Beekeeping with Julia Burdick-Will

“Spring comes earlier than you think,” says sociologist Julia Burdick-Will, who is starting her third year keeping bees in a set of hives on the roof of her garage. The hobby has made her pay closer attention to things like when the daffodils and dandelions appear, because she’s learned they signal that it’s time to add space inside the hives to prevent a swarm.

Burdick-Will, associate professor in the Department of Sociology, says beekeeping was a natural progression for her family once they moved from an apartment to their house, got chickens, and planted a big garden. One online class, several how-to books, and countless dinner-table quizzes later, they realized it’s harder than it looks, but fun to figure out.

Beekeepers spend a lot of time inspecting their hives to make sure they look healthy and to check for eggs. The process is surprisingly intense and meditative, Burdick-Will says. “There’s a focus that I find really nice, in contrast to a busy day. You have to clear your mind; you can’t think about anything else for half an hour or so.”

Last year, she and her two children—ages 7 and 10—harvested more than 100 pounds of honey. “It tastes really different depending on when you harvest it,” she says. “May honey is really different from September honey or August honey; it’s a different color, it’s a different taste. It’s fun to test it out.”

Syllabus: Stagecraft


Instructor:

Bill Roche, Undergraduate Program in Theatre Arts and Studies

Course Description:

A hands-on approach to the technical and theoretical elements of production.

Students learn to use the tools and materials involved in stage design. They study how all theater personnel—actors, director, stage manager, and those in charge of costumes, sets, lights, and sound—interact and influence one another.

“The easiest way to snafu theater is for communication to not happen as clearly as possible,” says Roche. Former students often tell Roche they hadn’t realized how highly organized theater must be, and describe how they now apply the tactics of theater to other groups they work with.


Maybe I won’t necessarily pursue a career in theater or stagecraft, but just having those tools and having those skills—how to use basic hand tools—could be really important.”

Brian Zhu ’26, economics and applied math major


Bill Roche's assistant Daniel Lopez ’14 instructs a student.
Assistant course instructor Daniel Lopez ’14 guides a student.

Working as Roche’s assistant in the Stagecraft course is a homecoming of sorts for Daniel Lopez ’14, who assisted Roche for three years as a work-study student. Today Lopez serves as technical production coordinator in Student Affairs’ Arts and Innovation office, a role he inherited from Roche in 2022.

Along with teaching him the real-world skills of tools, lumber, and construction, Lopez credits Roche with helping him find a sense of belonging after a rocky start at Hopkins: “I want to be to students currently what Bill Roche was to me. I’m really honored to be following in his footsteps.”


Yulia Frumer on edible landscaping

Yulia Frumer

Birds usually snag Yulia Frumer’s blackberries before they have a chance to ripen, but she gets to enjoy plenty of other treats grow­ing in her yard just blocks from the Homewood campus.

Frumer, who holds the Bo Jung and Soon Young Kim Professorship of East Asian Science as associate professor in the Department of the History of Science and Technology, was already an experienced vegeta­ble gardener, but stumbled into edi­ble landscaping during the early days of the pandemic. “You can have something beautiful in the garden, and have it be edible, or if you want to grow something edible, you can also make it beautiful,” she says.

Just down the hill from her fig and quince trees, oyster mushrooms sprout several times a year in the tree stumps Frumer inoculated with spores. Herbs including sage and tar­ragon, nasturtiums and dill spill down a vertical stone spiral she constructed near the sunchokes. There’s a hedge of pomegranates to share with the neighbors, and around a corner are persimmon, plum, and native pawpaw trees, and medicinal herbs including echinacea, valerian root, and chamo­mile. Even the daylilies are edible.

It’s been a Zen experience of relin­quishing control to weather, pests and disease, and plants with minds of their own, Frumer says. “One of the lessons is that you can’t get too attached to any of this.”

close-up of hand holding branch filled with blackberries
PHOTOS: LARRY CANNER

Agricultural Development and Food Sovereignty

Iván Ruiz-Hernández

Photo: Will Kirk

Iván Ruiz-Hernández is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Political Science. We spoke with him about his research into the food systems affecting small farms in southern Mexico. 

What are some questions that drive your research?

I want to understand the politics behind food regulation and how food markets work in less closely regulated spaces. I’m interested in how informal food economies work because informal regulatory practices dominate the landscape in many parts of the world. A lot of food isn’t taxed, there’s no quality control, and there isn’t a clear idea of who is involved in the farm-to-table narrative. In certain regions, non-state actors like organized crime have a role in—and have integrated into—many food markets. 

