Honors College Praxis Labs draw students from all disciplines to collaborate on innovative project-based solutions to pressing societal challenges. Under the guidance of distinguished faculty and community leaders, you and your colleagues analyze your topic through in-depth classroom and field research such as lectures, panels, one-on-one interviews, readings and off-campus trips. After problems have been identified and solutions developed, you will work together to put your ideas into action in the community. Topics vary each year, but fall under our three focus areas of Health & Society, Energy & Environment and Social Justice.
Infectious Disease on the Run is being offered as a Praxis Lab for the 2021-22 academic year. It will be offered Tues. 5-8pm and will be offered by Peggy Battin, Ph.D and Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, MD.
Margaret P. Battin, PhD – Distinguished Professor, Philosophy and Adjunct Professor, Internal Medicine and Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities
If you want to address me formally, it’s Margaret Pabst Battin, M.F.A., PhD., Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Adjunct Professor of Internal Medicine, Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities, at the University of Utah, or, for short, Peggy. You could make it more ostentatious by pointing out that I’ve authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited at least twenty books (I think I’ve lost count), including works on philosophical issues in suicide, case-puzzles in aesthetics, ethical issues in organized religion, and various topics in bioethics. You could embellish it by observing that I’ve published two collections of essays on end-of-life issues, The Least Worst Death and Ending Life, and have been the lead for two multi-authored projects, Drugs and Justice and The Patient as Victim and Vector: Ethics and Infectious Disease. In 1997, I won the University of Utah’s Distinguished Research award, and in 2000, received the Rosenblatt Prize, the University’s most prestigious award. You can find a TEDMED talk I did in 2014 by googling the web. This is all very flattering, but what’s important to me is not just what I’ve done in the past, but what I’m working on now: a comprehensive historical sourcebook on ethical issues in suicide, being published by Oxford, a multi-co-authored volume of case-puzzles about issues in disability (also Oxford), and a book on large-scale reproductive problems of the globe, including population growth and decline, teen pregnancy, abortion, and male roles in contraception, along with new ideas like urban design or thought-experiments or even how to redesign the ICU. Of course, there’s hardly ever enough time, but big new make-the-world-a better-place ideas, the very kind of thing a Praxis Lab is intended to generate, seem to me what it’s all about.
Wendy L. Hobson-Rohrer, MD, MSPH, FAAP
Wendy L. Hobson-Rohrer, MD, MSPH has focused her career as a general pediatrician on education and caring for the underserved. Dr. Hobson-Rohrer graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in Spanish and Latin American Studies and with Distinction in All Subjects. She then completed her M.D. degree at Cornell University Medical College. She moved to Utah for her pediatric internship and residency at the University of Utah. After working for a few years in the National Public Health Services Corp at the Community Health Centers Inc., Dr. Hobson-Rohrer pursed a fellowship in education and completed her M.S.P.H degree at the University of Utah.
Dr. Hobson-Rohrer is the Executive Medical Director of the South Main Clinic whose mission is to provide high quality, comprehensive, and cost-effective care to underserved families in our community and care to specialized populations that lack access to appropriate services while sharing community resources.
Dr. Hobson-Rohrer cares for a large number of children and youth with special health care needs, including those with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, cardiac diseases, and other genetic disorders. She has focused her clinical research and advocacy efforts on caring for these chidlren and their families. With a five-year Healthy Tomorrows Partnership for Children grant, she developed Niños Especiales/Familias Fuertes (Special Children/Strong Families), a support group system for families with Latino children with special health care needs.
Dr. Hobson-Rohrer is the Chair of the CATCH (Community Access to Child Health) committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She served as the Co-Chair of the APA Serving the Underserved Special Interest Group for seven years.
This course aims to introduce students to a range of black perspectives on some of the most pressing issues of our time. By black perspectives we do not mean perspectives based solely on identity or community belonging, though many of the authors we will consider identify as black. Rather, we will consider how black history, narratives of black cultural difference, persisting social inequalities, black movements for social justice, and the everyday experiences of black people have shaped, countered, and sometimes transformed mainstream ideologies about issues such as policing and incarceration, education, climate issues, reproductive rights, science and technology, political economy, healthcare, government and politics, among other issues. Conversely, we aim to demonstrate how varying perspectives within black communities have transformed the meaning of blackness.
