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Laura Spelman Rockefeller Residence Hall Mural

Interdisciplinary Big Questions Colloquia Courses

Learn. Grow. Question. 

Students, the colloquium you choose is an intellectual passion of the professor offering it. When you are choosing your colloquium, faculty suggest you ask the following questions:

  • Does this colloquium invite me to think about questions far removed from what I think may be my major? If the answer is yes, choose that colloquium.
  • Does this colloquium move me to explore methods of asking questions I had not considered before?
    If the answer is yes, choose that colloquium.
  • Does this colloquium invite me to think about creativity and performance in a way I had not considered before? If the answer is yes, choose that colloquium.
  • Does this colloquium invite me to read, write and think deeply about a political issue?
    If the answer is yes, choose that colloquium.


Fall 2018 IBQC Offerings

The Story of Us: Labor & Sexuality in 1881 Atlanta, Georgia (FTW)
Monday | 4 p.m.

During your first two weeks at Spelman, you have been learning the history of the College. You have memorized facts, heard about Spelhouse, and been told about the traditions and rituals define the institution. In this seminar, we will ponder the following questions: What do we include in the story of Spelman and what do we leave out? What and who are at the center of the story Spelman tells about itself? When are there challenges to the Story? Our intellectual project: After a semester of exploring archival treasures including 1881 Atlanta Journal newspaper articles, and reading the scholarship about 19th and early 20th century Black, indigenous, immigrant, and White women, we will ask ourselves: How might we re-imagine the Story of Us? How would NSO at Spelman change? Would the "Us" change in our retelling?


The Politics of Marijuana
Monday | 3 p.m.

Cannabis sativa, commonly known as Marijuana, is a plant with a well-established history of human use for thousands of years. Used to treat or alleviate a variety of health conditions, marijuana’s public perception and acceptance has evolved over the past few decades in the United States. As a multibillion-dollar business and active area of scientific research, marijuana’s clinical safety and addiction potential are debated and undeniably reflected in U.S. politics. This course will explore the legalization of marijuana, how the term marijuana is rooted in racism (versus opioids), its impact on the incarceration of people of color, the stigma associated with its use, and how the media, scientific and religious communities, political and judicial systems influence our thoughts about marijuana. While several states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana for medicinal uses, only nine permit its recreational use. Interestingly, marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, with the current administration announcing its intent of reversing Obama’s position of non-enforcement.


Making Lemonade: Beyoncé and the Aesthetics of Black Womanhood
Tuesday | 3 p.m.

Art, in its many forms, has a way of disrupting or reinforcing what we consider “normal.” In all its forms, art calls us to the carpet and asks us to consider what it attempts to teach us about ourselves and about the world. To be knowledgeable consumers of artistic expressions, we must sit with a work, think about it, dismiss it, and consume it. Using Beyoncé's Lemonade as a main text, this colloquium asks us to consider critique, and celebrate black women’s artistic expression. What does it mean for black women to control and produce imagery? Which black women’s experiences are validated through these images? Whose are silenced? Can black women’s art both resist and reinforce capitalism? Who has the right to define and measure authenticity? How does Beyoncé use (appropriate?) other artists’ work in Lemonade? These are a few of the questions we will consider as we explore the images and lyrics in Beyoncé's Lemonade and read its cultural analyses and critiques.


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Joan McCarty, M.A.

Comrade Sister: A Look at the Black Panther Party and the Role of Women (FTW)
Tue & Thu | 7:30 p.m.

Traditionally the Black Panther Party is viewed with a focus on its birthplace Oakland, California, and on the men of the Party. In this colloquium, we will explore the history and development of the Black Panther Party (BPP) with a special look at the women of the Illinois Chapter. We will explore the history and development of the study and critique the programs and platforms of the BPP especially as the organization related to the political development and leadership of African American women members. We will study the BPP using the large academic collections of books and articles about the BPP, as well as members' own articles, books and memoirs. During this 50th anniversary of the BPP, students will collect oral histories of women in the Illinois chapter for archival purpose and for the purpose of understanding the role of women in this organization. Moreover, this course will create a forum for students to discuss their roles in the continuing struggle for social justice and equality in America and globally. 


The Aesthetics of Activism
Tuesday | 5 p.m.

What does it mean to be "woke?" What does it sound like? Look like? Feel like? This colloquium examines the aesthetic elements of social activism by introducing students to arts ethnography, a valuable methodological tool for many academic disciplines. Topics will include the Black Arts Movement, anti-apartheid struggles, and Black Lives Matter. Students will learn about the power of perception and reception in struggles for social justice.


The Pernicious Influence of White Supremacy in Western Thought: An Introduction
Wednesday | 3 p.m.

