A program for thriving at Duke

What if your classes not only shaped the way you thought but also the way you lived? What Now? The Duke Guide to Happiness, Purpose & Well-Being offers seminars designed to help you develop the tools and capacities to thrive at Duke and beyond.

Research across multiple disciplines suggests that students—and working adults—perform best when they are authentically connected to their work and to the people around them. What Now? classes are an opportunity for every student to consider what drives them, to learn habits that may help them succeed, and to have fun along the way.

Each seminar is a discipline-specific window into how to be happy, purposeful, or well. Explore the philosophy or social science of happiness; think about the meaning of belonging through Spanish literature; or consider how we communicate while learning about global health. These offerings give insights into different academic disciplines, but they also provide lenses through which to consider some of the fundamental questions that face each of us: What makes you happy? Why are you (or any of us) here? How do you choose the right path for you? What Now? offers a space not only to begin to answer those questions, but to live better in the process.

Faculty Committee: Martin Smith, Dean of Academic Affairs, Trinity College (ex officio); Denise Comer (Writing); David Malone (Education); Michael Kliën (Dance)

You take a seminar in the fall or spring of your first year. We’re offering first-year seminars (89S) and a more limited number of Writing 101 seminars in both the fall and spring semesters. Enrollment for these is open—sign up for the one you want.

graphic representing five different seminars, each a different color

As part of registration for a What Now? seminar, you’ll register for ETHICS 189: the What Now? Common Experience course. During this flexible “lab” course, students try out some of Duke’s best resources to support intellectual growth, wellness, and stress reduction. This .5-credit, pass/fail course also features faculty-facilitated conversations in students’ living groups, creating opportunities for students to get to know more professors and engage with scholars in a relaxed setting.

graphic representing five seminar colors mixed

You can search for What Now? seminars in the Advanced Search tab in DukeHub. Click Course Attributes and choose Interest Area. Select What Now? from the list.

The Classes

89S Courses for Spring 2022


TH 3:30PM-6:00PM

We live in a time of widespread suspicion—even animus—towards institutions of power, giving rise to calls for radical change. The moral wounds left by legacies of colonization and slavery further excite the urgency of this moment. But what if radical transformation actually comes? What then? This course takes as premise the success of the abolitionist movement against the expansion of the carceral political economy, police brutality, and intervention in affairs abroad while inequality persists at home. If we eliminate some of what is in our foreground, we may be able to survey and critique the range of factors that underpin these issues, such as revolution, institutional legitimacy, dissent and assembly, protest, speech, coercion, territorial sovereignty, and self-determination. How do educational institutions teach students to think about these complex issues? As a class we will learn about the pragmatic context of these questions by examining key figures who wrestled with them: Milton, Wheatley, Garrison, Quincy Adams, Douglass, Wells, DuBois, Newton, Davis. We will examine the purposes and possibilities of education through an exploration of great issues.

Professor: Aaron Colston


W 10:15AM-12:45PM

This course will explore two of the greatest musical collaborations in music history, The Beatles and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. We will pay close attention to the nature of the collaboration, which was unique in each case, and we will learn about two great periods in the history of popular music, Big Band Jazz from the 1920s through the 1950s and Rock and Roll in the 1950s and 1960s. Ellington worked with his musicians and with Billy Strayhorn to transform dance music into art music that helped define a modern identity for African Americans. Similarly, the Beatles turned rock into art. Without collaboration, these musicians would have been good; with it they make claims to the status of genius.

Professor: Thomas Brothers


TTH 1:45-3:00PM

How do we find composure amidst countless stressors in our lives? Answering that question well requires inquiry across disciplines as well as hands-on experience. This course offers exploration into the arts and sciences of stress, identity, and wellness: What are structural causes of stress and how do they impact our sense of self and community ethics? What can arts of wellness, including yoga, mindfulness, and art-based therapies tell us about how we experience who we are, how we function, and how we act with others? How does stress impact us physiologically? This course will employ writing both as a method and object of study for the exploration of stress, identity, and wellness. Composing Oneself includes hands-on experience with stress-reducing wellbeing strategies, theoretical and research-based texts, and nonfiction, fiction, poetry, art, and performance. The writing component includes a semester-long blog (visible only to class members) for reflection on wellness practices, a book review about wellness, and a final project about stress, identity, and wellness. Each student chooses their own final project content (i.e., music and wellness; compassion and race; illness and art therapies; Wall Street and mindfulness, etc.) and format (i.e., a musical composition; a visual artifact such as a scrapbook or photographic essay; a research-based essay, etc.). Course includes opportunities to visit relevant art exhibits, attend related performances, and engage in meaningful interactions with other students, staff, and faculty on campus working in associated areas of research and practice.

