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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 2020 IBQC Offerings


Celebrate Your Arrival at the E-Suite—Employment, Race, Gender, and Class: Are You Black, A Woman, or What? (FTW)

Monday | 3 p.m.

This colloquium will unpack court cases that African American women lost. Our emphasis will be on how to identify and evaluate arguments and meanings in legal decisions. We will read and study critical race theory /intersectionality-based law journal articles, lectures and Ted Talks. Our focus will be on United States Constitutional Amendments, Civil Rights Acts, two post-Reconstruction Supreme Court decisions, and eight decisions rendered by the federal district court, federal circuit court, and United States Supreme Court that involved employment discrimination against African American women.


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

Monday | 4 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.



Legal History: Voting, Citizenship Claims, and Lynching (FTW)

Monday | 4 p.m.

Justice Holmes argued in 1881 that “legal decisions and decision makers inevitably reflect the political context and public biases of their times.” Using the scholarship and ideas of black women and others, we will “grapple with history” and the law in the presence of contemporary voter suppression, destruction and obstruction of citizenship claims, state/police violence and lynching

Black Lives Matter: The Meaning of Black Religion in the United States

Tuesday  | 4 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.


Your Unapologetic Self: Navigating Race, Gender and Sexuality in Crisis and Change (FTW)

Tuesday | 5:30 p.m.

This colloquium explores cultural and societal norms, stereotypes and perceptions that affect the ability of Black women with diverse identities to develop a healthy sense of self and successfully move through critical life experiences during crisis and change. The course uses the construct, “Unapologetic Self” to examine what this means for Black women with diverse identities who are constantly challenged by systemic racism, gender construction and perceptions of sexual identity development. Intellectual discourse and inquiry include a synthesis of interdisciplinary theories, constructs and perspectives to gain a better understanding of Black women’s self-identity, free self-expression, acceptance, and feelings of empowerment.

Specific discussions focus on the history of systemic racism, the social construction of gender, sexual identity formation, the impact of social media and other digital platforms, social and sexual relationships, violence against Black women, colorism vs classicism, racial disparities (mental, public health, economic and wealth), faith community perspectives, and educational, career and personal/family life choices. A major question for students is, “What happens to Black women’s “self-identity” and the “Unapologetic Self” when these various life experiences are confronted with crisis and change in society?


Comrade Sister- an Exploration of the Role of Women in the Black Panther Party (FTW)

Tuesday & Thursday | 7:30 p.m.

This course will examine the history and development of the Black Panther Party (BPP) with a special look at the women of the Illinois Chapter. Traditionally, this organization is viewed with an emphasis on Oakland, California, its birthplace, and on the men of the party. Students will 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 from the large academic collections of books and articles about the BPP and from articles and books by members. Additionally, we will view relevant films and read sections of memoirs by members. As we move to the 55th 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 course is a lecture and discussion course with collective learning and artistic expression assignments.


Residential Segregation and COVID-19: History, Public Health and Race

Wednesday | 1 p.m.

This colloquium will analyze the myriad impacts of legalized segregation that render selected communities more vulnerable to public health crises. Covid-19 will be used as a case study to explore how systemic legalized patterns of segregation negatively impact health, housing, food access, education and other quality of life experiences guaranteed by legal enactments, but not universally experienced because of the impact of legalized segregation. Students will be exposed to the work of scholars and practitioners, who through their work chronicle, illustrate and problem pose in an effort to create a more equitable and just society.

Black Women and Mass Incarceration: When the Political IS Personal (FTW)

Wednesday | 1 p.m.

In this historic moment all eyes are on police reform as the nation comes to terms with its underbelly of race-based injustice. This injustice extends far beyond police arrests to a system that fuels the mass incarceration of African-Americans. Disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing work together to create generations of families that have experienced the life-changing impact of imprisonment. This seminar asks a central question: How does mass incarceration impact Black women in America? From women who have been imprisoned, to those in relationships with incarcerated partners, to the children of the incarcerated – how do these experiences shape our identities, our relationships, our families, and our communities. We will explore the social, economic, and psychological consequences of incarceration on Black women. And we will work together to develop strategies to combat this injustice


A Different World Revisited

Wednesday 3 p.m. | Tikenya Foster-Singletary, Ph.D.
Wednesday 4 p.m. | Viveka Brown, Ph.D.

A Different World was a television sitcom that aired from 1987-1993. This show placed Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in mainstream media in ways that had not been previously displayed. It presented a diverse group of Black students and their varied lived experiences with tackling issues such as AIDS, racism, sexual assault, colorism, student activism, and interracial dating. This course will examine how A Different World intersects with the twentieth century. Questions we will examine are: What issues were prevalent then? Are they still relevant now? What are some current issues that were not present during A Different World’s tenure? What can current students learn from media representations of HBCU students and how can they use them to shape their own HBCU experiences? Coursework will include viewing and discussing episodes, engaging scholarship, and developing student-produced media.


Defund the Police! Abolition and Black Feminisms (FTW)

Wednesday | 3 p.m.

