New University Courses tackle love, food justice

Robert Barker/Cornell Marketing Group
Charles Aquadro will again lead a Personal Genomics and Medicine course as part of the University Courses initiative.

If you’ve ever wondered about love (and who hasn’t?), there’s a new University Course for you. And if you ponder the issue of food justice and how it relates to Ithaca, there’s one on that, too. The University Courses initiative, which began in 2012, will offer 18 courses this year.

“University Courses engage with questions and issues that do not fit easily within the boundaries of a single academic discipline,” said Elliot Shapiro, the Knight Foundation Director for Cornell’s Writing in the Majors program and director of instruction for the University Courses initiative. “These courses delve deeply into topics of interest to students from a broad range of majors and create opportunities for this diverse group of students to learn from each other.”

A Global History of Love, taught this semester by Tamara Loos and Durba Ghosh, associate professors of history, will include readings about love, gender and sexuality. Students will also visit the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art to explore expressions of love and desire throughout history and see the Kinsey Report questionnaire in Cornell Library’s Human Sexuality Collection, Loos said.

“We have both taught about gender and sexuality in Asian history, but this course is ‘global’ in its coverage, so it will also consider ideas about love, sex, sexuality and gender in Africa, the U.S., Europe and Asia,” Loos said.

In Noliwe Rooks’ course, Race and Social Entrepreneurship: Food Justice and Urban Reform, students will partner with an Ithaca senior center, McGraw House, and focus their research, reading and discussions on food policy, politics, access and sustainability in Ithaca. Students will work with community groups and residents to propose workable solutions, said Rooks, interim chair and associate professor in Africana studies and a faculty member in Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies.

“It is important for students to think about the ways that race, class, age and access impact something as basic as food and the ability to eat,” Rooks said. “Far too frequently the overall food or healthy eating movement overlooks cultural and societal issues impacting food quality and access, as well as the health and economic realities surrounding how Americans who are older, on a fixed income, poor, black or Latino eat, shop and cook for themselves and their children.”

Along with new classes, other popular University Courses will be offered again this year.

One is Charles Aquadro’s Personal Genomics and Medicine, in which students explore the scientific, ethical, legal and social issues related to DNA testing for ancestry inference and in medicine.

“As a population geneticist, I’m interested in getting people from inside and outside of the sciences engaged in a dialogue about the power, promise and limitations of genetic testing,” said Aquadro, professor of molecular biology and genetics and director of the Cornell Center for Comparative and Population Genomics. “This course is not just for those interested in science; it is a topic we all need to have a basic understanding of to ensure we are prepared for what is rapidly becoming part of all of our futures.”

Controversies About Inequality, taught by Anna Haskins, assistant professor of sociology, exposes students to current topics in social inequality through interaction with non-Cornell researchers and their work.

“Most students in the class end up shocked in some way about the level of inequality that exists today,” Haskins said. “Some students are super aware of racial disparities when it comes to policing, for example, but unaware of the extent of discrimination in housing or the problems of inequality globally.”

The course’s fall speakers include R.L. Heureux Lewis-McCoy, associate professor of sociology and black studies at the City College of New York; Kathryn Edin, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, and H. Luke Shaefer, associate professor of social work and public policy at the University of Michigan, authors of “$2 a Day”; and Matthew Desmond, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University. Their presentations are free and open to the public.

Haskins ends the course with discussions about moral obligations in a world of global inequality and injustice. “I want students to ask themselves what level [of inequality] bothers them and what they think they should do about it,” she said. “This class presents the picture and gives students the information and knowledge they need so that if they want to make a change, they have some tools.”

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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