Professor: Denise Comer


TTH 12:00PM-1:15PM

Fear, love, anger, pride, regret, envy – the emotions seem to play a big role in our lives, as well as in the lives of certain other animal species. But what are the emotions? Are they guides to behavior? Are they judgments, or perhaps biases of judgment? Are they motivations? Or maybe they are epiphenomenal – mere side effects of other mental processes, essentially irrelevant to proper mental function. The course explores what the emotions are, what they are for, and how they evolved. We begin with readings of some classic treatments of behavior and emotion in certain animal species, including gulls and chimpanzees. We then consider emotions in humans, reading selections from important works in psychology, neurobiology, and ethics. The central issue in the last part of the course will be the role of the emotions in human judgment, especially moral judgment.

Professor: Daniel McShea


TTH 1:45-3:00PM

Unlike other species, human behavior is the result of two primary inheritance systems – one biological and the other cultural. Many human capacities – like speaking English or playing the guitar – are possible only because we learn them from others. Understanding human behavior therefore requires understanding cultural transmission and change. In this course, we will explore cultural evolution in many domains including technology, gender norms, musical and literary styles, politics, and religion. Students will learn how social scientists use data and models to understand these processes. We will also regularly consider the ethical implications of the fact that our ideas – including our ethical ideas – are the result of an ongoing process of cultural change.

Professor: Stephen Vaisey


TTH 3:30-4:45PM

Analyze through case studies the issues that confront the implementation of human rights ethics down through the layers separated by geography and culture to local implementation and enforcement. Acquire an understanding of the international, regional and local human rights conventions and structures which propose, cultivate and enforce the ethical norms of the international human rights regime. Address questions like – In what respects do enforcement options differ from place to place? When, where and under what circumstances is the human rights apparatus most effective in providing redress for rights violations? What are the alternatives to the human rights approach to justice?

Professor: Juliette Duara


MW 1:45-3:00PM

For some people, religion is serious business; for others, it is the object of satire, parody, and ridicule. Laughing at or about religion is so common that it likely has something to say about how religions are regarded, feared, resented, and enjoyed. Why is so much humor about religion? This course explores that question in a variety of ways. Opening with consideration of general theories about religion and about humor and the structure of jokes and comedy, the course establishes some definitions that it puts to use in examining comic figures and genres—from clowns, fools, and tricksters to jokes, memes, and standup comedy. Attention then turns to humor in several major religious traditions for comparison.

Professor: David Morgan


W 10:15AM-12:45PM

What does it mean to be “successful” in college? How can students become more successful, be it academically, socially, and/or emotionally? In this first-year seminar, students will discover what psychology—the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes—can teach us about how to succeed in college. This course is designed to help students approach their Duke career with greater knowledge and intention, as well as develop useful skills in scientific literacy, critical thinking, self-reflection, written and oral communication, and teamwork. Students will discuss the science behind topics that are relevant to academic performance, belonging, and well-being, such as learning, motivation, self-control, culture, relationships, health, and happiness. In addition to completing readings and reflection exercises that apply course concepts to their own lives, students will work on a project to share their newfound knowledge with fellow Duke students.

Professor: Bridgette Hard


T 1:45-4:15PM

Should education be transformative or merely transactional? This course is both an exploration of the desired outcomes of education and an affirmative attempt to move towards education as transformation. We will read a diverse set of scholarly works, including works by thinkers who assert that critical consciousness—a mindset that helps us liberate us from default ways of understanding the world and our place in it—ought to be the ultimate aim of education. Students will explore a growing body of social science research literature on transformational learning and examine the limitations of more transactional approaches in which learners are positioned as passive recipients of knowledge. Students will engage in a self-analysis of their own story of education and reflect on the extent to which it has been transformational, cultivating critical consciousness. In addition to personal stories, students will engage with dance, visual and performing arts, film, media, and literature in which stories of transformation and critical consciousness emerge. Course includes a service-learning experience with campus cultural/identity centers focused on creating greater campus awareness and dialogue around the transformative opportunities presented by a Duke liberal arts education.

