ways can a game be considered art?
  • What can games teach us about our agency, morality, and values?
  • Relatedly, how are games used as tools to explore or understand behavior in biological, psychological, and social contexts?
  • How do gender, race, ethnicity, or economic situation shape how we play, observe, or think about games?

Above all, in this class, game play will be a regular, communal practice!

Participating Faculty: Sharon Alker, Barry Balof, Tim Doyle, Moira Gresham, Justin Lincoln, Jason Ralston, Albert Schueller

Although “translation” is often understood only to mean rendering words (written or spoken) in one language into another, it carries other shades of meaning, including expressing something in a different medium or form; converting or adapting something to another context, system, or even use; and moving a person or thing from one place or position elsewhere. This learning community will examine different conceptions of translation, exploring what unites these disparate understandings of translation–the movement across, beyond, or over–whether this movement is linguistic, scientific, or metaphorical. What happens in the process of translation? What is lost? Can something be gained? What societal forces shape what is translated and by whom? Alongside works about (and, perhaps, in) translation in various media, such as global literary fiction, international film, theatrical or musical productions, and podcasts, we will study relevant theories of knowledge that ask us to think about how ideas, words, and people change when moved from one context to another. The Introduction to Edward Said's Orientalism will be common to all sections, though texts across sections might vary. While individual sections may differ in methodology and approach, each will remain grounded in the possibilities that translation opens in our thinking, our selves, and our relations with others.

Participating Faculty: Sally Bormann, Chetna Chopra, Kaitlyn Patia, Libby Miller, Nicole Simek, Zahi Zalloua

What does it mean to tell a story? What roles can stories play in learning about ourselves, understanding others, and making sense of the world around us? How do stories shape and perpetuate cultural “knowledge” and who gets to tell those stories? How can technology help us tell more inclusive and creative stories? This course seeks to address these questions and more through a range of interdisciplinary perspectives. Students will examine storytelling in verbal, visual, performative, and digital formats, with the goal of developing a nuanced understanding of stories and their tellings through academic study and creative storytelling projects. The materials for this course will be anchored by selections from local writer Beth Piatote’s The Beadworkers. Visits to the Whitman College archives and the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute will showcase our local landscape of voices and stories. As we work through our topics in class, students will be guided by additional readings and talks from faculty with expertise in theatre, sociology, computer science, comparative literature, and writing. Students will be encouraged to create their own stories as the entire learning community collaborates to explore ways of becoming nuanced and ethical storytellers attuned to the power and responsibility that stories hold.

Participating Faculty: William Bares, Gilbert Mireles, Daniel Schindler, Emily Sibley, Jenna Terry

What is time, and how do humans experience it?  How do we perceive it, measure it, record it, and organize it, both individually and in society?  What do we learn by examining the nature and experience of time? How does such study illuminate the significance of human life and mortality, the freedom of human will, and humans’ ethical obligations to the past and future? How do various scholarly disciplines explain memory, attention, and anticipation– cognitive processes by which humans engage with the past, the present, and the future? As we consider such questions, we’ll also develop and refine skills that will be essential throughout your time at Whitman: careful reading, open-minded listening, productive discussion, clear and insightful writing, information literacy, and research. Each section will explore the theme in different ways, but sections will occasionally meet with other sections for shared activities, and all sections will include texts from a range of liberal arts and sciences disciplines, including physics, geology, literature, music, philosophy, and psychology.

Participating Faculty: Mitch Clearfield, Julia Ireland, Rob Schlegel, Doug Scarborough

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