Health, Science, and Society

Health, science, and society is a cluster of undergraduate and graduate courses, programs, and events that address the meaning of health and illness, advocacy for health and health care, and structures of medical and scientific knowledge. Courses and events are multidisciplinary, bringing together perspectives from the humanities, creative arts, social sciences, and natural sciences. Undergraduate students who are interested in health, science, and society are encouraged to take courses across the curriculum and to design interdisciplinary conference projects.

Over the past 25 years, as health and disease have been examined from social, economic, political, and historical perspectives, there has been an increased awareness of the ways in which definitions of disease are framed in relation to the values, social structures, and bases of knowledge of particular communities. Globalization has required us to understand health and disease as crucial international issues, and environmental health is increasingly seen to be a matter of policy that has significantly differential effects on different populations. Public talks and events are regularly scheduled to bring together undergraduate and graduate faculty and students to consider these questions of health, medicine, and scientific knowledge from a broad variety of perspectives.

This focus of study may be of interest to students interested in the health professions, including pre-med, nursing, or allied professions such as physical therapy, allowing them to combine courses in the natural sciences with explorations of the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Similarly, students in the arts and humanities who are interested in health and illness may find that incorporating science and social science into their educational program enables them to achieve a greater depth of understanding and expression in their work.

The health, science, and society program offers undergraduate students the unique opportunity to take advantage of Sarah Lawrence College’s nationally recognized graduate master’s programs in Human Genetics and Health Advocacy, both of which are the first such graduate programs offered in the country. Events and programs are also coordinated with the graduate programs in Art of Teaching and Child Development and in collaboration with the Child Development Institute.

Health, Science, and Society 2022-2023 Courses

Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. His interlocutor, Bernard Stiegler, phrases the main idea behind this statement: “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida’s observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida’s punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and, thus, craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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Viruses and Pandemics

Open, Seminar—Fall

Ebola, smallpox, influenza, rabies...these and other viruses are the smallest lifeforms on Earth, yet they are one of the most powerful and devastating biological forces ever unleashed. Throughout human history, virally-caused pandemics have periodically ravaged human populations—altering the social fabric, confounding political and medical responses, and revealing the fragility of the human species. Examples range from the Antonine Plague, which killed five-million people during the time of the Roman empire, to the 15-million deaths during the Cocoliztli epidemic of the 1600s in Mexico and Central America, to the Spanish flu pandemic of the early 20th century that claimed an estimated 50- to 100-million victims. The current COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of the dominance of viruses and exposed the challenges of confronting these microscopic pathogens on a global scale. This course will examine the biology and behavior of viruses, the role of such pathogens in inducing different pandemics throughout the course of history, and the means by which they can rapidly spread through a population. We will explore how vaccines, quarantines, and other medical, social and political responses work to mitigate and eventually overcome viral outbreaks, as well as how we track down and study pathogenic viruses. During the course, we will consider the representation of viruses through readings drawn from texts such as Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, John Barry’s The Great Influenza, and C. J. Peters’ Virus Hunter.

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General Biology Series: Anatomy and Physiology

Open, Seminar—Fall

Anatomy is the branch of science that investigates the bodily structure of living organisms, while physiology is the study of the normal functions of those organisms. In this course, we will explore the human body in both health and disease. Focus will be placed on the major body units, such as skin, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. By emphasizing concepts and critical thinking rather than rote memorization, we will make associations between anatomical structures and their functions. The course will have a clinical approach to health and illness, with examples drawn from medical disciplines such as radiology, pathology, and surgery. Laboratory work will include dissections and microscope work. A final conference paper is required at the conclusion of the course; the topic will be chosen by each student to emphasize the relevance of anatomy/physiology to our understanding of the human body.

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Principles of Botany

Open, Seminar—Fall

Understanding the basic principles of plant biology is crucial to understanding the complex web of life on Earth and its evolutionary history. Nearly all organisms, including humans, rely on plants—directly or indirectly—for their basic needs. Consequently, plants are essential to our existence; by studying them, we learn more about our self and the world we inhabit. This course is an introductory survey of botanical science and is designed for the student with little science background. We will broadly examine numerous topics related to botany, including: cell biology comprising DNA/RNA, photosynthesis, and respiration; plant structure, reproduction, and evolution; and plant diversity, ecology, and habitats. Seminars and textbook readings will be supplemented by a field trip to the New York Botanical Garden. Conference projects will provide the opportunity for the student to explore specific botanical interests in detail.

