University Scholars look at recent events with a science-and-literature lens

The University Scholars Program began 40 years ago in the spring of 1982. Last year’s cohort joins more than 750 alumni of the program and continues the tradition of exploring recent events through a multidisciplinary lens. The 2021 course titled “Marginalized Bodies & ‘Medicine’ in Literature,” was taught by Dr. Giselle Anatol. Dr. Anatol is a professor and Interim Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department. 

“I have always been fascinated by literary representations of doctors, patients, and traditional medicine, as well as alternative healing practices,” said Anatol, who is also the Incoming Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. “This literature became all the more timely when COVID-19 hit, and statistics became available about disparities in death rates among different communities.” 

Students in the seminar analyzed a wide range of genres to understand the sources of contemporary health inequities. These include novels such as Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, to nonfiction works like The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, and memoirs like Sarah Smarsh’s book Heartland.  

“Going into this class, I was a microbiology major on the pre-medical track, but unsure of what kind of physician I wanted to be. This class was first and foremost a literature class, so I would never have taken this class on my own,” said Carlos Schwindt. “This course confirmed to me that I aspire to become a rural physician, to improve the health outcomes for the marginalized community that I am from.”  

Scholars are second-year students selected based on academic credentials, commitment to their education, intellectual promise, and involvement outside of the classroom. Each scholar receives a one-time scholarship of $1,500 and is connected with a faculty mentor who will help them deepen and expand their academic interests.  

“Having the chance to build relationships with exceptional peers and faculty alike is unparalleled anywhere else throughout KU's campus as are the value of the lessons learned and knowledge gained throughout this experience,” said Sadie Williams, a University Scholar majoring in English and Economics with a minor in Spanish.  

This spring’s seminar is taught by Dr. Hannah Britton, professor of Political Science and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. “Justice or Reconciliation? Building sustainable peace after conflict,” will examine the many ways societies try to come to terms with their collective pasts and individual histories. What effects do truth commissions, criminal tribunals, or traditional healing ceremonies have on post-war nations? The course will explore various strategies, their guiding values, and their long-term impact to envision and attain lasting peace.