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 2022


TH 1:45 – 4:15PM

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.

Professors: Adam Hollowell & Ada Gregory


F 10:15AM-12:45PM

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 3:30-6:00PM

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


MW 7:00-8:15PM

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


WF 3:30-4:45PM

Americans today live in a time of deep political polarization, cultural tribalism, and self- segregation. Those with whom we have deep disagreements, assuming we interact with them at all, are often viewed as not just wrong but as irrational, immoral, even contemptible. What are the causes and costs of these trends? What remedies might exist? Are there habits of mind that we might cultivate to build better citizens and a healthier democracy? Topics include the politics of higher education, self-censorship, and cancel culture. Discussions of controversial political issues.

Professor: Matthew Young


TTH 3:30-4:45PM

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 1:45PM-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


MW 1:45-3:00PM

The notion of a holistic justice—that a threat to justice is a threat to justice everywhere—is well known, but to ask the Tina Turner question: What’s love got to do with it? The course aims to introduce students to some of the leading thinkers who discuss themes dealing with love and justice from diverse traditions and backgrounds. Through engagement with writing and artifacts from contemporary and historical social movements as well as sacred texts from multiple religious traditions, we will explore the linkages between “love” and “justice” across time and cultural space. In the process, we will recover an understanding of dimensions of both concepts that are often missing from contemporary discourse, offering insights into why treating the problems of our contemporary world as straightforwardly economic or political might not be enough.

Professor: Omid Safi


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


W 3:30-6:00PM

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, and interacting with others in a spectrum of social and political contexts. Healthcare also implicates substantial privacy interests – in the context of pandemic responsive technologies, reproductive care, and mental health apps. 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, sexual privacy, intellectual privacy, and freedom from surveillance. We will study privacy as an individual right and as a social value. Privacy matters – even if you think you have nothing to hide.

Professor: Jolynn Dellinger


M 3:30-6:00PM

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


W 1:45-4:15PM

Students will study the relationship between sexual desires, acts, pleasures and dangers in various areas of the world throughout human history. We will examine hunter and gatherer societies, early modern urban communities, modern rural villages, and postmodern globalized societies. We will compare different regions and time periods in order to consider the effects of discourses and desires related to sexual behaviors and subjectivities. We will particular discuss the importance of colonialism in the development of the modern concept of sexuality. We will analyze a variety of institutions that seek to instill an ethics of sexual pleasure and danger, including the family, religion, law, ethnography, sex work, and pornography.

Professor: Peter Sigal

Writing 101 Courses for Fall 2022

WF 1:45PM – 3:00PM (WRITING 101.28)

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:
WF 12:00PM – 1:15PM (WRITING 101.35)
WF 1:45PM – 3:00PM (WRITING 101.36)
WF 3:00PM – 4:15PM (WRITING 101.37)

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 10:15-11:30AM (WRITING 101.15)
TTH 12:00-1:15PM (WRITING 101.16)

Glass Slippers. Pumpkins. Wand-waving Fairy Godmothers. An impoverished-but-beautiful heroine with a heart of gold.

This is the story of Cinderella. It starts once upon a time and ends happily ever after. For most of us, what we see when we think of that ‘happily ever after,’ is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty riding off into the sunset in a pumpkin-shaped carriage with her Prince Charming.

But that’s just one version of the story. Cinderella is one of the oldest stories in the world, and every culture has its own version. The oldest version dates to 9th century China, and, as Mary Northrup writes, “more than 500 versions have been found—just in Europe.” And yet, Cinderella has a remarkable staying power: Google Search data analyzed in 2020 revealed that Cinderella was the most popular Disney princess, “the fan favourite in 76 countries.” Why does this matter? Harvard professor Maria Tatar believes that “childhood reading stays with you in a way no other reading does” and her research concerns “how deeply all of us are influenced by those stories in childhood.” The media we consume as children – the stories we read, the movies we watch – are arguably the most powerful teachers in our lives, subtly guiding us and influencing our most deeply-engrained beliefs.

This course, then, proposes to take the story of Cinderella as a case study and follow its evolution from some its earliest version, like Yeh-Shen and Rhodopis (the Chinese and Egyptian Cinderellas), all the way up to Amazon’s most recent film adaptation starring Camila Cabello. What does the story tell us we need to be happy – or how to be happy? How does that definition change over time and across cultures? What deeper truths can fairy tales reveal?

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 films in seminars; and (3) the development of a podcast project, in which you will synthesize your arguments with 2 group members to create a cohesive conversation. Our course will be divided into roughly three sections: we’ll start globally by exploring the Cinderella story historically across different cultures; next, we’ll look at how Disney, as one of the most powerful multimedia companies, transformed the story and put their own spin on it; and finally, we’ll conclude by exploring more modern versions of the story in film and in literature. These divisions will correspond with the options for the final project: students can choose between (1) investigating folk/fairy tales from their culture and/or heritage; (2) continuing to explore Disney’s construction by investigating the source material of a Disney film; or (3) expanding analysis to another version of Cinderella.

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 1:45PM – 3:00PM (WRITING 101.02)
MW 3:30PM – 4:45PM (WRITING 101.01)

When you’re told to write “an essay,” what do you imagine? Five paragraphs, rife with evidence and organized in service of an argument? A personal story that discloses your innermost hopes, fears, and beliefs? An investigation into a forgotten subject, built from interviews and historical research? An interpretation that casts new light on a popular book, film, album, or show? Or some combination of the above?

In this seminar, we’ll take a deep dive into the messy and ambiguous genre of the essay, charting its many powers, forms, and subjects. In doing so, we’ll take up three specific and hotly debated topics that pervade contemporary essay writing. We’ll consider how the essay might elevate, scrutinize, and reveal the influence of popular culture, looking to recent examples from Hanif Abdurraqib, Chuck Klosterman, and Wesley Morris. We’ll examine the uses (and abuses) of writing from personal experience, guided by Jia Tolentino, Leslie Jamison, and David Foster Wallace. And we’ll determine what it takes for an essay to shift public thinking on the concepts that structure US culture and politics—such as race, gender, and power—through works by James Baldwin, Rebecca Solnit, and Tressie McMillan Cottom.

Over the course of the semester, we’ll also write substantial, well-researched essays of our own. Among these will include close readings of particular essay writers’ techniques and a position paper in which students will stake out their own understandings of what is and isn’t an essay, and what an essay can or should do. The major project for the course will be a long (~10 pages) essay on a subject of students’ choosing, brainstormed, outlined, and developed throughout the semester. In the past, students have written on topics including immigrant identity and the English language, major league sports and political responsibility, and growing up in the US South. Students should expect to share and revise their writing in pairs and small and large groups; each student will circulate their writing to the entire class for feedback at least once.

Professor: Aaron Colton

Offered at 2 different times:
MW 1:45PM – 3:00PM (WRITING 101.42)
MW 3:30PM – 4:45PM (WRITING 101.43)

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 like Michael Twitty, John T. Edge, MFK Fisher, and others. In seminar discussions, we will focus on their use of personal voice and research practices to guide us through two semester-long projects. The first project will consist of regular contributions to a class food blog which will necessitate practice in writing, editing, and revising. These informal assignments will expose you to a variety of writing contexts (reviews, recipes, farm profiles, memoirs, history, creative nonfiction) and give you a chance to read and respond to each other’s work. 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 archival and/or 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 learned how to conduct primary research, revise our writing, and shape work for specific contexts. We will also, of course, eat a lot of snacks during class.

Professor: Rhiannon Scharnhorst