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Biology of Cancer

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Cancer is likely the most feared and most notorious of human diseases, being devastating in both its scope and its prognosis. Cancer has been described as an alien invader inside one’s own body, characterized by its insidious spread and devious ability to resist countermeasures. Cancer’s legendary status is rightfully earned, accounting for 13 percent of all human deaths worldwide and killing an estimated eight-million people annually. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer”; since then, more than $200 billion have been spent on cancer research. While clinical success has been modest, tremendous insights have been generated in understanding the cellular, molecular, and genetic mechanisms of this disease. In this course, we will explore the field of cancer biology, covering topics such as tumor viruses, cellular oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, cell immortalization, multistep tumorigenesis, cancer development and metastasis, and the treatment of cancer. In addition, we will discuss new advances in cancer research and draw from recent articles in the published literature. Readings will also include Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies.

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Genetics

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

At the biological core of all life on Earth is the gene. The unique combination of genes in each individual ultimately forms the basis for that person’s physical appearance, metabolic capacity, thought processes, and behavior; therefore, in order to understand how life develops and functions, it is critical to understand what genes are, how they work, and how they are passed on from parents to offspring. In this course, we will begin by investigating the theories of inheritance first put forth by Mendel and then progress to our current concepts of how genes are transmitted through individuals, families, and whole populations. We will also examine chromosome structure and the molecular functions of genes and DNA— and how mutations in DNA can lead to physical abnormalities and diseases such as Trisomy 21, hemophilia, or others. Finally, we will discuss the role of genetics in influencing such complex phenotypes as behavior or traits such as intelligence. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Virology

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Viruses are some of the smallest biological entities found in nature—yet, at the same time, perhaps the most notorious. Having no independent metabolic activity of their own, they function as intracellular parasites depending entirely on infecting and interacting with the cells of a host organism to produce new copies of themselves. The effects on the host organism can be catastrophic, leading to disease and death. HIV has killed more than 18-million people since its identification and infected twice that number. Ebola, West Nile, herpes, and pox viruses are all well-known yet shrouded in fear and mystery. During the course of this semester, we will examine the biology of viruses by discussing: their physical and genetic properties; their interaction with host cells; their ability to commandeer the cellular machinery for their own reproductive needs; the effects of viral infection on host cells; and, finally, how viruses and other subviral entities may have originated and evolved. In addition, we will examine how viruses have been discussed in the primary research literature and other media, with readings drawn from Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague and others.

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Resonance Research and Spectroscopy Seminar

Open, Seminar—Year

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has played a huge role in science since the mid-20th century, garnering five Nobel prizes across chemistry, physics, and medicine. Today, NMR remains a crucial analytical and diagnostic tool in these scientific disciplines. Fortunately, the recent development of inexpensive benchtop NMR spectrometers provides new opportunities for undergraduate students to gain hands-on learning and research skills related to this highly applicable technique. This lab-based course has been co-developed and will be co-taught by experimental physicist Merideth Frey and physical chemist Colin Abernethy, so students can learn the science and applications of NMR while developing experimental research skills using Sarah Lawrence’s benchtop NMR spectrometers. This yearlong, lab-based course will cover the theory, practice, and applications of NMR in a truly multidisciplinary way—linking the physics behind these techniques with their applications in chemistry, medicine, quantum information science, and beyond. In addition to work done as a class, students will undertake individual projects that will involve designing and performing their own research projects utilizing the benchtop NMR spectrometers. At the end of the year, students will be given the opportunity to present particularly successful projects as posters or talks at regional or national scientific meetings; this work may also be featured in the supplemental course material posted online.

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General Chemistry I

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Chemistry is the study of the properties, composition, and transformation of matter. Chemistry is central to the production of the materials required for modern life; for instance, the synthesis of pharmaceuticals to treat disease, the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides required to feed an ever-growing population, and the development of efficient and environmentally-benign energy sources. This course provides an introduction to the fundamental concepts of modern chemistry. We will begin by examining the structure and properties of atoms, which are the building blocks of the elements and the simplest substances in the material world around us. We will then explore how atoms of different elements can bond with each other to form an infinite variety of more complex substances, called compounds. This will lead us to an investigation of several classes of chemical reactions, the processes by which substances are transformed into new materials with different physical properties. Along the way, we will learn how and why the three states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases) differ from one another and how energy may be either produced or consumed by chemical reactions. In weekly laboratory sessions, we will perform experiments to illustrate and test the theories presented in the lecture part of the course. These experiments will also serve to develop practical skills in both synthetic and analytic chemical techniques.

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General Chemistry II

Intermediate, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is a continuation of General Chemistry I. We will begin with a detailed study of both the physical and chemical properties of solutions. This will enable us to consider the factors that affect both the rates and direction of chemical reactions. We will then investigate the properties of acids and bases and the role that electricity plays in chemistry. The course will conclude with introductions to nuclear chemistry and organic chemistry. Weekly laboratory sessions will allow us to demonstrate and test the theories described in the lecture segment of the course.

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Environmental Chemistry

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course provides an introduction to basic concepts of chemistry and their application to current environmental issues. Topics include acid rain, ozone depletion, air pollution, climate change (global warming), surface water and groundwater pollution, and plastics and polymers. We will then consider how human activities such as transportation, energy production, and chemical industries influence the environment.