More specifically, I’m interested in how smallholder coffee producers get their products out of Chiapas, Mexico. What are the bureaucratic or informal practices that they have to go through to get their product exported? 

What impact do you hope your research will have? 

On the academic side, I hope to contribute to our understanding of informal economies, refining working definitions and highlighting sites that showcase the diversity of informal regulations. Through my work, I also aim to advance the centrality of food and agricultural development in studying various political processes. In a more applied sense, I hope to give farmers a better idea of what they’re up against. The farm-to-table story is challenging to conceptualize regardless of where you are on the food supply chain, and having records of systemic injustices within food supply chains is an essential step toward a more equitable food system. 

How did you become interested in informal food economies? 

There are farmers in my family, and as a kid, I looked up to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement, who fought for the livelihoods of the communities that hold our global food systems together. I was always interested in food justice and wanted to understand where injustices originated. While at the University of Georgia, I learned how barriers to accessing markets reinforced many of these injustices for smallholder producers. At Hopkins, my advisors [assistant professors John Yasuda and Sarah Parkinson] guided me toward the question of informal economies and informal regulation, which political science is only beginning to understand. 

Seeing Ancient Color

It’s easy to assume that color is color. That the way we see blue, for example, is the same way people saw it 100, 500, or 2,000 years ago. 

But that’s not true, says archaeological conservator and museum researcher Sanchita Balachandran. The way we see, experience, and think about color is deeply influenced by our own culture. And if we can transcend the point of view we’re used to, color can become a visceral, sensory window into a world that often feels too far in the past for genuine connections. 

Balachandran, director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and associate teaching professor, created a course called Ancient Color: The Technologies and Meanings of Color in Antiquity. Through hands-on work with ancient objects from the museum’s Eton Collection, students discover how color was created and used and what it meant. They utilized current imaging techniques along with readings about ancient objects and sites and recent scientific analyses of colorful materials found on them. 

“Color is such an integral part of many people’s experience of the world. It is an index by which people make sense of how the world is organized,” Balachandran says. “It’s not just about the visual properties of color, but all of these other sensory experiences and cultural associations that came along with color.” 


Egyptian funery masks
At left, Egyptian funerary mask of a woman, c. 30 BCE–395 CE, on loan to the Hopkins Archaeological Museum from the Eton College Myers Collection. At right, the same object in ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence reveals the presence of both ancient and modern interventions. The bright pink is madder lake, a rosy tint that was applied in antiquity to make the depiction more lifelike. The ghostly white is evidence of a modern adhesive that was applied to keep the ancient pigment from flaking off. [Photos: Jennifer Mikes]

Reimagine Ancient Statues

The snowy white statues we often see in museums may lead us to believe that their creators worked within a mostly monochrome world. But recently, scholars have pointed out that the objects appear white only because the paints and dyes that once adorned them have worn away or been purposely removed. Modern imaging technology brings researchers a little closer to how the objects were meant to be experienced. 

In class, small groups of students bend over painted plaster funerary portraits, analyzing how the surfaces were prepared and what inlaid stones and glass, paints, and coatings the artists might have used. The information offers evidence of artistic intention and choice, which can indicate which workshop produced which piece and help to trace where the materials came from, revealing the trade networks that made them available. By the end of the semester, the students will add their original findings to the museum’s online database. 

“It’s just been awesome realizing that no one has done the same type of research on any of these objects,” says Kendra Brewer, a junior majoring in history of art and Spanish. 

Brewer’s group studied a female mummy mask from 2nd-century Roman Egypt. Such a funerary mask was a likeness of the person inside the coffin it rested atop, serving as a connection between this world and the realm of the divine; mourners understood the mask to actually be the person, with the ability to communicate with the living. After experimenting with pigments and binders themselves, the students used ultraviolet and infrared light sources to study the characteristics of the mask’s materials, discovering evidence of painted earrings and a life-like skin tone. 

Using Science to Consider Art

Such results require interdisciplinary thinking and tapping into knowledge and techniques more common in fields including chemistry and materials science—all part of Balachandran’s goal for the course. 

“That’s what I really want the students to see, that staying in your siloed discipline only gets you so far,” Balachandran says. “Students are gathering evidence that no one else has seen since antiquity, but it’s messy—there is a lot of different information to try to make sense of. But that’s the reality of real research, sitting with things that don’t fit together easily and figuring out hypotheses with a team of equally curious people. And the magical part is when that dedicated inquiry brings the ancient world and its people alive again.” 

