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 Fall 2021


TTH 12:00PM-1:15PM

What does it mean to behave badly? On what bases do we distinguish proper behavior from misconduct? This course will introduce students to the interrelated themes of deviance and propriety. We will consider this dichotomy not only from the standpoint of moral philosophy but also through the lenses of social theory, history of medicine, and political thought. Of particular importance for the course will be to understand how often misconduct involves the disruption of unspoken social norms rather than the explicit violation of laws or moral codes.

Professor: Nima Bassiri


TTH 1:45PM-3:00PM

We hear a great deal, especially in educational contexts, about the need to become or to act like our “best selves.” But what does this turn of phrase actually imply? Are there really multiple versions of ourselves, from which we can be trained to choose? Are we always irreducibly multiple even when we are at our best and most true? And what might we learn, instead, by examining our other, worse selves? From the dictum “know thyself”—inscribed at the entrance to the oracle of Delphi, and hence also, at the origins of western thought—to the dictum “go on with your bad self”—appropriated into colloquial English from its roots in 20th century Black culture—the conundrum of selfhood has remained at the forefront of all attempts to imagine a better world. It is still alive and well today, in philosophy as in biology, in psychology as in AI. This course will investigate a broad swath of historical and contemporary forays into the realm of malfunctioning, multiple, mad, ecstatic, discontinuous, hybrid, or otherwise unself-like selves, from literature and film to philosophy and computer science, in an effort to probe the limits of what we can know, and learn, about ourselves.

Professor: Sarah Pourciau


MW 3:30PM-4:45PM

How can drawing help us see, engage with, and even create community? This seminar requires no drawing experience; rather, it offers drawing as a way of thinking, something many of us lose after deciding “can’t draw.” We explore how graphic novelists, nature artists, mapmakers, and researchers use drawing to understand the lives of others, make sense of place and history, explore identities, and envision a better world: new relations between us and what we draw. Responding to works from around the globe, we draw in the classroom and beyond. The final project asks you to engage with Durham and show what “drawing community” means to you.

Professor: Adam Rosenblatt


F 12:00PM-2:30PM

How do communities, schools, and neighborhoods organize for social change? How do individuals organize their own commitments and energies to change themselves and the world around them? This course examines education as a component of collective liberation in the contemporary United States through themes of ethics, community organizing, and educational equity. It will introduce central philosophical and practical approaches to political organizing, help students develop skills in understanding and critiquing school segregation and resegregation in the US, and enable students to locate their own commitments, callings, and aptitudes within a variety of liberative accounts of social change.

Professor: Adam Hollowell


MW 7:00PM-8:15PM

What is democracy? Using preferential ballots in elections is a natural idea since it allows voters to express a 1st choice, a 2nd choice, a 3rd choice, etc. on each ballot, thereby collecting more information from each voter and creating the potential for an outcome which better represents the voters. However, there are many ways to determine the winner of a preferential ballot election, and each “preferential ballot vote counting method” has its own game theory, both for the candidates and the voters, some better and some worse, and often very different from the game theory of the single vote ballot. In this course, we’ll use game theory and mathematics to study these questions.

Professor: Hubert Bray


MW 3:30PM-4:45PM

Some scientists contend that the Earth has entered a new geological age in which human actions and effects are the dominant force shaping the planet, a so-called “anthropocene.” Such a planet offers diminishing possibilities for other creatures to live beyond the influence of Homo sapiens. How do animals fit into human societies when human society is now so inescapable? Do animals still exert agency and shape how we live? And how can humans maintain ethical relationships to nonhuman critters? Can we share landscapes and ecosystems, much less an entire planet? This course explores these questions, surveying different approaches to the critical study of animals from the humanities as well as the natural, environmental, and social sciences. We will pursue these questions through scientific papers, philosophical essays, literature, films, and experiential learning activities.