Despite voluminous evidence to the contrary, the belief in white supremacy persists in Western cultures. Expressed over time in philosophical statements justifying the Atlantic slave trade, supporting Western expansion as manifest destiny, and distinguishing groups of people by their supposed national character genetic intelligence and cultural dysfunction, the concept of white supremacy has been a premier justification for centuries of oppression. Because this ideology has returned with fervor to our national dialogue, we will examine the concept, the consequences, and strategies for resistance.


Thinking on Screen: Philosophy and Film
Wednesday | 6-8 p.m.

This course is for students who love film and are interested in learning about how film engages some of the big questions philosophers attempt to answer. Film is fundamental to the engagement of the questions in that it provides a visual and oral text for exploring the question of the week. As such, this course examines film’s ability to discuss and criticize basic questions in philosophy such as the nature of personhood, the basis of morality, and how we know. Students will also read some primary philosophical texts. Each conversation will merge visual and written texts.


Celebrate Your Arrival at the E-Suite: Employment, Race, Gender and Class: Are you Black, A Woman or What? (FTW)
Wednesday | 5:30 p.m.

Legal scholars have called attention to employment cases where courts have been reluctant to recognize Black women as a distinctive class. In DeGraffenfield v. General Motors, five Black women alleged that the employer’s seniority system perpetuated the effects of past discrimination against Black Women. They statistically demonstrated that General Motors (GM) had hired no Black women prior to enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. All Black women hired after 1970 lost their jobs in a seniority-based lay-off during an economic recession. Some courts have accepted the idea that Black women are protected by Title VII as a compound class, however the question in DeGraffenfield v. General Motors expresses the position that Black women and their experiences are not at the normative center of gender discrimination doctrine.


A Different World
Wednesday | 4 p.m.

A Different World, a sitcom that aired from 1987 - 1993, paved the way and placed Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the mainstream media. During the years that A Different World aired, enrollments to HBCU increased. Although it was a sitcom, the episodes discussed and explored issues that few televisions shows wanted to address during that time such as: date rape, racism, classism, sexism, STDs, etc. In this course, we will examine how might A Different World look in 2018. What new issues have occurred since then? Which have stayed the same? How would the writers address the current climate of society today? The course will consists of videos, class discussions, and a final project where class groups will be formed and students will create their own A Different World episode addressing a current issue in our society.


Finding Me, Protecting Me: Black Women Navigating LIFE (FTW)
Wednesday | 5 p.m.

This colloquium explores cultural and societal norms, stereotypes and perceptions that impact Black women’s ability to develop a healthy sense of self and successfully move through critical developmental phases and experiences. Using an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach, we will explore issues such as colorism vs classism, labels and stereotypes, health dis parities, intimate relationships, and the world of work. Our discussions will draw on women’s/feminist theory and studies that have focused on the complex challenges for Black women finding and protecting a sense of self-worth and self-image.


The U.S. Southern Border & Illegal Immigration: A Political Game

Thursday | 1 p.m. During the years of 2014-2016, urgent global conversations focused on: (1) The influx of unaccompanied children (UAC) at the U.S. - Mexico border; and (2) The humanitarian crisis along the Greek - Macedonia border caused by millions of people fleeing Syria. Unresolved forced immigration/migrations and humanitarian crises were key issues in the 2016 U.S. elections, and some argue that the U.S. southern border “wall” and “travel ban” rhetoric helped win the 2016 presidential election for President Trump. Narrowing in on the United States, we will explore the use of illegal immigration as a political tool.



The Many Faces of AIDS
Thursday | 4:30 p.m.

In this colloquium, we will use statistics, data, visuals, and history to map the narrative and high prevalence/incidence rates of HIV and AIDS from "white gay men" in the 1980's, to "black heterosexual women" and currently to "black men having sex with men" and transgender women.

We will also explore how political and economic "interventions" shape the demographic trajectory and naming of the disease. We will then tell our own stories about the trajectory of a disease or phenomenon using data, visuals, and statistics. Our larger questions are the following:

  1. How does "disease" get named and treated differently depending on the race/gender/sexuality of the body
  2. How do statistics shape what we know/think we know about disease or a phenomenon, using HIV/AIDS as one case study.


The Opioid Crisis vs The War on Drugs
Friday | 3 p.m.

“Instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.” This classic line by Tupac Shakur epitomizes the War on Drugs that began in the early 70s and ravaged communities of color through high arrest and incarceration rates. Opioid abuse, aka the Opioid Crisis, led to over 42,000 deaths in 2016, largely in white communities. There are substantial differences in the ways the War on Drugs and the Opioid Crisis have been treated in the media and the judicial system. In this colloquium, we will explore the following questions: What has been the role of race in the naming of drugs and drug users? Did all the research on mass incarceration, addiction, and mental health provide a different narrative for the current opioid epidemics? What defines a crack baby? Through readings and discussions, this course will investigate these questions and analyze where black women fit into each drug epidemic narrative.


Mona Taylor Phillips, Ph.D.,
Professor and Chair
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Phone: 404-270-5639
Office Location: Giles Hall 312