The Pandemic Through a Liberal-Arts Lens


It’s hard not to draw inspiration from Amy Bass and her colleagues at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. As she explains in her recent Hechinger Report op-ed:

“What Covid-19 may mean for small, private, liberal-arts institutions is grim. We wanted to share our passion for the liberal arts and what it can do when the community gives it the time and space it deserves.” 

That’s why Bass – Professor of Sport Studies and Chair of the Division of Social Science and Communication – and her colleagues created a multi-faculty, interdisciplinary summer source for first-year students. The four-week course illustrates what higher ed can accomplish when it leverages collaboration, expertise and generosity.

The course’s four models cover the socially, economically, politically and environmentally relevant topics at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic: humanity and natural disasters; intersections of social media & science; pandemics, inequality and the environment; and coping & caring for our communities. Weekly podcast-style discussions and assignments help students understand the ways different fields look at evidence and draw conclusions, as well as their individual roles in shaping the history of this moment.

“We saw a solution in creating something that would enable incoming students to feel like they are part of an engaged, compassionate and curious campus community, a place to which they wanted to commit,” Bass explains in her op-ed.

This kind of disruptive, real-time addition to the course catalog is exactly the kind of innovation higher ed should embrace. Doing so delivers a more personalized, equitable and – dare we say – interesting experiences for students. In the wake of COVID-19 and massive changes to its underlying infrastructure, isn’t that exactly the kind of opportunity higher ed should seize?

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