Magazine Brings Literary Style to Philosophical Writings

screen grab of Raven magazine web page

David Velleman started a magazine to put the heart back into philosophy.

Philosophical writing used to consist of wide-rang­ing, creative essays that were grounded in technique, but still accessible to a general au­dience, says Velleman, Miller Research Professor in the Wil­liam H. Miller III Department of Philosophy at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. They made readers think, and they helped some of them de­cide to become philosophers.

But most of the papers pub­lished today cover ever-narrow­ing topics in an increasingly for­mulaic style, Velleman says, or are papers about other papers. Which takes all the fun out of reading them.

“I had come to philosophy as a graduate student at a time when very distinguished philos­ophers were publishing articles on profound topics written in a way that could be read by any well-educated reader,” says the Johns Hopkins philosopher. “These became classic papers on profoundly humanistic topics. But in the last 10 to 15 years of my career, I found that the discipline was veering, as I saw it, off course. The literature was about the literature rather than about human life.”

Philosophy+Journalism

So when a former colleague, who had left philosophy for journalism, suggested several years ago that the two of them start a magazine as a home for the kind of philosophical writings they both missed and wanted to read, Velleman— who was about to retire from New York University—thought it sounded like a good idea.

Renowned for his research and writings in moral psychol­ogy, free will, and ethics, among other topics, Velleman is also an experienced publisher. He briefly diverged from his doc­toral program in philosophy at Princeton to work in pub­lishing, and has spent his ca­reer committed to open-access publishing. Most of his work is available in open access form, and he co-founded the online journal Philosophers’ Imprint. His colleague-turned-co-edi­tor, David Johnson, serves as deputy editor of Stanford Social Innovation Review and formerly worked at Harper’s Magazine and Boston Review, among others. Between them, they have a hefty background in both philosophy and publishing.

In a nod to Velleman’s new home in Baltimore, they named the magazine The Raven. The first issue was posted online in December 2021, and a sec­ond issue appeared at the end of June. Topics range from the philosophy of time to ethics, the philosophy of mind to the nature of consciousness.

There is a trend that tries to bring philosophers into public debate through what is known as public philosophy, where phi­losophers are asked to provide philosophical angles on various issues of the day. The Raven is not that. Instead, Velleman and Johnson aim to reawaken the substance of old-school philos­ophy. They are simultaneously flinging its doors open to a wider audi­ence. Instead of inviting phi­losophers into the public fray, they are inviting the public to engage with the wilds of phi­losophy, but in ways that feel relevant, interesting, and most of all, human, Velleman says.

Neuroscientists Find Brain Mechanism Tied to Age-related Memory Loss 

In work that may deepen our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and similar disorders in humans, Johns Hopkins neuroscientists working with rats have pinpointed a mechanism in the brain responsible for a common type of age-related memory loss. 

brain-shaped puzzle with one piece taken out

“We’re trying to understand normal memory and why a part of the brain called the hippocampus is so critical for normal memory. But also with many memory disorders, something is going wrong with this area,” says senior author James Knierim, a professor in the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, whose Hopkins team reported its findings recently in Current Biology

Neuroscientists know that neurons in the hippocampus, located deep in the brain’s temporal lobe, are responsible for a complementary pair of memory functions called pattern separation and pattern completion. These functions occur in a gradient across a tiny region of the hippocampus called CA3. 

Balance in Brain Patterns

In normal brains, pattern separation and pattern completion work hand-in-hand to sort and make sense of perceptions and experiences, from the most basic to the highly complex. If you visit a restaurant with your family and a month later you visit the same restaurant with friends, you should be able to recognize that it was the same restaurant, even though some details have changed—this is pattern completion. But you also need to remember which conversation happened when, so you do not confuse the two experiences—this is pattern separation. 

When those functions swing out of balance, memory becomes impaired, causing symptoms like forgetfulness or repeating oneself. The Johns Hopkins team discovered that as the brain ages, this imbalance may be caused by the CA3 gradient disappearing; the pattern separation function fades away, and the pattern completion function takes over. 

In the restaurant example, your brain may focus on the common experience of the restaurant to the exclusion of the details of the separate visits, leading you to remember a conversation that took place during one visit, but mistake who was talking. “We all make these mistakes, but they just tend to get worse with aging,” says Knierim. 

Pinpointing the memory loss mechanism could lay the groundwork for learning what prevents memory impairment in some humans, and therefore how to prevent or delay cognitive decline in the elderly, the researchers say. 