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Biochemistry

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Biochemistry is the chemistry of biological systems. This course will introduce students to the important principles and concepts of biochemistry. Topics will include the structure and functions of biomolecules, such as amino acids, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids, RNA, DNA, and bioenergetics. This knowledge will then be used to study the pathways of metabolism.

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Theories of Development

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” suggested Kurt Lewin almost 100 years ago. Since then, the competing theoretical models of Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Vygotsky, and others have shaped the field of developmental psychology and have been used by parents and educators to determine child-care practice and education. In this course, we will study the classic theories—psychoanalytic, behaviorist, and cognitive-developmental—as they were originally formulated and in light of subsequent critiques and revisions. Questions that we will consider include: Are there patterns in our emotional thinking or social lives that can be seen as universal, or are these patterns always culture-specific? Can life experiences be conceptualized in a series of stages? How else can we understand change over time? We will use theoretical perspectives as lenses through which to view different aspects of experience—the origins of wishes and desires, early parent-child attachments, intersubjectivity in the emergence of self, symbolic and imaginative thinking, and the role of play in learning. For conference work, students will be encouraged to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children, as one goal of the course is to bridge theory and practice.

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Clinical Perspectives: Challenges to Child and Adolescent Development

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

How do varying childhood experiences impact children’s mental health and wellbeing? What happens when the course of development is affected by trauma or depression? This seminar will focus on challenges that arise in child and adolescent development, drawing upon approaches in clinical psychology, developmental psychology, and cultural psychology/clinical ethnography. We will analyze how particular psychological experiences and behaviors have been typically understood as abnormal or pathological and how they are intertwined with the experience of child development. We will also explore critical commentaries on clinical diagnosis and treatment in order to analyze the merits and drawbacks of the common approaches to these issues. Students will learn about the clinical categories of conditions such as ADHD, autism, depression, and anxiety, as compiled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). We will look at case examples to illuminate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, course, and treatment of such psychological conditions in childhood and adolescence. Through readings and course discussion, students will be invited to question the universal applicability of Western clinical approaches that rest on particular assumptions about normality, behavior, social relations, human rights, and health. We will also explore how diagnostic processes and psychological and psychiatric care are, at times, differentially applied in the United States according to the client’s race/ethnicity, class, and gender and how clinicians might effectively address such disparities in diagnosis and care. Students will complete conference projects related to the central themes of our course and may opt to work at the Early Childhood Center or a local community program that serves children or adolescents.

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Early Intervention Approaches for Young Children and Their Families

Advanced, Small seminar—Spring

This small seminar will explore several early-intervention approaches for young children and their families, with a particular emphasis on the theory and technique of play therapy. While this course will focus mostly on child-centered play therapy (CCPT), we will also look at the methodology of other types of approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and DIR/Floortime. In addition, course material will highlight cultural considerations, therapeutic work with parents and caregivers, challenges in therapeutic treatment, self-reflection, self-regulation, and interoception. Readings, class discussions, group play-based activities, and video illustrations will provide students with both a theoretical and introductory clinical basis for play-based therapeutic work with young children in early intervention.

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Yoga

Component—

This yoga class is designed with the interests of dancers and theatre students in mind. Various categories of postures will be practiced, with attention to alignment, breath awareness, strength, and flexibility. The physical practice includes seated and standing poses, twists, forward bends and backbends, traditional yogic breathing practices, and short meditations. Emphasis is placed on mindfulness and presence. This approach allows the student to gain tools for reducing stress and addressing unsupportive habits to carry into other aspects of their lives. Attention will be given to the chakra system as a means and metaphor for postural, movement, and character choices. The instructor has a background in dance and object theatre, in addition to various somatically-based practices that she draws upon for designing the classes to meet the individual needs of the class members.

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Anatomy

Component—Year

How is it possible for us to move in the countless ways that we do? Learn to develop your X-ray vision of human beings in motion through functional anatomical study that combines movement practice, drawing, lecture, and problem solving. In this course, movement is a powerful vehicle for experiencing, in detail, our profoundly adaptable musculoskeletal anatomy. We will learn Irene Dowd’s Spirals—a comprehensive warm-up/cool-down for dancing that coordinates all joints and muscles through their fullest range of motion, facilitating study of the entire musculoskeletal system. In addition to movement practice, drawings are made as part of each week’s lecture (drawing materials provided); three short assignments will be submitted each semester. Insights and skills developed in this course can provide tremendous inspiration in the process of movement invention and composition.