Professors: David Malone & Michael Kliën


TTH 10:15-11:30AM

A study of surveillance in fiction, history, and the contemporary world. Surveillance begins with the erosion of the bourgeois idea of a right to privacy, reaches an extreme in totalitarian states, and resurfaces in the contemporary age of 24-hour digital monitoring and self-display. We will explore the ethical, political, social, and aesthetic dimensions of surveillance. Materials to be examined include dystopian novels (Orwell, Atwood, Kafka), philosophical texts (Bentham, Foucault), films that employ and depict surveillance (Caché, The Lives of Others, The Conversation, Rear Window), and historical and legal documents from the German and American contexts. Considerable focus on contemporary issues such as government spying (Snowden, Greenwald), China’s social credit system, and “surveillance capitalism” (Shoshana Zuboff).

Professor: Kata Gellen


TTH 1:45-3:00PM

What obligations do we have to each other? Do we have different obligations to friends, family, and strangers? Is loyalty a moral value or is impartiality more important? We will consider whether social life is necessary for or an impediment to the best human life. In particular, we will focus on altruism–giving to others with nothing expected in return–and on collective moral obligations. When a moral problem, like alleviating global poverty or remedying climate change, is solvable not by individual action, but by coordinated, collective action, does that morally obligate each of us individually?

Professor: Jesse Summers


T 3:30PM-6:00PM

The aims of education in general – and the purpose of college in particular – often remain invisible to and unexamined by students and faculty. This seminar will examine the multiple functions and purposes college serves – from credentialing to career preparation to finding meaning and purpose in one’s life. We will examine current critiques of higher ed as well as research on emerging identities during young adulthood. Students will examine scholarship on teaching and learning (SoTL) with a particular focus on emerging trends in progressive education such as self-authorship, integrative learning, experiential learning, growth mindset, and digital innovation. Students will explore theories of identity and emerging adulthood development – including racial identity development. Students will analyze divergent philosophies of education and then develop and articulate their own educational philosophy and statement of purpose. Ethical issues and inequities in educational opportunities will be explored. Students will engage in a service-learning experience focused on development of an initiative aimed at changing campus culture to create a more inclusive and equitable campus community.

Professors: John Blackshear & Kimberly Blackshear

Writing 101 Courses for Spring 2022

Offered at 2 different times:
TTH 10:15AM – 11:30AM (WRITING 101.14)
TTH 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.15)

In the 1980s, biologist E.O. Wilson popularized the concept of “biophilia,” that humans have an innate desire to connect with the living world. Yet, 60% of the global population now lives in urban areas, and a recent Pew survey found that 31% of U.S. adults report being online “almost constantly.” It’s clear that humans are increasingly disconnected from our biophilic nature, and that shift is impacting our health and wellbeing. Rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise, particularly among urbanites. Doctors are now prescribing a daily dose of nature to treat high blood pressure, and people are turning to the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” to de-stress and recharge. The concept of biophilia has also extended to urban planning as initiatives like rooftop gardens, bird-friendly building design, and green beltways seek to reconnect humans with nature and increase biodiversity.

In this course, we will use seminar-based discussions, research, and writing projects to examine the evidence for purported health and wellness benefits of nature and explore the challenges of designing and living in biophilic cities. Our course materials will come from environmental science, urban planning, psychology, and conservation journals, popular magazines and books, and documentaries. In your final project, you will work collaboratively to propose a greening initiative that seeks to integrate nature into an urban space of your choosing. Throughout the semester, you will also take part in a fundamental element of academic writing, reading each other’s work and providing feedback for revisions. And of course, we will get our nature fix by holding class outside as much as possible and taking field trips to local natural spaces like the Duke Gardens.

Professor: Lindsey Smith

Offered at 2 different times:
WF 1:45PM – 3:00PM (WRITING 101.09)
WF 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.10)

College is one of the many turning points in your coming of age. It is a time when you separate from your family of origin, and thus are in a unique position to be able to reflect on your identity. The questions—“Who am I?”, “Who do I want to be?”, & “What do I want?”—are often daily challenges as you navigate being more independent and living a good life. Together, we will use the field of educational psychology to explore your personal and academic identity development, especially in relation to your happiness. In particular, we will reflect on emerging adulthood & student development theories, as well as scientific research on happiness, to help us understand how various factors—such as gender, socioeconomics, race, ethnicity, religion, and culture – shape the development of your authentic self.

