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, satisfactory/unsatisfactory 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 Fall 2023


TTH 10:05 – 11:20AM

This seminar’s topic is an embodied exploration of space and creative research through map-making, walking, and performance. This course is constructed around a series of drifts through Durham as a site of inquiry in which student will wander or “get lost” in the city through playful strategies borrowed from key avant-garde movements. Using a series of short narrative, we will use basic data and mapmaking tools to map other cities (both real and imagined) onto Durham to activate the student’s imagination toward embodied writing and storytelling. Within the frame of performance, students will be introduced to a curation of basic physical acting and improvisational techniques that deconstruct the body’s relationship to space and time. The classroom will be transformed into a laboratory where we will (re)map Durham onto the space devising an experimental performance installation as our final project.

Professor: Johann Montozzi-Wood


F 10:05AM-12:35PM

Does getting more education lead to greater happiness? Given how much time, energy, and money are invested in getting into college, and especially top-tier schools, one might think going to college is the golden ticket to a happy life. But is it? If so, what do we make of the increasing rates of depression and anxiety among college students, including those at elite schools? If not, why do people work so hard to get into and through college? In what ways—if any—should college contribute to students’ happiness? In this course, we’ll explore the relationship between education and happiness, specifically in the context of elite undergraduate education in the United States. From Aristotle to the Dalai Lama, philosophers and spiritual leaders across the ages have noted that human beings are ultimately after happiness. Every choice we make is aimed towards this end. Education, then, is pursued to achieve happiness, but how exactly are they related? To get at this question, we’ll consider what “education” and “happiness” mean; examine whether the purposes, practices, and philosophies that have shaped American undergraduate education align with what promotes happiness; and look at the experiences of college students today, particularly at elite institutions, to examine the question in concrete terms. Finally, throughout the course, you’ll learn practical ways to pursue your education in ways that support your happiness.

Professor: Katherine Jo


T 1:40-4:10PM

College students have expressed outrage when their schools have invited controversial speakers to campus. Colleges justify these speakers as contributing to a free exchange of ideas while preparing students for the “real world.” At the same time, colleges encourage students to develop resilience, focusing on well-being, and prioritizing physical and emotional health. Can institutional goals related to speech and well-being be reconciled with your expectations and values? What does it mean to have a voice within a community? This class will provide an opportunity to answer these questions, decide what really matters to you and position you to make better choices while at Duke and beyond.

Professor: Sue Wasiolek


TTH 11:45AM-1:00PM

This course examines the everyday work of hospitals as a lens onto society, politics, and culture, from the standpoints of the medical humanities, medical anthropology, history, and literature. Global case studies will ground several key questions: How do different forms of healthcare work — doctoring, nursing, and others — reflect and produce social difference? When patients get admitted to the hospital, what power relationships develop? How do hospitals and cities develop symbiotic relationships? How are hospitals sites for the production of race, gender, and other forms of difference? And ultimately, through close attention to the work hospitals do, how might we better understand them as a core social institution? Case studies from different cultural and geographical contexts inform our exploration of the relationships between hospitals and social life, including hospitals operating during the Iraq War, in Southern Africa in the context of HIV/AIDS, in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and in New York during the first wave of Covid-19. The course will focus on the lives that make up hospitals — providers, patients, and families — and the labor that they all do, differently. Assessments are designed to reflect and build specific skills, including: Reading, via Reading notes; Discussing, via Class participation; Writing, via writing assignments; Researching, via a mini-research project, and Translating, via an op-ed that addresses course insights for the public and policymakers.

Professor: Harris Solomon

Listen to a course trailer below:


W 1:25 – 3:55PM

Brooks Emanuel has worked as legislative director for the Georgia House Democratic Caucus and for Planned Parenthood Southeast and as a civil rights lawyer for Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign, Equal Justice Initiative, and more. Michael Kliën is a theorist and choreographer who specializes in using movement to help us imagine more creative and just ways of organizing society. This class is an opportunity to learn how to ground creativity in public policy and law in order to generate new solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

This course asks students to work backwards from radical imaginings of new future realities toward their own definitions of social justice and ways they can lead activist lives. How do our conceptions of justice change if we are able to imagine outside the constraints of our current reality? How does our movement in the world change with shifting understandings about where we want to go? What do artistic and somatic strategies offer to create those openings? Through artistic and dialogical processes students will develop personal understandings of the meaning of social justice, identify and deepen their fields of concerns, and design and implement creative direct actions.

