Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 09, 2006

New Course Examines Responses to Disaster

The Department of Philosophy is offering a new course designed to explore the ethical and political nature of disaster response. The tsumani that devastated parts of Southeast Asia just over a year ago and hurricane Katrina are among the disasters to be examined. The course will also look at local “disasters,” including political apathy and biodiversity loss.

Taught by Prof. Karen Houle, the advanced seminar/graduate course is titled “Facing Disasters: Political and Ethical Responses to Natural and Social Disasters.” It aims to engage students in dialogue surrounding what issues gain prominence out of disaster, which disasters get coverage and how they're covered, and conceptual, political and public responses to tragedies, said Houle.

“We know the facts of natural disasters, but we seem to be needing ways to understand what our duties are in the face of them, how to respond to them meaningfully, and how to understand our obligations to prevent or intervene in their coming about,” she said. “The debates raging in environmental, political and social philosophy about the limits of justice and caring for others should be brought to bear on the questions of what we could and should be doing about disasters, however those are identified. I’m very interested in sharing the theoretical perspectives with individuals interested in practical questions and involved with such struggles in their own lives.”

The particular issues that gain prominence during times of crisis will also be investigated. “One of the things we see by paying attention to the coverage of the hurricane Katrina disaster is that there’s always some constituency that can’t be heard or seen under normal circumstances, no matter how hard they try to lobby for change or improvements in their conditions, and those constituents momentarily register on public consciousness in the wake of disasters,” said Houle, noting that Katrina brought to light interconnected issues of poverty, racism and the reliability of American federal relief agencies. “It’s not that these issues didn’t exist before the storm; they just didn’t receive the same level of international exposure and discussion until then.”

By examining disasters from an ethical perspective, students gain a wider understanding of the values that underlie our responses to disasters, responses that are influenced by beliefs and values, said Jacqueline Murray, dean of the College of Arts. “This is an excellent example of how learning can — and indeed must — move out of the classroom and interact with our world and its real problems.”

A highlight of the course, which is geared to students with an interest in social justice and responsibility, is an all-day World Café event March 18. Borrowed from the World Café model, it will engage students and community members in a conversation about the meaning and impacts of various disasters on them, said Houle. “This is an extremely important component of the course because students will be able to listen to people with a broad range of views who will share their personal experiences and what the issue means to them and what being responsible can entail.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

Email this entry to:

Message (optional):

Powered by FeedBlitz