Learning About Minds and Machines

Wires in the form of a human head in an abstract space.

Is the human mind a computer? Could a computer ever think like a human? In the course of the 1940s to 1960s, an influential group of computer engineers, psychologists, and philosophers argued for a resounding “yes” to these questions. Known as “computationalists,” these thinkers founded the fields known as artificial intelligence (AI) and computational psychology, traditions of research that continue to the present day. 

For a while, funders invested heavily in the computationalist paradigm. This included AI researchers’ efforts to create models of human thinking in the form of computer programs. By the late 1970s, however, technical disappointments and powerful theoretical objections led to lost traction for both computationalism and AI, a period known as the “AI winter.” Since then, AI eventually found its way back to the public spotlight. 

Philosophical Questions of AI

Phillip Honenberger, a faculty affiliate of the SNF Agora Institute, is fascinated by the philosophical questions: Is the mind a computer? To what extent can computers think? But he is also captivated by the historical ones. He wonders what the history of computationalism and AI research can teach us about their prospects today. Honenberger shared his curiosity with students in a class he taught over the summer, Minds and Machines. Students explored these topics through discussions, primary and secondary source readings, and interactive websites on neural networks and machine learning. 

“There have been at least two approaches to AI since the 1940s,” notes Honenberger. “Symbol processing approaches conceived of intelligence as symbol manipulation according to rules and heuristics, while artificial neural network (ANN) approaches modeled it on the structure of interconnected neurons in animal brains. AI’s pre-winter public profile was primarily symbol processing, but its post-winter resurgence has relied much more heavily on ANN.” 

One major goal of the course, Honenberger says, was for students to learn to distinguish between the technology, how it works, and what it is actually currently capable of, on the one hand. And the various abilities people have sometimes fantastically ascribed to it, on the other. 

“Futuristic prognostications are sometimes just science fiction-y, and involve philosophical leaps of inference—like, if we built a machine that acted indistinguishably from a human, it would have to be conscious; or, if we could somehow ‘upload’ our personality to a machine, we could live forever. Sometimes people just assume the technology will deliver something like ‘consciousness’ or ‘personality’ that there’s no clear understanding of the mechanisms of,” he says. Honenberger wants his students to notice and critically dissect those leaps in logic. 

Everything is Connected

The course closed with small groups of students producing reports on topics related to the mind/computer analogy. Honenberger designed the project Honenberger to create “cross pollination” as students tackled the interdisciplinarity of their topics. 

Incoming first-year student Alex Witzke was in a group that studied memory. He wrote a paper exploring how close AI could get to human memory from a philosophical perspective. 

“The class showed me how interconnected things are that I used to think were a lot more separate, like technology and philosophy,” Witzke says. “It showed that there’s definitely a connection between almost every single field you can think of, if you want there to be a connection, which is really interesting to me.” 

Unlocking Words with the American Prison Writing Archive

Prisons across the country offer opportunities like 12-step programs and GED or college classes, and incarcerated people often try to take advantage of them. But more frequently than most people realize, those efforts are stymied by guards wielding spontaneous rules that prevent the incarcerated from attending, or mysterious rosters that don’t include their names. 

“I was no longer the biggest obstacle to changing my behavior. The barriers erected by prison officials—inane rules, long waiting lists, hassles, and humiliations from abusive guards—became my greatest challenge,” Dean Faiello wrote in an essay while incarcerated in the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. 

An Important Collection

Faiello’s essay is one of 3,300 that make up the American Prison Writing Archive, an open-source digital collection of firsthand testimony by people incarcerated around the U.S. The archive is in the process of moving from Hamilton College, where it was founded, to Johns Hopkins, where it will grow and serve as a resource for anyone interested in learning more about life in the carceral system. 

Adriana Orduña ’23 is one of several Hopkins scholars already delving into the archive. She recently spent two semesters reading and reviewing the essays to understand how guards and other officials use hierarchy, rules, and regulation to control incarcerated people, and the harm this “bureaucratic violence” causes. Orduña found that the practice of this unsanctioned punishment, which comes on top of the official sentence, is prevalent, serving as a devastating—and little known—element of incarceration. 

“Guards want to exact their own version of justice. They think that people in prison deserve to be punished. So they create these additional punishments all the time,” says Orduña, who is majoring in international studies and sociology. 

Police and Prisons

Always interested in social justice, Orduña took a 2020 course with Stuart Schrader, an associate research professor in the Department of Sociology and the Center for Africana Studies, on police and prisons. When Schrader emailed students a year later with an offer to join a research project involving the archive, Orduña jumped at the chance to go beyond the theory she had learned in class. 