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Anatomy Research Seminar

Component—Year

This is an opportunity for students who have completed a full year of anatomy study in the SLC dance program to pursue functional anatomy studies in greater depth. In open consultation with the instructor during class meetings, each student engages in independent research, developing one or more lines of inquiry that utilize functional anatomy perspectives and texts as an organizing framework. Research topics in recent years have included investigation of micropolitics in established dance training techniques, examining connections between movement and emotion, exploring implications of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, motor and experiential learning, development of a unique warm-up sequence to address specific individual technical issues, inquiry into kinetic experience and its linguistic expression, detailed study of knee-joint anatomy, and study of kinematics and rehabilitation in knee injury. The class meets biweekly to discuss progress, questions, and methods for reporting, writing, and presenting research—alternating with weekly studio/practice sessions for individual and/or group research consultations.

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History of Political Economy and Economic History

Open, Seminar—Year

In this yearlong seminar, the fall semester will be devoted to the study of the theoretical debates on the history of economic and legal thought. It will be shown that the study of economics is incomplete without an understanding of the relationship of the economy to law and politics. These theoretical debates will be linked to transformations in capitalism in a number of different geographic contexts, especially the United States, Europe, and Africa. The dominant approach in contemporary economics is the neoclassical school. This course will introduce students to the origins, foundational tools and questions, and analytical constructs at the heart of both neoclassical and other schools of thought in economics. In the fall, the first part of the course will deal with what is called classical political economy (primarily Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx). Next, given that property, contracts, and torts are at the core of markets, the course will integrate the path-breaking insights from the linked American Legal Realist and Original Institutional Economics traditions to understand the legal institutional foundations of markets. The final part of the course will deal with the perspectives of some of the major founders of the neoclassical school (Léon Walras, William Stanley Jevons, and John Bates Clark) and their debates with institutional economists during the interwar period. Finally, the contemporary New Institutional Economics framework, with its foundations in neoclassical economics, will be compared with the insights of the original institutional economists and legal realists. The spring semester will be devoted to the study of two major topics: business history (including the study of colonialism, race, and slavery) and monetary history. The goal of the spring semester is to enable students to reflect on the applicability (or otherwise) of the theoretical perspectives discussed in the fall.

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Economics of Environmental Justice (Intensive Semester in Yonkers)

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Environmental injustice is both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, environmental injustice is the unequal distribution of environmental burdens (or benefits) in a society. As a process, environmental injustice is the history and institutions that project political, economic, and social inequalities into the environmental sphere. In this course, we will focus on our immediate community: Yonkers, NY. We will first measure the disproportionate environmental burdens in the city’s low-income and minority neighborhoods. Then, we will utilize economics to examine the causal mechanisms of environmental injustice. We will focus on the evolution of the housing market, the changing demographics of Yonkers, the location choice of major pollution sources, and zoning policies. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields—economics, politics, sociology, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options for improving environmental and climate justice in Yonkers. There will be service-learning opportunities at local community organizations.

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Pollution

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

The pollution of our air, water, and soils is responsible for millions of deaths across the globe each year, along with immeasurable harm to natural ecosystems. In this seminar, we will study the chemistry of environmental pollutants that are most salient today—including lead, soot, pesticides, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), sewage, nutrients, and greenhouse gases—and learn about how their chemistry influences their fate and their transport through the environment and, in turn, their impacts on human health and natural ecosystems. We will also study basic techniques of pollutant monitoring and strategies to remediate different types of pollution and restore healthy ecosystems and communities. Beyond this, we will explore the broader concept of pollution, considering how compounds that can be vital to our survival can also harm our environment, as well as how thresholds for when a compound becomes a “pollutant” are determined. Course work will include both chemistry problem-sets and diverse readings about historic and current pollution issues. Conference work will allow students to develop a case study of a pollution incident or ongoing pollution hazard.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political II

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Gendered Histories of Sickness and Health in Africa

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

How does an individual’s gender expression determine how s/he/they receive health care in Africa? In what ways does gender influence who provides health care, the kind of care that they offer, or the social determinants of peoples’ health? In the 19th, 20th and early-21st centuries, African citizens, refugees, and internally displaced persons have had to cope with a range of health care challenges. These include: high levels of disability as a result of car accidents and work-related injuries; disruptions to health care services and food provision stemming from war or political unrest; lack of supplies and access to quality care, resulting from neoliberal economic policies; and, most recently, the challenges of food insecurity due to seasonal locust infestations. These concerns paint a bleak picture of the status of health and health care provision in Africa. Epidemics like ebola and cholera complicate conditions for people seeking to improve the quality of their health. In addition, pandemics like HIV/AIDS and now COVID-19 have transformed demographics and gender relations in both predictable and unexpected ways. Despite these challenges, millions of African men, women, and children find ways to survive and respond creatively in order to address their needs for health and wellbeing. This class is organized around the understanding that the idea of “good health” is a useful critical lens through which to analyze gender-related questions. How do women, men, and LGBTQ+ individuals organize, navigate, and seek care in order to attain good health? What historical, political, and economic factors influence the provision of quality health care? How have African citizens, governments, faith communities, activists, and indigenous healers responded to the challenges associated with disease and the goal of maintaining good health? Because the African continent is massive and every country is complex and diverse, this class will use case studies from countries like Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Kenya to answer these questions. In addition, students will be able to choose other African countries to study in depth in order to gain as broad a picture as possible of this complex and important topic. While we will primarily focus our inquiries by using historical works, we will actively monitor innovations in African countries resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of what it takes to maintain a sense of “good health” in Africa.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error—you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Classical Mechanics (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in the physical science, engineering, or health fields. The course will cover introductory classical mechanics, including kinematics, dynamics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. The best way to develop scientific skills is to practice the scientific process. We will focus on learning physics through discovering, testing, analyzing, and applying fundamental physics concepts in an interactive classroom, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings.