Professors: Michael Kliën & Brooks Emanuel


TTH 1:25-2:40

Natural History of Civilization follows the example of “Guns Germs and Steel” in applying a natural science perspective to the study of human history. To understand human nature it may be important to recognize those elements of our cultures that are imposed on us by the principles of ecology and our interactions with the natural world. Mark Bertness has famously added cooperation and self-assembly to join the processes of competition and predation in shaping our civilization. Examples include the domestication of olives in regions where humans are lactose intolerant, and cooperation enforced by the once universal practice of public executions.

Professor: Clifford Cunningham


W 10:05AM – 12:35PM

When I go to see my diabetes doctor, I feel that he and I are singing the same song.” This comment from a South African man battling chronic illness underlines the wonderful potential of the patient-provider relationship. We will be using the doctor-patient relationship and experience as a lens to understand place of illness and empathy in the human. We will explore concepts of culture and global health. How does culture affect all of us? What is global health, and how do our beliefs affect this entire discipline? Along the way, we will all be learning about ourselves, how it feels to express and receive empathy, and how the simple act of being curious make us better people.

Professors: Neil Prose

Writing 101 Courses for Fall 2023

Offered at 3 different times:
WF 11:45PM – 1:00PM (WRITING 101.29)
WF 1:25PM – 2:40PM (WRITING 101.30)
WF 3:05PM – 4:20PM (WRITING 101.31)

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

Offered at 2 different times:
TTH 10:05-11:20AM (WRITING 101.06)
TTH 11:45-1:00PM (WRITING 101.07)

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 affords 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 media’s 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) the development of a capstone project on a Disney film of your choice, which will involve a collaborative podcast (~18 mins) and an individual multimedia history (~2500 words). Together, these steps 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

Offered at 2 different times:
MW 1:25PM-2:40PM (WRITING 101.54)
MW 3:05PM-4:20PM (WRITING 101.55)

What is the role of language in shaping and reflecting culture? How is the use of languages and language varieties determined by the current power structures? Why do language-related policies advance some persons while repressing others? What are the dispositions and attitudes toward non-standard English? Do educational practices empower all speakers or only those with the “right” linguistic credentials? How are the conventions of academic writing established and followed? This course takes you on a 16-week journey to explore the most banal yet magical construct of our daily life—language. In this course, you will examine what lies behind the everyday linguistic phenomena and discover the tacit rules and ideologies governing our use of language in different communities. The overall goal of this course is to help you hone the writing skills and develop writing knowledge that are applicable to a wider range of contexts, while also making you an empowered and confident user of language(s).

Across the semester, we will explore the following issues through writing. In the first assignment (~1500 words), you will explore the social, political, and ideological aspects of language and language variations through critical reading and present your arguments in a review essay. The second assignment—(auto)ethnography (~1500 words)—invites you to examine the relationship between language and identity drawing upon the viewpoints and observations of an insider (e.g., yourself). The third assignment (~1500 words) intends to complicate your understanding of “academic writing” through an analysis of emerging genres in academic communication, such as video abstract and video essay. From this course, you will learn the
important skills of collecting information online, evaluating arguments, synthesizing ideas, articulating a position, incorporating primary and secondary data in writing, and tailoring your
writing to different rhetorical situations. You will also engage in the recursive writing process of brainstorming, drafting, receiving feedback, and revising.

Professor: Xiao Tan

TTH 4:40PM – 5:55PM (WRITING 101.16)

Mark Menjivar’s photo essay “You Are What You Eat” (Gastronomica, Fall 2012) is a collection of twelve photographs depicting the inside of various refrigerators. Accompanying each photograph is a short, two-sentence biography of the household, a nod to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s famous quip, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Food—and by extension cooking, ingredients, and personal eating preference—are all shaped by an individual’s history and culture. In this course, we will use food as our lens to explore how personal identity gets expressed and shaped by one’s food history. How might our own food stories shape our understanding not just of ourselves, but of others and even our entire planet?

Our exploration through the multidisciplinary field of food studies, which includes scholarship
from disciplines like anthropology, history, literature, and environmental science, will push us to consider how food—symbolically and rhetorically—defines who we are (or who we are not).

To accomplish our work, we will read diverse selections from a variety of popular food experts.
In seminar discussions, we will focus on their use of personal voice and their research practices
to guide us through two semester-long projects. The first will consist of regular contributions to a class writing project which will necessitate practice in writing, editing, and revising. The skills and knowledge you learn through this process of co-creating the text will feed into our second major project of the course, an individual narrative essay that draws upon field research to
analyze a personal food history. As part of your narrative, you will create a multimodal component to be determined by the parameters of your project. Finally, we will close our course by compiling a community class cookbook to share with the larger Duke Community.

Throughout the semester, we will have deeply considered the work of others, including our
peers, as well as lea

Professor: Rhiannon Scharnhorst