Given the course’s focus on praxis, we also will explore how black perspectives have been aimed towards actions that improve not only the lives of black people, but also society as a whole. Based on group interests students will choose to expand on the perspectives offered in the course around a particular issue, or they may research a range of black perspectives on an issue of their choosing. Based on these perspectives, students will develop an action plan that will be the basis of their group projects.
Since projects that focus on black communities always involve questions of ethics, the second half of the course will focus on historical and contemporary case studies that require them to reflect on their positions and approaches to various issues in black communities. We will discuss as a group how we might best approach ethical and practical issues that arise in each project, and how to assess the successes and failures of our approaches.
Final presentations and reports will include a synthetic analysis of: 1) how various black perspectives shaped your group’s thinking 2) how your group translated black perspectives into action 3) group reflections on the ethics of their praxis 4) a description of and implementation plan for the group project 5) an assessment of the project outcomes.
Darius Bost (he/him) is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and co-editor of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. His research focuses in the areas of black cultural studies; feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; and medical humanities. Bost is the author of the award-winning book, Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence (University of Chicago Press, 2019). Related research has been published or is forthcoming in Criticism, Frontiers, Journal of American History, Journal of West Indian Literature, Occasion, Palimpsest, Souls, The Black Scholar, and several edited collections. His research has been supported by the Hutchins Center for African And African American Research at Harvard University, the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences at Duke University, the President's Office and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at San Francisco State University, the Martin Duberman Visiting Scholars Program at the New York Public Library, and the Provost’s Office at the University of Pennsylvania. Bost’s current book project is an interdisciplinary study of queer photographic practices across the Anglophone black diaspora from the 1970s to the present.
Meligha Garfield (he/him) is the inaugural director for the Black Cultural Center (BCC) at the University of Utah—a center that works to holistically enrich, educate, and advocate for students, faculty, staff and the broader community through Black centered programming, culturally affirming educational initiatives, and retention strategies. Hailing from Rochester, New York, Garfield holds a B.A. in Government, with a minor in colonial Latin American history and Africana studies and a Master of Public Administration from New Mexico State University (NMSU) where he was previously the Programs Coordinator for the Black Programs Department. He has implemented outreach and retention services, served as coordinator and advisor in Black programs, and managed numerous departmental programming and events while at NMSU – many of which he hopes to start at the U. He is also a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated.
Globalization and inequality: Precarious lives in Utah
The concurring trends of deepening globalization and increasing inequality permeate all aspects of our lives. Globalization has enabled unparalleled technological advances and economic growth. At the same time, inequality has increased dramatically. Our societies are polarized: the super-rich co-exist with a well-to-do professional class, and the rest struggle in the Neverland of big box stores and the gig economy. Many jobs do not provide a living wage or good benefits, and ever more people lead precarious lives: teetering on the edge of poverty in weakening communities with fragmented identities.
This Praxis Lab challenges students to connect the broad and all-encompassing trends of deepening globalization and rising inequality to two local constituencies: immigrants in the Salt Lake Valley and poor white Utahans beyond it. The many differences between these two groups – with respect to race, class, geography, legal status, and political party affiliation– will allow us to examine the complex interactions between socio-economic and technological changes on the one hand, and the “populist” and nationalist upheavals of our time on the other. How does the global economy shape the everyday lives of these two groups, and how do those experiences shape their political orientations?