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Time to Tinker

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

Do you enjoy designing and building things? Do you have lots of ideas of things that you wished existed but do not feel you have enough technical knowledge to create yourself? Do you wish you could fix some of your favorite appliances that just stopped working? Do you want to help find solutions to problems in our community? This course is meant to give an introduction to tinkering, with a focus on learning the practical physics behind basic mechanical and electronic components while providing the opportunity to build things yourself. The course will have one weekly meeting with the whole class and three smaller workshop sessions to work on team-based projects. (You are expected to choose one of the three workshop sessions to attend weekly.) The course will be broken down into four primary units: design and modeling; materials, tools, and construction; electronics and Arduino; and mechanics. There will be weekly readings and assignments, and each unit will include both individual and small-group projects that will be documented in an individual portfolio to demonstrate the new skills that you have acquired. For a semester-long, team-based conference project, your team will be creating an engineered piece based on the needs of a community partner. At the end of the semester, your team will exhibit and present your work and write a report reflecting on the design, desired functionality, and individual contributions that led to the finished product. Let’s get tinkering!

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Electromagnetism & Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in the physical science, engineering, or health fields. This course will cover waves, geometric and wave optics, electrostatics, magnetostatics, and electrodynamics. We will use the exploration of the particle and wave properties of light to bookend our discussions and ultimately finish our exploration of classical physics with the hints of its incompleteness. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including: problem solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. The best way to develop scientific skills is to practice the scientific process. We will focus on learning physics through discovering, testing, analyzing, and applying fundamental physics concepts in an interactive classroom, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings.

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Resonance Research and Spectroscopy Seminar

Open, Seminar—Year

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has played a huge role in science since the mid-20th century, garnering five Nobel prizes across chemistry, physics, and medicine. Today, NMR remains a crucial analytical and diagnostic tool in these scientific disciplines. Fortunately, the recent development of inexpensive benchtop NMR spectrometers provides new opportunities for undergraduate students to gain hands-on learning and research skills related to this highly applicable technique. This yearlong, lab-based course has been co-developed and will be co-taught by experimental physicist Merideth Frey and physical chemist Colin Abernethy, so students can learn the science and applications of NMR while developing experimental research skills using Sarah Lawrence’s benchtop NMR spectrometers. The course will cover the theory, practice, and applications of NMR in a truly multidisciplinary way—linking the physics behind these techniques with their applications in chemistry, medicine, quantum information science, and beyond. In addition to work done as a class, students will undertake individual projects that will involve designing and performing their own research projects utilizing the benchtop NMR spectrometers. At the end of the year, students will be given the opportunity to present particularly successful projects as posters or talks at regional or national scientific meetings; this work may also be featured in the supplemental course material posted online.

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Quantum Mechanics

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

There are three kinds of people: those who understand quantum mechanics; those who do not understand quantum mechanics; and those who both simultaneously understand and do not understand quantum mechanics. This course will provide an introduction to the theoretical foundations of quantum mechanics. Topics will include: the classical physics paradigm, quantum state vectors, quantum operators and observables, commutator relations, the Schrödinger equation and time-evolution, the quantum harmonic potential, the quantum Coulomb potential and the hydrogen atom, angular momentum and spin, and the Feynman path integral formalism. No cats will be harmed. Familiarity with introductory physics, complex numbers, vectors, dot and cross products, and matrices is useful but not required.

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First-Year Studies: Approaches to Child Development

Open, FYS—Year

What are the worlds of children like? How can we come closer to understanding those worlds? In this class, we will use different modalities to cast light on them. One set of lenses is provided by psychological theory. Various psychologists (Piaget, Vygotsky, Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, Skinner, Bandura, Chess, Bronfenbrenner) have raised particular questions and suggested conceptual answers. We will read the theorists closely for their answers but also for their questions, asking which aspects of childhood each theory throws into focus. We will examine systematic studies carried out by developmental psychologists in areas such as the development of thinking, social understanding, language, gender, friendship, and morality. We will take up the development of the brain and nervous system and consider the implications for psychological questions. An important counterpoint to reading about children is direct observation. All students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and make notes on what they observe. At times, we will draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts. Fieldwork also will provide the basis for conference work. Ideally, conference projects will combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the projects students have designed in the past are exploring children’s friendships, observing what children say as they are painting, following a child as he is learning English as a second language, and writing and perhaps illustrating a children’s book. We will meet for conference weekly in the first semester, as you develop your individual conference project and for donning matters. In the spring, the conferences could be weekly or biweekly, depending on your needs and the progress of your conference projects. The world of childhood is magical. This course is for students who understand that the magic won’t disappear if we take a close, intellectually rigorous look.