During the global protests following the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, calls to “defund the police” have been circulating with greater frequency than ever before. But where does this demand come from? In this interdisciplinary course, we will read key works by scholars such as Angela Davis, Mariame Kaba, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and others to explore the black feminist origins of the call for abolition. Calls for the abolition of police, prisons, and more recently, ICE, have laid the foundation for this pivotal moment in history. This course explores abolition from a critical intersectional perspective, paying close attention to blackness, indigeneity, gender, gender identity, queerness, immigration status, nationality, citizenship, etc. Ultimately, we will attempt to grapple with the following big questions: How are people imagining a future free of police and prisons? What would justice look like in this context? What are the alternatives to policing and prisons?

From Ida B to Kaepernick: Protests as Moments and Movements

Wednesday | 5 p.m.

From the 1913 suffrage protests in the streets of Washington DC to the recent national unrest following the killing of George Floyd, there has been a groundswell of protests due to the struggle for equality. Whether it’s been anti-lynching, women’s suffrage, the voting rights act, the civil rights act, stonewall and marriage equality, or black lives matter, these historical or contemporary moments or movements have been influenced by protests. Through examining archival resources, scholarly journals, popular magazines, social media, art, and music, this colloquium will address the following questions: What makes a protest? What makes protests different or the same then and now? What makes a movement “stick”?


Covid-19: The Making of a Global Crisis

Thursday | 4 p.m.

The Covid-19 pandemic upended life as we knew it as historically unprecedented public health measures were being implemented. With over 100,000 lives lost and the ensuing economic and social crises, we are yet to fully grasp the progression of the pandemic and its impact. A number of immediate and practical questions are raised such as: will there be a second wave? And if so, what would be the magnitude? How soon will there be a vaccine? It also begs questions about its unequal impact across age, race, geographic location etc. In this colloquium, our goal is to examine the many facets of the pandemic and its impact in the US and around the world using a data driven approach. Our analysis and interpretation will be grounded and informed by various disciplinary perspectives from biology to public health to social and political sciences.


The Many Faces of AIDS

Thursday | 4 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.

COVID-19 and Disparities: Exploring Race, Place & Health

Thursday | 4 p.m.

The United States’ response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – first detected in the United States in late January 2020 before cases began appearing across the entire country – underscored significant challenges faced around the nation and the world in containing the spread of the virus and planning for response and recovery efforts. Particular groups within the United States, such as the poor; people of color; the elderly; those suffering from immune and respiratory disorders; those with other chronic, underlying health conditions; and people living in areas with increased air pollution are at an increased risk for experiencing disparities related to the virus.

The challenges of poverty, pollution, food insecurity, high utility burdens, and lack of equitable access to resources that help communities thrive have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and compounded by the rollback of federal environmental protections and regulations. The recommendation and implementation of public health directives to self-quarantine, isolate, and shelter-in-place have also placed a burden on communities that lacked resources prior to the outbreak. Furthermore, COVID-19 has disconnected many from community resources and support systems, and created widespread uncertainty, stress, and panic. This interdisciplinary colloquium will probe questions related to health disparities, health equity, and social justice. We will investigate the pandemic from a spatial perspective---examining infection hotspots and deaths in the United States and around the globe and explore the role that race, place, environmental, and social factors play in driving health disparities


COVID-19 and Vaccine Development

Thursday | 4 p.m.

As early as December 2019, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) spread from Wuhan, China to 213 other countries and territories, including the United States, and has led to over 400 thousand deaths, massive shutdowns and many unanswered questions. The urgent need to understand the characteristics of this virus, how it spreads, causes disease and how we can combat this global pandemic is evident. Once identified as SARS-CoV-2, scientist immediately began on a quest to understand the interactions of this novel coronavirus and its new human host, in a race to develop a vaccine. This colloquium will explore the proposed origins of the novel coronavirus and its pathogenesis leading to coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19.

The colloquium will highlight how the virus impacts persons of color, disproportionately, due to other underlying health disparities. Lastly, we will explore how vaccines and other therapeutics are created with a detailed discussion regarding the safety of vaccines, how the clinical trials process works, and the current strategies of coronavirus vaccine teams leading the charge to provide herd immunity against SARS-CoV-2. Of these vaccines in development, we will highlight the National Institute of Health's current vaccine in Phase 2 clinical trial, developed by a young black female scientist!

Deciding What is True: Community, Social Media and Public Squares (FTW)

Thursday | 5 p.m.

I am interested in sense-making in times of change and disruption. How do we decide what is an important issue - and what is not? How do we decide what is true and what is not? How do we conclude what we are reading is trustworthy - and what is not? After the 2016 election researchers examined the role of social media in informing people's voting decisions. During our 2020 election semester together we will trace our own movement across virtual communities and platforms as we make order and sense of these disordered times. Some sources we will read while mapping our own journeys across platforms: Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society 2017 study about disinformation and memes (memetics.). Other sources: A Lot of People are Saying: The New Conspiracisim and the Assault on Democracy (Muirhead and Rosenblum, 2019); Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets (Feminista Jones, 2020), and of course we will have to consider Safiya Noble's groundbreaking work about capitalism, search engines and Black women.


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

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