The demand for energy is central to civilization on Earth, supporting economic growth and societal innovation, while contributing to civil unrest and environmental degradation. This Praxis Lab will provide an interdisciplinary venue to explore the science, engineering, policy, environmental consequences, economics, and sociopolitical complexities of energy systems. Students will study all available and emerging energy resources and technologies, including those present in the state of Utah. They will analyze the complex nature of energy systems, while considering the links between geoscience, engineering, ecosystems, and socioeconomic systems. They will examine the tradeoffs between social and environmental demands, the connections between production and consumption, and questions related to path dependency, efficiency, inequality, and built environments. Students will compare and contrast the life cycle variations of different energy options, the land use requirements of each energy resource, and the societal impacts of the usage of various energy sources. This analysis is rooted in a data-driven understanding of energy systems. Students will also situate their own behavior and choices within these complex, global-scale energy systems.Link to Full Report
The Valley as Laboratory: Steps Toward a Restorative Urbanism
Our mountains, emerging circulation systems (transit and bicycle), community self-esteem and relatively strong economy are among the strengths and signs of the good health of our city. But how can we make an impact now to ensure a healthy future? Using physiology as a metaphor for understanding the way our city works, we’ll work together to diagnose problems and develop treatments that restore health and vitality to places we care about – think urban acupuncture and urban metabolism! Beginning with an exploration of the complex, interrelated environmental, social and economic systems that form our cities, we will build upon the strengths of our own city to promote a healthy urban ecology. This Praxis Lab builds upon the success of a previous Praxis Lab named, “The Campus as Laboratory” in which students’ ideas led to tangible outcomes including the food trucks we now enjoy on the Marriott Plaza.Link to Full Report
Grassroots Community Leadership
How do we get people to get involved in their communities? The question is asked more and more frequently amidst theories about the decline of civic participation in U.S. society and the increase of the ‘bowling alone’ phenomenon, and as it becomes clear how challenging it can be to create meaningful roles for everyday people in making important decisions about their communities—whether neighborhood, city, state, or country. This Praxis Lab takes a unique approach to the question of how to encourage grassroots community leadership: students will work side by side with residents of the west side of Salt Lake City who are participating in the Westside Leadership Institute (WLI). The WLI is a partnership supported by University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) that takes an innovative approach to encouraging residents of all different backgrounds (cultural, political, socio-economic, and educational) to become catalysts for positive change in their communities. By working on ‘on-the-ground’ community problems with the WLI participants, students will investigate questions such as: What does it mean to be a community leader? How do leaders mobilize residents to make progress on tough community issues? How do leaders work across cultural differences to address adaptive challenges? What process management tools make a difference when engaging residents in community work? These questions will be answered while collaborating on a community project with real impact.Link to Full Report
Middle Class on the Ropes
This Praxis Lab will integrate the demographic, economic, historical, and even cultural dimensions of the content and growth of inequality in the United States. The course will explore the consequences of income inequality and the ways it affects the bottom line for individuals and families and their engagement in politics and other social processes. It will also examine the ways that students are directly affected by growing inequality with respect to their own economic prospects and their growing debt burden. The seriousness of income inequality today begs for solutions, and students will utilize an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing the most current data, exploring policy implications, and examining the viability of a multitude of possible solutions to this urgent social problem.Link to Full Report
Ecosystem Services and The American Dream
Wasatch Water: Evaporating Opportunities. This Praxis Lab will explore the notions of ecosystem services and the American dream with a special focus on water resources along the Wasatch Front. Students will follow water as it flows from its original state (free and clean) as snow, through our urban landscape and out to the Great Salt Lake or Jordan River. How does the value of water change through this landscape? How does its quality change? What has new research in science, engineering, economics, psychology and aesthetics taught us about the value of ecosystem services? How does this new research affect modern notions of the American Dream and our roles as individuals within our societies and ecosystems? What happens when ecosystem services—“products” such as clean drinking water, decomposition and nutrient recycling and pollination of crop plants, provided by nature at no cost to society—and the American Dream—the notion that life can and should be richer and fuller for every subsequent generation—are brought together? Early conceptualization of The American Dream, though not put in terms of “ecosystem services” was inherently predicated on the notion that these services were free, infinite and invulnerable. We now know that they are not, but where does that leave us? This broad sweep of topics will form the background for the project to be developed during the second semester of this Praxis Lab.Link to Full Report
Canyonlands National Park surrounds the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers in southeast Utah. Established in 1964, the park’s original boundaries were drawn arbitrarily, the result of political compromises dictated by the concerns of the day. Ever since, conservationists have hoped to “complete” the park as originally conceived by incorporating the full ecological and erosional basin below the high rims of adjoining mesas. This completion proposal primarily involves the re-designation of federal lands already held by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service.