Once she landed on the topic of bureaucratic violence, Orduña—who hails from New York— narrowed her focus to upstate New York, reading and analyzing 170 essays. She found them both upsetting and compelling. She often rose early to read another set before class, and eventually produced an academic paper on her findings. In October, Orduña and two other undergraduate researchers presented their papers at a panel about the archive. 

“It’s really different to read essays written by scholars versus reading letters from people who are experiencing prison every day,” she says. “The incarcerated authors have a lot to say about what’s going on inside, and they often have really in-depth analyses.” 


The American Prison Writing Archive is currently housed at Hamilton College in New York. The archive is scheduled to be moved to Johns Hopkins by December 31, 2022. It will be housed at the Sheridan Libraries.

Healthy Babies Around the World

Infants in low-income settings around the globe sometimes fall into a vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection. Lack of access to nutrients causes malnourishment, which leaves the babies more prone to infection, which makes it harder for them to digest nutrients, and so on. 

Global health initiatives often target the infection side of the cycle, using mosquito nets or antibiotics, for example. But Noah Trudeau, a junior from Detroit, is part of a research project trialing a two-pronged approach: at birth, infants in rural Bangladesh will receive a biofortified protein supplement paired with an antibiotic. 

“We’re tackling it from the nutrition perspective,” Trudeau says. “How can we make sure that these children are not only getting the nutrients they need, but retaining them?” 

Health Meets Social Sciences

Trudeau, who is majoring in medicine, science, and the humanities and minoring in French, arrived at Hopkins interested in health and medicine, and quickly developed a passion for the social sciences as well. He finds that global health offers the perfect combination. Hoping to put his interests into practice, he emailed a handful of Hopkins faculty in the field, eventually connecting with Amanda Palmer, assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

So far, Trudeau’s role in Palmer’s project has been at the safety profile stage, helping to determine that the antibiotic is safe and effective before coupling it with the protein supplement. He analyzed demographic data for groups of infants who received the antibiotic versus a placebo, ensuring they were relatively similar. He also organized data into tables on pre- and post-dosing symptoms like diarrhea and cough, and is helping Palmer draft the project’s first paper, which they hope to publish soon. 

“The general takeaway is that not only are the adverse events infrequent, but they’re notably minor. So, it looks promising,” Trudeau says. 

Engaging Families and Communities

There are takeaways for Trudeau personally as well: a refining of his insights into global health and the way it affects people not only in hospitals and clinics, but right where they live. 

“This experience has taught me to approach global health differently: not just from a biomedical perspective, but also from the social science and humanistic side,” he says. “Global health really isn’t just about medicine; it’s about how can we engage families and patients to better serve these communities. And how can we make not only long-lasting change, but equitable change. Decolonizing global health is one of my main interests—this field has been rooted in the idea that health is this fundamental right, but only for those who can afford it. Because I believe wholeheartedly that health should be a right regardless of where you live.” 

“Global health is not just policymaking and research,” says Trudeau. “It’s imagining the lived experiences of people who are going to be affected by that policy.” 

Creating a Link Between You and the Universe

For the most part, scientists have reached a point of consensus about climate change, so planetary scientist Regupathi Angappan wondered why we still struggle to rally people around the issue. 

“I just think that people aren’t able to directly relate to it,” Angappan concluded. “And there is a way in which any aspect can be directly related to someone, if only that view was presented. If only people were taught to take the time to reflect and include that empathetic vision, both for themselves and the people around them, then we would be able to address a lot of this more readily.” 

So Angappan, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, applied for a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship to design and teach a course on introductory concepts in Earth, planetary, and space sciences, with the concept of empathy woven into the curriculum to unite the topics with his students’ daily lives and identities. 


It’s fundamentally a class that is supposed to make people curious and want to learn and understand that empathy is important, and science can be empathetic.”

—Regupathi Angappan, doctoral student, Earth and Planetary Sciences

‘You from the stars’

The course, The Grandeur of You and the Universe, includes modules with titles like: You From the Stars, You Through the Layers of the Earth, and You and the Anthropocene. In class, Angappan teaches the fundamental science principles, then draws connections between those and daily life and encourages the students to find more of their own. If the Earth’s inner core were not iron, for example, gravity would work very differently, which would change the moon’s orbit, which would alter the historically 28-day lunar calendar that today’s months are based on. 