By using a variety of texts, videos, observations and interviews about coming of age and happiness, we will engage with the work of others, learn to articulate a position, and situate our writing within specific contexts. To begin, we will read, discuss, and write about our classroom treaty and student learning and other identity profiles using both our personal experiences and existing theories on coming of age and happiness (2-3 pages). Informed by these theories, we will engage in case study research, which involves in-depth descriptive and analytical writing.

The final project will be an exploration in the form of an in-depth personal narrative & analysis of some issue(s) significant to your coming of age and happiness (10-15 pages). The topic, and the related additional readings, will be carefully chosen by you so that each personal narrative will be relevant & meaningful as you continue your coming of age journey at Duke. Throughout the course, we will write self and peer evaluations (2 pages) of our academic writing, and thus collaboratively strengthen our ability to improve our works in progress.

If you are interested and willing to learn about yourself & others through personal writing, discussions, and readings, then this W101 class might be a great fit for you.

Professor: Sheryl Welte

MW 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.11)

By examining intersections among criminology, feminism, and activism, we will explore the following questions: How is feminism understood in the U.S. and beyond? How do women across cultures remain subversive under oppression and despite criminalized acts of dissent? How is feminism constructed within criminology and vice versa? How do various feminist movements function rhetorically within these constructs? To respond to these questions, we will read, watch, listen to, and analyze a variety of texts (e.g. book chapters, journal articles, editorials, documentaries, websites/social media posts, and podcasts), and produce texts such as personal and academic essays, research-based business documents, and multimedia. The nature of the course, then, demands fluidity between cognitive and emotional experiences of social justice issues. To mediate this fluidity, the course incorporates mindfulness-based practices such as guided meditation, grounding, and reflective writing. Moreover, this course involves a partnership with InStepp, Inc. via service-learning, and a partnership with Kenan Institute for Ethics via the “What Now?” program.

In sum, students will learn to identify, articulate, and reflect on the rhetorical choices informing
any text; analyze and develop their own arguments from multiple points of view; articulate and support their positions with research in a variety of forms; respond critically and ethically to others’ ideas; adjust their writing for multiple audiences, purposes, and contexts; and develop prose that is thoughtful, organized, exact in diction, and structured in a clear manner.

Students will practice the above skills in homework assignments, individual conferences, and
collaborative workshops. In addition, students will take up this work in the following major assignments:

Personal Ideology Essay (4-5 pages)—Students will consider and write about their subject positions, theoretical questions about activism, and social structures as they may influence students’ work, thoughts, and feelings throughout the course.

Artifact Analysis (5-6 pages)—Students will choose and analyze an artifact related to activism and/or criminal justice (a gif or meme, poster, photograph, building, website, historical record, physical object, etc.)

Activist Campaign Portfolio—Students will produce a portfolio that consists of 1) a researched problem statement, 2) an advocacy letter, and 3) a public text/enactment with accompanying rhetorical explanation.

Self-Assessment (appox. 3 pages)—Students will produce a brief narrative detailing their
experiences with the course and how they will or might transfer what they learned in WRT 101 to other contexts.

Offered at 3 different times:
TTH 8:30-9:45AM (WRITING 101.20)
TTH 10:15-11:30AM (WRITING 101.21)
TTH 1:45PM-3:00PM (WRITING 101.22)

In the first trailer for season 4 of Netflix’s hit-series The Crown, the narrator ominously intones, “Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made: a prince and princess on their wedding day. But fairy-tales usually end at this point, with the simple phrase, ‘they lived happily ever after.’” Accompanied by a series of glimpses of the show’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the irony of the voice-over lands hard: we know how this fairy tale ends, and it is not happily.

And yet it is only the benefit of hindsight that afford us this knowledge: in July of 1981, the media spun the Royal Wedding between the Prince of Wales and the People’s Princess as a fitting end to a whirlwind, fairy-tale romance. But the key phrase here is “the media spun”: that is, the wedding (and the relationship) was marketed and sold as the stuff dreams were made of. After all, aren’t we conditioned, from years of watching idealized relationships play out in romantic comedies, to want exactly this? A handsome prince to ride in on his white horse and sweep the beautiful maiden off her feet? To ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after?

This course, then, proposes to investigate Disney’s role in the construction and perpetuation of the Happily Ever After. What does the media, and specifically Disney, tell us a Happily Ever After looks like? Who gets to be happy? Who doesn’t? How can we differentiate between what we truly desire and what the media conditions us to want?