In 2008-2009, nine students interviewed residents and officials from San Juan and Grand counties as well as federal land managers and scientists. We heard from diverse experts and stakeholders and conducted extensive background research.
We concluded that a key problem lies in systemic conflicts inherent between competing federal land agencies that have opposing legal mandates and quite different land management objectives. We recommend a new interagency coordination policy designed to reduce the conflicts that arise whenever two agencies share a border. Given the ongoing border conflicts in the Canyonlands region, we also proposed new models for collaboration and the creation of a new Canyonlands National Preserve. This approach to “completing” Canyonlands would help ensure the park’s integrity while also allowing for dialogue and flexibility in making future management decisions.Link to Full Report
The first Honors Praxis Lab convened at Ensign Peak in the fall of 2004 to explore and assess the nature of urban America, through exploration of Salt Lake’s downtown in particular. This group of 14 Honors students and two faculty advisors selected a two-block area located between 500 and 600 West and 200 and 300 South as the focus of their community-based research.
The students created subcommittees to become experts in history, diversity, housing and business issues. They created a brief documentary film capturing personal interviews with residents of the area. They created relationships with relevant downtown agencies including the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Envision Utah, the Downtown Alliance, the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, the RDA, and the LDS Church. The team received expert advice and varying perspectives on the problems facing Salt Lake City from these public partners.Link to Full Report
Anthropocene Now: Utah Snow, Climate Change & Social Resilience
Climate change is an urgent environmental challenge for the coming decades, and many of the expected impacts in Utah relate to snow. At the same time, Utah’s population surges, climate change is predicted to alter the Wasatch Front’s patterns of snowfall and melt, with implications for recreation and water resources. How is this local case a model for global climate transformation? How can Utah communities model resilience for communities in Europe, Asia and South America? What can Utah learn from the changing snowpacks in the Himalayas, Alps and Andes? Past discussions of climate change have pushed impacts out to the year 2100 and beyond – snow shows climate change is affecting Utah now.
This Praxis Lab will look closely at the idea of the Anthropocene, at the concept of Resilience, and at the science and politics of climate change. This group will focus on local snowfall’s economic, social and wildlife consequences. Our Praxis Lab will develop a participatory research project to share our conclusions and influence public policy and perception in our community.Link to Full Report
One of the national fast-food chains in the U.S. recently announced the replacement of cashiers in 2500 locations with digital ordering kiosks. This “Experience the Future” initiative will also deploy mobile ordering at 14,000 locations. AI experts predict that by 2027 truck drivers will be redundant, AI will surpass human capabilities in retail by 2031, best-sellers will be written by AI in 2049, and surgeons will be replaced by 2053. In the next 100 years, all human jobs will be replaced by automation.
These predictions are in contrast to today’s realities of automation: While low-level automation found wide adoption, more complex systems used in professional contexts or in consumer products either require extensive training for their operation or are taken up only by small groups of early adopters. High complexity automation systems that are currently available are even more challenging in terms of the parameters of their use, user training requirements and user adherence to the conditions of safe operation. Many systems that are available today are at the edge of what is technologically possible, but often engineers do not consider what is socially desirable. Thus, while automation will reshape and restructure society, it is today that we will need to understand how to develop human-centered automation.
The goal of this Praxis Lab is to explore how automation may affect society, from a wide range of perspectives. After developing a basic understanding of the potential impact of automation, students will pursue a project on automation in contexts local to the Salt Lake Valley.Link to Full Report
Family Violence Across the Life Course: Child, Partner and Elder Abuse
Family violence exists with varying severity throughout the life course in the form of abuse, exploitation and neglect of vulnerable groups, such as infants, children, intimate partners, disabled persons and elder adults. In this course, we explore ethical and scientific controversies, theoretical perspectives, empirical research, and efforts to detect and curb the staggering economic, physical and psychological costs and consequences of abuse.
