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Health and Medicine, Culture and Society: Crossroads in a Liberal Arts Education

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Published November 28, 2021

Semester-long Project, Fall 2022


Organizing Fellows

Kathleen Pierce, Art
Suzanne Zhang Gottschang, Anthropology

Project Description

The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered longstanding footholds of racism, racialization, and xenephobia in public health and medicine hypervisible. Early news articles on cases in the United States disproportionately featured images of Asian and Asian-American people. Poorly planned and communicated travel bans stoked xenophobia. And former President Trump's perpetual framing of the virus as connected to China amplified racism and violence against Asians and Asian-Americans. The roots of this system, however, are both deep and rhizomatic in their spread. This semester-long project recognizes our current moment as an opportune one, especially as we navigate new terrain in the college classroom as the pandemic continues to unfold, to examine past and present ways that systems of power manifest in uneven ground upon which people must attend to their health and negotiate medical systems. Building on the work of “Racialized Medicine, Past and Present” and “Democratizing Health”--a series of short-term projects held at the Kahn in 2020-2022--Health and Medicine, Culture and Society: Crossroads in a Liberal Arts Education carves out extended space for scholars across the sciences, arts and humanities, and social sciences to imagine and concretize new modes of research and teaching about these topics within the small liberal arts college. We especially aim to emphasize the generative potential of the spaces between and among our disciplinary expertise--the intellectual and pedagogical opportunities only possible through cross-disciplinary conversations. 

Health and Medicine, Culture and Society: Crossroads in a Liberal Arts Education allows us to ask: what might STEM faculty who deploy images in their teaching and research learn about the dissemination and reception of visual information from scholars of visual culture, and what might scholars of visual culture, in turn, learn about the production of scientific images? What could scientists who seek to explore the biological basis of neurological development learn from social science research on child rearing practices outside the US? And, as faculty across STEM disciplines increasingly seek to attend to histories of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in their fields in their teaching, how might we call on the expertise of other scholar-teachers on campus?

We position Health and Medicine, Culture and Society: Crossroads in a Liberal Arts Education as a crucible for new thinking about cross-disciplinary teaching and research about health and medicine, including continuing to elaborate ideas generated during the short-term projects. But more than this, we hope to elucidate points of connection already unfolding at Smith and the Five Colleges as well as possibilities embedded within the mission and structure of the small liberal arts college. These connections might range from the theoretical and the methodological to the curricular and the material possibility of sharing expertise in the classroom. Such connections not only demonstrate the reciprocal value of thinking about the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities together, but also necessarily amplify and expand thinking about identity, equity, and inclusion, particularly as they relate to health and medicine, across disciplines. We invite participants from STEM, the humanities, and the humanistic social sciences to join in a semester-long conversation, in Fall 2022, to collaboratively imagine and develop pathways in our curriculum and our research to bring about substantive engagement with health and medicine in the twenty-first century. Such interventions might include a symposium that brings new voices to campus while also calling attention to work already being done within the Five College community; they might also include efforts to more explicitly thread programming about health and medicine into both curricular and extra curricular spaces at Smith, sustaining a scholarly and pedagogical culture attentive to the intersection of health, medicine, society, and culture. 

Project Fellows
  • Kathleen Pierce, Art, Organizing Fellow
    Pierce's current project, "Looking Well," argues that the larger stakes of recognizing multifarious visualities as diffuse, privileged, transhistorical, and transgeographical ways of medical knowing within western epistemologies has remained undertheorized—stakes consequential within scholarship to be sure, but much more importantly, for patients’ lived experiences with diverse forms of medical looking often presented as detached from history, culture, and power. “Looking Well” argues that a critical and capacious way of thinking about visuality must be at the core of efforts to address racism, sexism, and other forms of inequity within healthcare systems. Part provocation, part state-of-the-field, this project calls attention to the crucial role scholars of the visual must play in building a more equitable health system.
  • Suzanne Zhang Gottschang, Anthropology, Organizing Fellow
  • Rowan Brown ’23, English Language and Literature
    Concerned with the rhetoric, sources, and perspective of anti-vaxxers with the goal of building bridges and understanding between both parties to strengthen as a community. 
  • Rob Dorit, Biological Sciences
  • Jallicia Jolly, American Studies and Black Studies, Amherst College
    Exploring Black women's health and transnational activism around varied forms of reproductive injustices ranging from HIV stigma and medical experimentation to obstetric violence and reproductive coercion. With Afro-diasporic women's experiences as the foreground, studying their complex articulations of care and community in the face of state and NGO practices and technologies of reproductive control and (racialized) biopolitical regulation alongside neoliberal global circuits of biomedicine, economics, ethics, and pharmaceutical exchange.
  • Jeff Kasper, Art, Umass-Amherst
    Prototyping a pedagogical game for arts practitioners, teachers, and students that offers tangible, trauma-sensitive, and accessible frameworks for navigating deeply personal stories and experiences during visual arts critiques and community-engaged collaborations. This project will be developed in parallel to an emerging collaboration with Baystate Children’s Hospital that brings together art students, parents, pediatricians, educators, and researchers focused on preventative behavioral health and early childhood in the Springfield area.
  • Grace Leo ’24, Music and Economics
    A literature review on pressure training, examining the specificity of the anxiety stimulus introduced to training needed to prevent “choking” during performance.
  • Elly Mons, Director, Health Professions Advising Program
  • Maggie Olszewski ’23, English and Film & Media Studies
    Examining the output of creative media during COVID-19 alongside a selection of similar historical pandemics/endemics using fictionalized plagues that coincide, intentionally or not, with an extra-textual, “real”-world plague.
  • Heather Rosenfeld, Environmental Science & Policy
    Using the landscapes of medical and everyday care created by farmed animal sanctuaries via cartooning and mapping.
  • Amanda Seaman, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UMass-Amherst
    Looking at the image and metaphor of insects in Japanese health; specifically exploring how Edo era (1603-1868) Chinese/Japanese medicine looked at bugs (that is, not as a vector of disease) and then how modern writers have used insects when writing about sickness.
  • Christine White-Ziegler, Biological Sciences
  • Terra Zhang ’25J, Medieval Studies
    Examining how, in late medieval and early Renaissance medicine, the affirmation of the tactile sense against centuries of ocularcentrism introduced new ways of conceptualizing "care" and made medicine a more humanizing undertaking.