Pandemics, Health & Power

Please note:  All students participating in Duke Immerse fall 2021 are expected to follow Duke’s guidelines and policies for undergraduates regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, masking, and social distancing. For more information, visit the Duke United website or contact Duke Immerse Program Director,  Morgan Barlow.  

Exploring how history, culture, and inequality shape the delivery and receipt of care in times of pandemics and other disasters. 

Whose lives matter? Who deserves care and who doesn’t? What do disasters teach us about our shared humanity? The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed structural racism, ageism, sexism, classism, and ableism, all of which contribute to healthcare disparities and disproportionate rates of death. COVID-19 was not the first pandemic to affect the United States, and it will not be the last.

Students tabling on East Campus for the Duke Disability Alliance

We will explore questions related to the cultural and ethical dimensions of care, dis/ability, illness, storytelling, and death.

 Pandemics, Health & Power will dive deeply into a study of health inequities through a set of interlocking experiences, in the classroom and in Durham:

        • Interrogating the shifting conceptualization of risk, society’s organized response, and the social regard for vulnerable groups
        • Studying the biological contexts of infectious diseases and critical theory (e.g., DisCrit)
        • Exploring the fusion of science and humanities in film, culture, ritual, health care, crisis, and survival
        • Developing mentor relationships with a healthcare provider (e.g., MD, PA, OT, PT, MSW) or community partner (e.g., local activist, disability advocate)
        • Collecting oral histories
        • Learning medical illustration
        • Publishing the stories of COVID-19 in Durham and Duke


Locations: Durham, NC

Term: Fall 2021

Dates: Off-campus schedule TBD

Application Deadline: Applications are closed for Fall 2021, but Duke Immerse will consider late applications on a case-by-case basis. Please contact Morgan Barlow ( for more information and to apply.

Academic Themes: Biology, Global Health, History, Human Rights, English, Environmental Science, Ethics, International Comparative Studies,  Literature, Public Policy, Russian, Writing

Eligibility: Students must have taken WRITING 101, non-Duke students matriculated at Duke are eligible for this progra

Program Fee

Participants are required to pay a program fee of $300 in addition to regular Duke tuition, fees, and room and board. This fee covers all program costs, including special events, group meals, and a medical illustration workshop. Financial aid packages may be used to cover these costs; if you have any question or concern as to whether financial aid will be able to cover this for you, please reach out to the Karsh Financial Support Office directly (; they are familiar with Duke Immerse and can answer your questions. 


Students accepted into Pandemics, Health & Power will receive the permission numbers needed to enroll in this set of Duke Immerse courses. Enrolled students must take the four courses outlined below. Overloading is acceptable with the permission of all instructors; no underload is permitted. One Duke semester course credit is equivalent to four semester hours.

Course numbers: BIO 153S, ENVIRON 153S, GLHLTH 153S
Curriculum codes: NS, STS, W
Course Description: This course explores interactions between organisms and their environments that impact human health and wellbeing.  We will examine the effects of climate change and human population growth on our food supply, water availability, the spread of disease, and ecosystem services. Case studies will be used to illustrate the scientific process, to evaluate supporting evidence, and to investigate ethical issues. Cross-listed between Biology, Global Health, and Environmental Studies and the fall seminar is affiliated with a Duke Immerse Cluster: Pandemics, Health & Power.
Instructor: Julie Reynolds Ph.D.

Course numbers: ICS 251S, GLHLTH 278S, RUSSIAN 278S, LIT 278S, ENGLISH 243S
Curriculum codes: ALP, CCI, EI, W
Course Description: The course is taught in English; Russian language skills are not necessary. This course explores past pandemics as a way to think about how to best live through COVID-19 and prevent or minimize future pandemics. Through examining literature and film, we will analyze the psychosocial dimensions of pandemics. We will read a variety of texts including histories,  fiction (Bulgakov, Porter, Tolstoy, Colson Whitehead); short essays; and films (e.g., Contagion, Outbreak). How do science, medicine, and society interact in a time of pandemics?  How do pandemics reveal social inequities, and how could we use this knowledge to decrease disparities? And why do people turn to the humanities and arts in times of pandemics?
Instructor: Jehanne Gheith, MSW, LCSW, Ph.D.

Course numbers: WRITING 390S, GLHLTH 390S, PUBPOL 290S, RIGHTS 390S, ETHICS 390S
Curriculum codes: EI, R, SS, W
Course Description: Critical analysis of current discourses around “lives that matter,” especially Black and disabled lives and categories of “essential” work. Readings and discussions of the genres of writing and communication that bring these stories to life: fiction, life writing, critical essays, conversations, and global health policy documents regarding disparities of health, healthcare, and labor compensation. Analyze ethical debates on topics such as abuse in institutional settings, prioritization for vaccines, and global inequities in access to healthcare. Interrogate relationships between individuals and larger social structures, and consider consequences of both personal actions and public decisions. Consistent and sustained reflection on students’ growth as writers, and consideration of the broader social function of writing in its many forms. Interrogate how the voice relates to power and the social dynamics that give some populations more voice than others. Methods of ethical inquiry, scholarly research, rhetorical analysis, analytic writing, and advanced revision and editing techniques for publication. Qualitative research through site visits and interviews.
Instructor: Marion Quirici, Ph.D.

Course numbers: HIST 410S, RIGHTS 410
Curriculum codes: CZ, EI, STS
Course Description: Explores the history of aging and dying in the modern world, focused on the United States and the recent past. Integrates medical and humanistic approaches, giving students the chance to use philosophy, literature, and science together. Brings the history of medicine together with histories of race, gender, and religion. Aimed especially at pre-med students, but open to all.
Instructor: James Chappel, Ph.D.

Lead Faculty

Marion Quirici

Marion Quirici

Lecturing Fellow, Thompson Writing Program

James Chappel

James Chappel

Gilhuly Family Associate Professor, History

Jehanne Gheith

Associate Professor, Russian Culture & Program in Education

Julie Reynolds

Julie Reynolds

Associate Professor of the Practice, Biology & Program in Education

Program Contacts: Email Marion Quirici ( or Duke Immerse ( for more information.


All students who are interested, regardless of documentation or citizenship status, are encouraged to apply; accommodations and opportunities will be made for students who are unable to travel. We welcome Durham-based DKU students and UNC Robertson Scholars to apply. Please email Duke Immerse director ( if you are interested in participating. Complete the online application using MyExperientialEd.