Professor: Gabriel Rosenberg


MW 1:45-3:00PM

“We’re like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.” —Jerry Garcia

Few musical acts have ever reached the level of cultural awareness and impact as the Grateful Dead, and perhaps none has enjoyed such ardent devotion for so long. The story of the Grateful Dead offers a lens through which to view not only the tumult of the 1960s counterculture movement but also to understand broader political and historical forces in the United States. In other words, the Grateful Dead and their history and music will form the backbone for the class, but this will be used to shed light on social upheaval, identity and shared experience, how ideas endure, and the sometimes-murky search for collective meaning. Using a mix of scholarly and biographical accounts, this course will offer students a multidimensional and interdisciplinary examination of how ideas form, inspire, intimidate, and ultimately stand the test of time. We will also explore the significance of how ideas can go from the margins to the mainstream through notions of authenticity and cooptation.

Professor: Eric Mlyn


TTH 1:45-3:00PM

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: Cliff Cunningham


T 12:00PM-2:30PM

How should a person be? Why, how, and for whom should we live? What do we owe our parents, and should such a sense of debt influence whether to become a parent oneself? How does one make the decision to have children, and are there situations when such an idea might not be morally defensible? In this seminar, we will read and discuss novels, memoirs, poems and art that “come out of one’s own burning” – as Friedrich Nietzsche might say – that is, from one’s own life experiences and the precious little wisdom they yield. These are books about parents, children, and the bonds that connect them; about the difficulties of responsible love and the intimate tug-of-war between what we owe ourselves and what we might owe others; about the fraught choice of staying true to oneself, about the awkwardness of certain familial conversations, about fears and doubts acknowledged candidly or passed over in silence. Why is becoming a parent so intimately tied to vulnerability and the awareness of finitude? Can time, or perhaps art, redeem loss?

Professor: Corina Stan


M 3:30PM-6:00PM

Privacy matters in our everyday lives – whether we are online, using social media, at home or out in public; when we are communicating, protesting, working, learning, dealing with a pandemic, and interacting with others in a spectrum of social and political contexts. In this class, we will explore various dimensions of privacy – control over personal information, confidentiality, dignity and respect, autonomy, practical obscurity, anonymity, secrecy, solitude, trust, the right to be let alone, intimacy, intellectual privacy, and freedom from surveillance. We will study privacy as an individual interest and as a social value. Privacy matters – even if you think you have nothing to hide.

Professor: Jolynn Dellinger


TTH 12:00PM-1:15PM.

The core disciplines in universities have historically devoted themselves to the study of ‘serious’ things: the origins and nature of the physical universe, the structure of the human mind and the explanation of behavior, the history of civilizations and the foundations of law, the regulation of the economy, the question of the existence of deities, and myriad questions about, literally, life and death. Even when scholars enquired about leisure activities, they tended to focus on the serious ones: drama not humor, ballet not sports, classical music not folk or improvised music, harmony not rhythm, games for childhood development not for fun. In short, until very recently, serious enquiry has almost always looked down on anything involving play or playfulness. This course, in contrast, will be a serious enquiry into the nature and value of play, playfulness, games, sports, humor, magic, and the things that make popular culture pop. As a serious enquiry, the course will also serve as an introduction to philosophical analysis, logical argumentation, critical reasoning, and scientific method. Readings will range from the works of Greek and Chinese philosophers in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, to Netflix stand-up comedy specials, and the latest theories of neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and video-game designers.

Professor: Wayne Norman


M 3:30-6:00PM

“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.

Professor: Neil Prose

Writing 101 Courses for Fall 2021

Offered at 2 different times:
TTH 10:15AM – 11:30PM (WRITING 101.04)
WF 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.05)

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 3 different times:
TTH 10:15AM – 11:30AM (WRITING 101.08)
TTH 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.09)
TTH 3:30PM – 4:45PM 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

WF 3:30PM – 4:45PM (WRITING 101.24)

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 service learning and 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.)

Service-learning projects—Students will conduct research on the current role of the North Carolina Department of Safety and our local jail systems in ensuring the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated women into Durham, Wake, and Orange counties. Students will create a written report of their findings to be submitted to our community partner, InStepp, Inc. Students will also produce a marketing video for InStepp.

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.

Professor: Jessica Corey

Offered at 2 different times:
TTH 10:15AM – 11:30PM (WRITING 101.04)
WF 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.05)

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 101.06)

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