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First-Year Studies: Urban Health in a Multicultural Context

FYS—Year

This FYS/community-partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social-group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness. And we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or for anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class; for one morning or afternoon per week, students will work in local community agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community. Students will have an individual conference every other week and a group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

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Finding Happiness and Keeping It: Insights From Psychology and Neuroscience

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. —Joseph Campbell

We all want happy lives filled with meaning and satisfaction. Yet, for many of us, happiness can be difficult to obtain with regularity or to sustain over a long period of time. Happiness is more than a feeling; rather, it is a state of well-being that should last a lifetime. Like exercising to improve physical health, it takes sustained cognitive effort to improve our mental health and engage in practices to promote well-being. We can look to evidence from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, which tells us that we are mentally unprepared to: (1) predict what will make us happy, and (2) engage in behaviors that are known to make us happier. In this course, we will cover the psychological and brain-based factors for why happiness feels so fleeting and what we can do to build better and more effective habits that have been shown to lead to longer-term maintenance of a positive mood and well-being. Students will read foundational work in the field of positive psychology by Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Edward Diener, Daniel Kahneman, and others. We will also discuss studies in neuroscience that show how behavioral interventions in positive psychology can impact the brain’s structure and function—just like building stronger muscles during exercise. Through small-group conferences, students will apply evidence-based practices—such as bringing order and organization to their daily lives, expressing gratitude, and building social bonds (i.e., “cross training” for the mind) in activities called “Re-wirements.” For the final project, called “Unlearning Yourself,” students will learn to undo or replace a detrimental habit (e.g., overspending, social-media use, poor sleep hygiene, complaining, procrastinating) by establishing a plan to introduce into their daily lives evidence-based practices for sustained well-being. By the end of this course, students will have gained the ability to sift through the ever-booming literature on positive psychology and neuroscience to identify the practices that work best for them, as well as an appreciation for the notion that finding and keeping happiness and well-being requires intentional practice and maintenance. As part of this course, students should come prepared to engage in meaningful self-work.

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The Psychology and Neuroscience of Addictions

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course is a multidisciplinary overview of addiction. Although the primary focus of the course is substance-related addictions and use, the emerging literature regarding nonsubstance addictive behaviors (food, gambling, internet, gaming) will also be discussed. Explanations for addiction—spiritual, emotional, biological—have spanned the ages and remain controversial today. This course will explore the study of addiction from its historical roots to contemporary theory. Competing theories of substance abuse/addiction will be examined, with a focus on the individual with regard to cultural and societal concerns. This course presents a framework for understanding models of substance use and addiction, including neuropsychological advances, with a critical review of the evidence and controversies regarding each. Students will be asked to think critically and constructively about the topic, eschewing dogma of any one approach to the treatment and understanding of substance abuse. Readings will include literature from psychology and medicine to the arts, ethics, and the press. Adequate time will be spent introducing basic social and brain science as it pertains to later, more advanced examinations of exciting neurological research.

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Environmental Psychology: An Exploration of Space and Place

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course explores human-environment interactions and the relationships between natural, social, and built environments in shaping us as individuals. We will critically explore human interactions from the body, the home, and the local to the globalized world, with a return to the individual experience of our physical and social environments. As a survey course, we will cover myriad topics, which may include informal family caregiving; urban/rural/suburban relationships; gentrification; urban planning; environmental sustainability; globalization; social justice; and varying conceptualizations and experiences of “home,” based on gender, race, class, age, and people with disabilities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will give special consideration to public space and home environments. As a discussion-based seminar, topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Several films will be incorporated into the class.

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Speaking the Unspeakable: Trauma, Emotion, Cognition, and Language

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Psychological trauma has been described as unspeakable—so cognitively disorganizing and intense that it is difficult to put the experience and the emotions that it evokes into words. Yet, the language that survivors use to describe their traumas provides insight into the impact of trauma and the process of recovery. This course will begin with an overview of theories of trauma, resilience, and post-traumatic growth, as well as an introduction to the study of trauma narratives and how language reflects emotional and cognitive functioning. We will then explore different aspects of the cognitive, emotional, and biological impact of undergoing a trauma and how these changes are reflected in the language that trauma survivors use as they speak and write about their experiences. We will consider works by experts on trauma and language, including Judith Herman, Bessel van der Kolk, and James Pennebaker, as well as current research in the field of trauma and trauma narratives. Through these readings, we will address topics such as what makes an experience traumatic, how representations of trauma in popular culture color our perceptions of trauma and recovery, the role of resilience and growth following a trauma, and what we can learn from attending to the content and structure of language. This course will be of interest to students who are curious about how the words we use reflect our cognitive and emotional functioning, especially for students interested in pursuing topics such as these at an advanced or graduate level.