We’ll explore the answers to these questions through in-class discussion and weekly writing assignments. These will (tentatively) occur through: (1) annotating selected scholarly readings using Hypothes.is; (2) discussing those readings and Disney films in seminars; (3) creating and maintaining a course blog to explore your thoughts in a low-stakes, online environment (~500 words); and (4) the development of a capstone project on a Disney film of your choice (~2500 words), which will take us through the stages of writing, from proposal to revision. We will start by discussing ideas of happiness in general, using Pixar’s Inside Out (2015) and Soul (2020) as touchstones. We will then turn to Disney’s predecessors: the literary fairy tales of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen, exploring how “fairy tale endings” were initially constructed. We will then shift to an examination of several key Disney animated films, which may include: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Peter Pan (1950), The Little Mermaid (1989), The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Frozen (2013). To return to the trailer for The Crown, we will attempt to see that “happily ever after” is not “the place of arrival, but the place where the adventure really begins.”

This course is best suited for those who are interested in the intersection of media studies with critical analysis of race, gender, sexuality and identity. Do not be fooled by appearances: this course is not just watching Disney movies. You will be expected to critically engage with the texts, both visual and written. Prior knowledge of the Disney canon is not required, but is strongly encouraged.

Professor: Lisa Andres

WF 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.25)

Insects are largely responsible for making the world work. World-renowned entomologist and writer E.O. Wilson once surmised that “the world would go on with little change” were humans to disappear form the planet. However, the disappearance of invertebrates, especially insects, would change the world drastically. In this course we will learn about the many ways in which insects contribute to our well-being, our ecosystems, and our economies. In addition to reading broad works about insects, we will read several scientific journal articles about world-wide insect biomass decline, an area of concern for many conservationists, who worry a loss of insects means a loss of the ecosystem services that insects provide. You will learn how to critically read and evaluate research articles, digest rebuttals of research articles, form well-reasoned opinions about articles, and write reflections in the form of a short essay (750-1000 words) and an op-ed (750-1000 words). For the op-ed assignment, you will evaluate, critique, and give feedback on the op-eds of your peers, and we will vote as a class on one op-ed to submit to a local news outlet of the student’s choosing. Submission of the chosen op-ed to a news outlet is optional, not mandatory. These readings and assignments will highlight how scientific discourse advances science, give you the skills to be a part of the discourse in a future scientific career, and help you communicate science to a broad audience. As a part of a larger project in the course you will research an insect-related issue of your choice, construct a short proposal outlining your chosen topic (750-1000 words), compile a short literature review (1500-2000 words), and write a well-informed policy memo (2000+ words) to a local elected official or leader in your community outlining potential solutions. You will have the option, if you choose, to share your policy memo with your local elected official. You will also do a short presentation connected to your policy memo at the end of the semester. From this course you will learn valuable skills in how to dissect and evaluate research articles in scientific disciplines, specifically in entomology, conservation biology, and ecology, articulate a position in response to primary literature, and communicate and write about science to different kinds of audiences, including the general public, scientific peers, and policy makers. The skills you learn in this course can be applied broadly across disciplines, and will enable you to communicate research in science and beyond to readers who are not experts in a specific research field. Throughout the semester you will receive feedback from either the instructor or peers on all assignments before you submit final drafts.

Professor: Sarah Parsons

Offered at 2 different times:
MW 3:30PM – 4:45PM (WRITING 101.07)
MW 1:45PM – 3:00PM (WRITING 101.08)

What do we talk about when we talk about “work”? The connotations are endless. Work is dedication, purpose, and identity. Work is drudgery, burnout, and soul-sucking. Work is dignity and self-assurance. Work is exploitation and alienation. Work pays the bills. Work is professional. Work is labor. Work is culture. Work is who you are. Work isn’t everything there is to life.

This course gives us the opportunity to think and write deeply about the idea of work—and, in doing so, to prepare ourselves for writing at Duke and beyond. Reading and analyzing a selection of mainly US texts from the nineteenth century to present day, we will ask: how has US culture represented and understood work? How have writers effectively articulated or critiqued particular visions of work? And how might we ourselves contribute to the ongoing conversation about the meaning and implications of work?

Through discussions and writing assignments, students in this course will also reflect carefully
on the role that work has played in their own lives. Having thought deeply and written extensively about the philosophy work, students will conclude the course by writing a well researched personal essay on what work has come to mean for them and how they intend for work to figure into their own lives.

Professor: Aaron Colton