Abuse is a difficult reality, so understanding the network of professionals intervening in cases of exposed family violence is important, along with the resources available to protect survivors and prevent future harm. Public health campaigns, victim’s rights, criminal justice solutions and legislative initiatives are compared with the purpose of improving the quality of life for generations of families in Utah, the US and internationally.
This Praxis Lab will examine multiple viewpoints and experiences of family violence, including victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and community professionals working with those affected. A diverse methodology will inspire learning with readings across disciplines, guest speakers, site visits, international films, and video clips. In the second semester students will present their projects born from a synthesis of our discussions, readings and experiences to create a meaningful product, legislative contribution or intervention in our community.Link to Full Report
Refugee Resettlement in the U.S.: Contextualizing the Odyssey of New Americans
Refugee resettlement is a current political topic in the news and everyday discussions, but even so, it is not well understood by the general public. Students interested in social justice, human rights, gender issues, and refugee resettlement in high income countries will develop a more thorough understanding about what it means to be a refugee in the current political climate, as well as what it means to be resettled outside of one’s home and familiar country. Additionally, students will develop an understanding of why “integration” is a key concept in working with individuals and families who are newly arriving Americans.
The overall purpose of the Praxis Lab is to create a frame for advocacy work that will last a lifetime. Students will work through the 10 indicators of integration (Agar & Strang, 2004) to create a composite sketch of why these indicators are important and what they say about U.S. society in the 21st Century. Service providers from Catholic Community Services, the International Rescue Committee, the Office of Refugee Services, the Refugee-Immigrant Center—Asian Association of Utah, and Women of the World will be invited as guest speakers. We will consider various methods for community-based participatory research and project development as we plan and implement a project spring semester.
Worlds Apart: Assessing Utah’s Urban-Rule Divide
The 2016 election put into sharp contrast the political and social divisions that exist between rural and urban areas in this country. Even here in Utah, we see marked social, political, and policy divergence between areas of urban growth like Salt Lake and Utah counties, and rural areas of the state that are struggling to keep jobs and families in their communities.
Understanding the nature of this divide and determining what can be done to bridge the gap is ultimately the challenge for participants in this Praxis Lab. The first semester will begin with an investigation of the extent of the urban-rural divide. We will explore, among other things, the differences and similarities between living and working Utah’s capital city and in rural Utah. This exploration will set the stage for the second semester, when students will identify aspects of this complex area of problems and policies they want to focus on and develop relevant and realistic proposals for how governments and nonprofits might address these issues. Once identified, students will develop their ideas to help bridge the divide between urban and rural Utah.Link to Full Report
Queer Identity and Social Structure
This Praxis Lab will address three central questions. What is queer? What is activism? What is social justice? Each question has countless answers, and students will formulate their own (non)answers to these questions, read about how others do (not) answer them, and learn from community activists who grapple with these questions in their daily lives and work. This investigation will allow students to deconstruct their own identities as well as the ways these identities are shaped by local and national politics, cultures, ideologies, discourses, mediated representations, and institutional and individual practices.
By the end of the first semester, students will be adept at using a newly formed academic lens to examine identity and social justice issues. The class will consider and critique historical and contemporary attempts by activists and institutions to find middle ground on issues faced by those in the LGBT community. In the second semester, we will develop our voice and place in this contemporary landscape by implementing our own brand of strategic outreach. By the end of the year, Praxis Lab participants will have examined and reshaped their self-identities, strengthened community networks, and implemented an innovative strategy to raise awareness, promote inclusion and reduce discrimination.Link to Full Report
Film and Diversity
What makes a good documentary? How can film, as a medium, give a voice to marginalized and oppressed communities? In this Praxis Lab, students learned the fundamentals of analyzing and creating documentary films. Working in small teams to create documentaries that investigated topics relevant to diversity in Utah, students learned the basics of good filmmaking—cinematography, interviewing skills, lighting, scripts, editing, and logging. Putting these new-found skills to use, students collaborated with members of the Salt Lake City community to create films about a variety of topics like autism, domestic violence, downwinders, art and activism, eating disorders, and Ruby Chacon.Link to Full Report
Supporting New American Communities in Utah
For decades, the Salt Lake City area has been a U.S refugee resettlement site and destination for economic migrants. Over 17,000 refugees have been resettled in Utah and approximately 1,000 new individuals come each year. The needs and strengths of communities from immigrant and refugee backgrounds are multifaceted. As newcomers in the community many residents have limited communication skills, social systems knowledge, and cultural capital necessary to build their lives in their new home. Simultaneously, these New Americans bring rich histories, diverse perspective and multicultural knowledge and skills to Utah.