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The Power and Meanings of Play in Children’s Lives

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Play provides us with an amazing and informative lens for observing the development and complex inner lives of young children. Yet, play is being threatened by increasing amounts of time spent on technology and a growing societal focus on scheduled activities and academic goals. This course will offer an introduction to the many fascinating aspects of play, including the importance of unstructured free play, how play shapes the brain, sensory processing and self-regulation in play, outdoor play, cultural contexts of play, and humor development in play. Through readings, video illustrations, and discussion of student fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center, we will explore the many ways in which play contributes to the complex social, cognitive, emotional, and imaginative lives of children. This course will provide a foundation for the spring course, Early Intervention Approaches for Young Children and Families.

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Family Caregiving Across the Lifespan

Open, Seminar—Spring

Care and caregiving are aspects of daily life that each of us depend upon at various times throughout our lives. Yet, care remains hidden and devalued in our current sociopolitical climate in which women continue to provide a majority of care. In this course, we will look at care, both as an orientation and as an activity provided by family and friends to people with disabilities and older adults. An ethics of care will provide a lens through which to explore the experiences of family caregivers. Specifically, our focus will be on caregiving youth, young-adult, and male family caregivers, as well as on paid caregivers and care receivers living with a variety of disabilities and chronic illnesses. Students will have the opportunity to engage with qualitative research methods, such as interviews and photovoice, as we explore care and caregiving from a variety of perspectives. This course will take an interdisciplinary approach and introduce students to the various literatures on family caregiving. From psychology to public health, we will consider care as a reciprocal process that ebbs and flows throughout the lifespan. We will read from feminist theory, critical disabilities studies, psychology, and public health, as well as look at how care is portrayed in popular culture, film, and books. We will learn about individual and policy responses geared toward supporting family caregivers, as well as about organizations that are dedicated to creating better conditions of care for all of us. There may be opportunities to engage with grassroots advocacy organizations and with research (with me) for conference, although this depends upon the status of the research and the community-based projects.

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The Psychology of Food and Eating Behaviors

Open, Seminar—Spring

Why do we eat? What is the function of food? These questions seem simple on the surface, but the many possible answers reveal the complexity of our relationship with food. At its core, food is an essential source of nutrition and sustenance. Beyond that, food can serve as a source of great pleasure, anguish, or both and as a tool for controlling ourselves, our bodies, and our environments. Food choices are shaped by our relationships with others, our culture and upbringing, our emotions, and our bodies. In this broad survey course, students will be exploring concepts ranging from the psychological and biological underpinnings of how we sense and perceive different tastes to how we develop food preferences and eating behaviors in the context of both “normal” and disordered relationships with food. High standards of beauty and mass/social media’s perpetuation of an “ideal” body type are at the forefront of disordered eating behaviors, which will be considered in conjunction with the psychological and biological factors underlying the development of disordered eating behaviors. Global changes in diet and eating habits, the rise in obesity and related health issues, and the sustainability of current food patterns will also be discussed. By examining the attitudes, behaviors, and practices around food choices and eating behaviors, students will learn essential psychological, biological, cultural, and social theories to develop a greater appreciation and awareness of our highly complex relationship with food.

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Mindfulness: Science and Practice

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently, developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice—laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind. One of our two weekly meetings will be devoted to a mindful yoga practice.

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Doing Research With Young People: Research, Policy, and Activism

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

How is research conducted with young people? What are the ethical dilemmas when working with children, adolescents, and young adults? Instead of focusing on traditional research methods on subjects, this course will explore the possibilities of conducting research with, or alongside, young people. This is an interdisciplinary course, and our readings will be pulled from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, education, criminal justice, and critical childhood studies. First, we will examine the sociohistorical context of children, adolescents, and youth. Next, we will investigate the rights of young people and the policies that designate them as protected populations. This course will survey a number of different research methods with youth participants, including but not limited to interviews, mapping, narrative analysis, youth participatory action research, and visual and performative research. We will apply a critical eye to a number of case studies of young people dismantling systemic oppression and working toward racial, immigration, and environmental justice. Students will develop their own conference project, focusing on how to conduct research with young people.

