Two Georgia Tech professors address social and professional challenges through innovative health and wellness education.
Narin Hassan (right), teaches a special topics course, Bodies and Borders: Cultural Histories and Narratives of Embodiment and Health, at the School of Literature, Media and Communications. (Photo by Jillann Hertel)
The past few years have been marked by concerns ranging from navigating intense discussions about politics and race to dealing with anxiety during a global pandemic. These challenges often affect the way we conduct ourselves at work, school, and in social settings. This spring, two Georgia Tech professors — Narin Hassan and Tiffany D. Johnson — are taking on challenges through innovative teaching about wellness, sustainability, work, race, and social justice.
Hassan, an associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, teaches a special topics course, Bodies and Boundaries: Cultural Histories and Narratives of Embodiment and Health. The seminar (which combines advanced undergraduate students from the LMC with graduate students from the MS-Global Media and Cultures program) takes an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to analyzing the body and cultures of health and well-being 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, especially as it relates to gender, race and social justice issues, you need to build community and create space in the bathroom. class where people feel safe in these messy areas,” Hassan said. “Until you do that, people may feel tense talking about it.”
Both Hassan and Johnson have a background in yoga and meditation, which they find useful when leading discussions on potentially provocative topics.
“Being trained in these practices helps us read the classroom more intuitively and helps us better navigate the instructional spaces in which we teach these difficult topics,” Hassan said.
Hassan’s course examines topics such as the intersections of gender, race and empire in histories of science and medicine, representations of the body in national and international discourses, representations of the body and its relationship to the nation, and cross medicine and wellness practices. – cultural contexts. It will analyze narratives of illness, contagion and illness, conceptions of the body as a site of oppression or resistance in social/political discourses and social justice movements, cultural configurations of embodiment and mobility , and the circulation of popular wellness practices in contemporary culture. .
Readings and course materials include fictional texts, memoirs, health guides, travelogues, films, visual images, critical essays, and historical sources to analyze how bodies and notions of health and wellness 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 area of organizational behavior at Scheller College of Business, teaches an undergraduate version of a graduate-level course she previously taught called Work, Equity, and Well-Being, which examines the historical intersection of the three domains. She conducts research on organizations and workplaces, and how they can become more inclusive and equitable.
“The course examines the history of labor and the historical underpinnings of the field of management,” Johnson said. “We have been socialized from the time we started school to work as we undoubtedly do. For example, take the word “professionalism”. What does it mean to be professional and where does this meaning come from? Tracing it historically helps us begin to gently question the ways we can perpetuate inequality, even in small, subtle ways.
In Johnson’s course, weekly discussions are supported by readings, podcasts and documentaries. Students connect with content by sharing how it resonates with their personal and organizational experiences. They meet regularly in small groups to brainstorm, share ideas and offer feedback on each other’s class assignments. The course concludes with students presenting projects to reimagine approaches to work, racial equity, and well-being in their personal lives and in a central workplace of their choice.
“At both course levels — MBA and undergraduate — students picked it up right away, in part because we’ve all been influenced by work backgrounds,” Johnson said. “We’re just becoming more aware of its prevalence in this class.”
Given the Institute’s growing focus on wellness, Hassan and Johnson have been collaborating for three years and creating cross-disciplinary experiences for their students on topics related to wellness and social justice. This semester, they will be lecturing in each other’s classes, and they plan to share guest speakers and bring their classes together on related topics.