In You, Geology, and Geography, Angappan revealed a link between 70-million-year-old plate tectonics and today’s election map, as described in Lewis Dartnell’s Origins: How the Earth Made Us. When the ocean receded from the Appalachian mountain range all those millennia ago, it left behind a crescent-shaped swath of fertile mud. In the 17th century, that soil was planted with cotton tended by people who were enslaved. Today, that same land stands out in election maps as a blue crescent against a sea of red, reflecting the political leanings of the descendants of the enslaved. 

Angappan hopes that showing students such linkages will help them learn that science is not just disembodied facts, but has tangible relevance to their everyday lives. He believes they will then become better communicators of science because they can make those connections for others.  

“I always think that my biggest contribution in being in the sciences is to try to find a way to communicate it much more broadly. And this is a direct experiment in doing that,” Angappan says. 

Understanding the connection

Junior Lucy Nielsen had always been fascinated by meteorology but until now, she had thought herself out of her depth with hard sciences. But Nielsen frequently notices connections between the class and her public health studies major, centered on the idea of taking care of one another.  

“In the grand scheme of things, we can start to feel insignificant,” she explains. “But I feel empowered because it’s all relative: To human beings, human life is everything, and we have a responsibility to make this a better experience for everybody.  

“What we’re talking about is how miraculous it is that everything had to be just right for us to end up here. That creates a sense of connection with the people around us, but also a responsibility for the world and environment around us.” 

Public Health Through An Africana Studies Lens

Illustration: Keith Negley

Niola Etienne ’21 majored in Africana studies and history and plans a career in public health. She had been looking for a course that combined those interests. In her final semester, she found it in a first-time offering titled Africana Studies Meets Public Health. 

“My dream job is to work within Black communities, especially with Black women, in creating public health programs to help them,” says Etienne, who arrived in the U.S. from Haiti as a young child. “This class opened my eyes to be a little bit more skeptical. I came here as an immigrant, and I was always told you have to listen to a doctor, to everything they say, and this class gave me the knowledge to question what are they doing: ‘Is that really for the people, or for themselves?’ I think that perspective will help me in the future.” 

Questioning norms and shifting perspectives were top goals in creating the course, the instructors say. Robbie Shilliam, professor in the Department of Political Science, and Alexandre White, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, co-teach the class. Last year, influenced by the pandemic, faculty discussed the idea of turning an Africana studies lens on public health to provide a focal point for exploring the ongoing impacts of colonialism, slavery, and other histories of racial oppression. While well-intentioned, public health interventions sometimes miss the perspectives of those they aim to help. Especially when the target population is Black, the instructors say. 


Robbie Shilliam

Hopkins is known for being the intellectual progenitor of public health, but what we want to add to it is a distinctive experience of studying public health at Hopkins which draws upon the histories of the city it’s in, and those histories are very much intimate to Africana studies.”

— Robbie Shilliam

Public Health Conversations

Each week, one session consisted of a conversation between two guest lecturers. Examples include a historian of medicine speaking with a political scientist specializing in state violence, and a political theorist speaking with a bioethicist. “What’s really exciting about this class is that we’re building intellectual connections for students between seemingly disparate fields of study, but we’re also forging intellectual conversations and relationships across the university that we feel haven’t existed before, that are occurring at a moment when I think it’s really vital to do so,” White says. 

Students created video diaries in response. The second session was a discussion of the ideas raised. The goal was not to analyze health disparities as students might do in a public health course. Instead, it uses Africana studies’ focus on racism and colonialism to develop new ways of thinking about issues in public health. This thinking could drive fresh approaches and avoid the mistakes of the past. 

Asking the Right Questions

“If we can get students to ask questions and deconstruct perspectives of public health from which questions are being asked, understand those perspectives, and then attempt to challenge them, perhaps we can develop more caring, more compassionate, more empathetic, and ultimately more effective public health strategies,” White says.


Alexandre White

We don’t provide answers in the class, but potentially new ways of thinking that leave students open to novel ways of engaging in public health work.” 

—Alexandre White

Micki Paugh ’22, who is majoring in international studies, plans to work in global humanitarian efforts. Public health plays a major role in those efforts. 

“I took this class because I thought it would help me to develop a better perspective on public health through the eyes of a community that has historically been ignored or negatively impacted by public health,” she says. “It’s made me understand the pitfalls and missing areas in public health and how public health can be a weapon against marginalized populations. I hope to take this knowledge with me as I go abroad and maintain my attitude of critically analyzing public health in the future.”