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Critical Urban Environmentalism, Space, and Place

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

In North American countries, 83.6 percent of residents live in cities as of 2020, and 56 percent of the world’s population is urban. Traditional environmental movements focus on the “natural” world, and the built environment tends to be undertheorized and perhaps underanalyzed. Yet, urban spaces are also sites of resistance, as residents create community gardens from vacant lots, paint public-housing project exterior walls, and lobby for city government support of the built environment. This course explores paths toward humanistic urban revitalization and civic engagement through community partnership. We will read in three main domains: knowledge of local and global urban environments; physical, mental, and social/community health; and theory and philosophies of urban environments. The relationship between urban sustainability and social dynamics, such as ethical decision-making and sociopolitical power relations (Sze, 2020), seem to lead to a particular set of public-private solutions. These are implemented from the top downward, without input from stakeholders and residents, with serious implications for resident health. In turn, health is strongly affected by the urban physical environment, infrastructure, pollution, population density, and the concomitant social environment (Galea and Vlahov, 2005). And as development occurs, long-time residents of neighborhoods are being displaced. How can we ensure that the health and welfare of all denizens are developed as well as purported positive economic change? The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. For one morning or afternoon per week, students will work in local community agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

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The Mind-Body Connection: Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, and your pupils dilate—all at once. Is this because you are exercising? Or did someone you really like just walk into the room? Psychophysiology is the experimental study of these bodily, or peripheral, signals, which are thought to be important “read-outs” of a person’s emotional state (e.g., fear, happiness, anger). In this course, students will gain a foundational understanding of the field of psychophysiology, which is the study of the relationship between signals recorded from the body and brain to emotional and cognitive states. In the first third of the semester, we will cover the biological processes that give rise to peripheral autonomic arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses, brain activity) and how these responses are naturally regulated by the brain and body in a process called homeostasis. We will also survey the brain areas that may be responsible for developing a conscious awareness of, and ascribing meaning to, the signals from the body. We will discuss major theories of emotion and the mind-body connection, including the James-Lange Theory, the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (Damasio), the Neurovisceral Integration Model (Thayer & Lane), and the Polyvagal Theory (Porges), among others. Through in-class labs and discussions of relevant research papers in the second third of the semester, students will learn how to measure peripheral markers of arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses) and relate those signals to emotionally provocative events. In the final third of the semester, in their small lab groups, students will oversee seminar discussions on applications of psychophysiology as it relates to a special topic of their choice, including social interactions, sleep and dreaming, marketing and consumerism, psychopathology (mental health), social justice, and more. Through conference work, students will identify a topic of personal interest to explore through the lens of psychophysiology and, after performing a literature review, propose a hypothetical research question that incorporates one or more of the methods that we discuss in class. At the end of the semester, students will present their conference work at the Sarah Lawrence poster symposium.

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Sociology of the Body, Disability, Illness, and Health

Open, Seminar—Year

In this yearlong seminar, we will examine bodies: how disability and illness shape life experience; the ways in which the body is surveilled by government and other institutions, including the medical profession; and the individual development of social identity. The course explores several themes, including the politics of reproduction, agency and labor, bodies in transition, stigmatization, and resisting bodies. Substantive topics include the experience of pregnancy, gender development in childhood, the development of sexual identity, the onset of severe mental illness, the isolating experience of physical decline, and the politics of death and dying. For their conference work, students are invited to select one bodily experience, disability, or illness to explore in depth. The first semester will be devoted to background reading and the development of a research question. This will lay the groundwork for second-semester data collection and analysis.

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Technology and Social Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the nature of agency—or the motivation behind and responsibility for action—and the role of technology in shaping personal social identity. We begin by discussing how to treat nonhumans as actors in their own right before exploring key concepts that include Donna Haraway’s cyborg and Bruno Latour’s hybrid agent—concepts that allow us to consider how humans utilize nonhumans in their environment (assistive technologies for people with disabilities, animals, clothing, etc.) to enact social identity and become inseparable from them. This lays a foundation for us to explore how social identities like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status are made and unmade in interactions with technology. We will consider how identities are shaped by institutions, embodied in individuals, and conceived as lifelong projects. In past conference projects, students have explored deaf identity and cochlear implants, responsible pet ownership and leashes, bicycles in urban space, and hacking culture on video-game servers.

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Stories And

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

This class will involve telling stories, writing or recording our own and other people’s stories, and illustrating stories with photos or drawings. It involves becoming collectors of the storytelling around us and analyzing its form, type, uses, and pleasures. It centers on oral storytelling—formal and informal, short and long, fantasies, tales, family stories, and gossip. It also involves practice in being both a leader and a member of a storytelling group at the Wartburg Elder Care Residence in nearby Pelham or at some other venue, perhaps involving children or teens. Homework will include reading, practicing your stories, working as a group leader with a classmate, and calling on family and friends to tell their stories. Anyone interested in their own or other people’s lives, in leadership and followership, in teaching, and otherwise in stories should consider this course.

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