Well-Being in the Classroom
The last few years have been layered with concerns ranging from navigating intense discussions about politics and race to managing anxiety during a global pandemic. These challenges often affect how we conduct ourselves at work, at school, and in social settings. This spring, two Georgia Tech professors — Narin Hassan and Tiffany D. Johnson — are addressing the challenges through innovative teaching around well-being, sustainability, work, race, and social justice.
Hassan, an associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, is teaching a special topics course, Bodies and Borders: Cultural Histories and Narratives of Embodiment and Health. The seminar (which combines LMC advanced undergraduates with graduate students from the MS-Global Media and Cultures program) takes an interdisciplinary and global approach to analyzing the body and cultures of health and wellness in relation to gender and nation. She also teaches a course on literature and medicine and conducts research on the relationship between medicine, gender, and global culture.
“In order to have careful and nuanced conversations about health and wellness, particularly in relation to gender, race, and issues of social justice, you have to build community and create a space in the classroom where people feel safe getting into those messy areas,” Hassan said. “Until you do that, people may feel tense when talking about it.”
Hassan and Johnson both have backgrounds in yoga and meditation, which they find helpful when they’re leading discussions on potentially provocative subjects.
“Being trained in those practices helps us read the classroom more intuitively and helps us better navigate the pedagogical spaces in which we teach these difficult topics,” Hassan said.
Hassan’s course examines topics such as the intersections of gender, race, and empire within histories of science and medicine, depictions of the body within national and international discourses, representations of the body and its relationship to nation, and practices of medicine and wellness in cross-cultural contexts. It will analyze narratives of illness, contagion, and disease, conceptions of the body as a site of oppression or resistance within social/political discourses and social justice movements, cultural configurations of embodiment and mobility, and the circulation of popular wellness practices within contemporary culture.
Readings and course materials include fictional texts, memoirs, health guides, travel narratives, films, visual images, critical essays, and historical sources to analyze how bodies and notions of health and well-being are and have been represented and conceptualized technologically, visually, scientifically, narratively, and politically in a variety of global contexts.
Johnson, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior Area in the Scheller College of Business, is teaching an undergraduate version of a graduate level course that she taught previously called Work, Equity, and Wellness, which examines the historical intersection of the three areas. She conducts research on organizations and workplaces, and how they can become more inclusive and equitable.
“The course looks at the history of work and the historical foundation of the field of management,” Johnson said. “We have been socialized from the time we started school to just work the way we do without question. For example, take the word ‘professionalism.’ What does it mean to be professional, and where does that meaning come from? Tracing it back historically helps us begin to gently question the ways in which we may be perpetuating inequity, even in small subtle ways.”
In Johnson’s course, weekly discussions are supported by readings, podcasts, and documentaries. Students connect to the content by sharing how it resonates with their personal and organizational experiences. They meet regularly in small groups to reflect, share insights, and offer feedback for each other’s class assignments. The class ends with students presenting projects aimed at reimagining approaches to work, racial equity, and wellness in their personal lives and in a focal workplace of their choosing.
“In both levels of classes — MBA and undergraduate — students understood it right away, in part because we all have been influenced by work history," Johnson said. "We just become more mindful of its prevalence in this class."
Given the Institute’s growing focus on well-being, Hassan and Johnson have been collaborating for the past three years and creating interdisciplinary experiences for their students on topics related to well-being and social justice. This semester they will guest lecture in each other’s classes, and they plan to share guest speakers and bring their classes together on related topics.