As an outgrowth of the university-community partnership work done by the University Neighborhood Partners and the Bennion Center, this Think Tank will provide students and partners with an engaged learning experience while delving into the complexities and assets of emerging New American communities and integration pathways. Participants will explore questions of culture and community that provide a context for understanding integration as a two-way process in which both the newcomers and the host societies are changed.
Within an action-scholar framework, students and community partners will work together to design and implement community-engaged projects.Link to Full Report
Wind the clock back far enough and all of our families were immigrants. Integrating immigrants is far from easy; ask the Goshutes in Utah or the Irish in Boston. This moment seems to be particularly difficult because of the increasing numbers of immigrants, because the immigrants are predominantly poor, and because many of them have evaded restrictions on immigration in America.
During this Praxis Lab, Honors students sought to understand the immigration dilemma and to help inform the debate in Utah. The students researched history, legislation, economic impacts, the media, and the process of becoming a legal resident of the United States. They travelled to Mexico and spent a week immersed in communities that are struggling with immigration-related challenges on the other side of the border. English major Anna Thompson considered herself euro-centric prior to their visit: “The trip was not only a defining moment in my collegiate career, but also an eye-opening experience in terms of my world view,” she said. “Now the debate is painfully real and sometimes painfully personal.”
As a final project, the team published “Immigration in Context: A Resource Guide for Utah.” Disseminated to policy makers, legislators, educators, community organizations and citizens, the guide presents an unbiased view of immigration, focusing on facts while presenting the human side of the issue.Link to Full Report
Transparency & Privacy
Government corruption and abuses of power, scandals in the real estate and financial industries, unpopular wars, skyrocketing costs of education, and an increasingly complex and opaque healthcare system have spurred calls for greater transparency in our institutions and in society in general.
The unprecedented transparency in our society has been fueled and enabled by social media communications platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Wikipedia. At the same time, there is concomitant concern about an unprecedented lack of individual and institutional privacy.
This Praxis Lab took a critical look at these two often-conflicting paradigms. Students studied the origins, underlying rationales and growth of the concepts of privacy and transparency. They also studied their legal and constitutional implications, both in general and in their application in specific areas such as the government, media, education system, financial industry, and the Internet.
During the first semester students heard from leading local and national experts in the areas of openness and privacy to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complexities, nuances and challenges of balancing and reconciling these two competing interests. During the second semester, students applied this information and knowledge by developing two practical projects which have an impact and life beyond the classroom.Link to Full Report
Truth, Deception And Information Disorder
Are we witnessing a war on truth, and is the line between what is true and what is false increasingly difficult to ascertain? Is truth losing its currency in today’s super saturated information age, where we are inundated with fake news and manipulated by propaganda? Are neutral gate-keepers of truth a thing of the past?
What is “Truth”? Is truth an absolute and universally accepted concept? Or is truth, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? In our increasingly complex world, are answers to the question, “Is it true” no longer binary propositions? Does establishing legal truth in a court of law necessarily comport with factual truth in the court of public opinion?
What about the role of technology? Technology has become an effective tool to amplify certain voices that obfuscate the truth. For example, in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has used the platform to spread false information about critics of his drug war. Can Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms find a constitutionally acceptable way of preventing purveyors of lies and propaganda from abusing their platforms?
This Praxis Lab explored questions that go to the fundamental concept of truth. Students examined the historical underpinnings of truth, defined the essence of the concept, identified the corrosive influences and tools being employed in the war on truth—white lies, hyperbole, political rhetoric, fear mongering and disguised communications—and considered the potential implications for our democracy.Link to Full Report