Strake Jesuit students explore medical humanities at Rice

James Corban ’16

On Thursday, November 5, I joined over 30 Strake Jesuit students on a field trip to Rice University to attend presentations organized by Rice’s Civic Humanist program, an institute founded to educate Houston-area high school students about the interrelatedness of the humanities and science.

Mark Schmanko, a doctoral student in Rice’s Department of Religion, met our group shortly after we got off our bus and gave us a quick tour of the Rice quadrangle. As Rice students milled throughout the pathways and between the scattered buildings that cover the campus, we made our way to Duncan Hall.

Here we heard from Abby Goode, a Ph.D. candidate in Rice’s Department of English and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She introduced to us the movie Outbreak, in which the scientific study of a vicious disease is influenced by the emotional states of those affected by its rapid spread. Ms.Goode drew attention to the manner in which panic and carelessness contributed to the spread of the disease, almost leading to a catastrophe on the global scale.

After showing clips from this movie, Ms. Goode then related the fictional events of Outbreak to the terribly nonfictional Ebola outbreak of 2014 and early 2015. She noted the fear-mongering media coverage of the Ebola presence in America. News outlets intentionally created panic in the wake of a nurse’s infection by using phrases such as “How did she get infected?” and interviewing authors of fictional disease novels. Though there was no official mystery or confusion regarding the nurse’s infection (she worked directly with a man infected with Ebola), the media engendered fear and widespread confusion through dishonest representation of the disease’s truly negligible threat to the United States. Ms. Goode encouraged us to contemplate how media and mass perception of a crisis can have drastic effects on how it is handled.

After her presentation, we traveled to the Fondren Library to examine several artifacts from the John P. McGovern Historical Center. Here we saw surgical kits from the 19th century, centuries old illustrations of human anatomy, and numerous journals and personal accounts of medical practices from the 1700’s to the early 1900’s. The human testimonies of the medical field from centuries ago added a unique perspective to the approach that societies take toward health issues today.

We concluded the tour with a brief visit to Rice’s art gallery, in which Anila Agha’s sculpture “Intersections” dominated an entire room. The visit gave our group yet another taste of the daily activities and discussion that we may experience at the university level.

Finally, we met up again with Ms. Goode, who led us through some journaling exercises about our experience that day. Students were invited to submit their writings for publication in a blog maintained by the Civic Humanists program.

My understanding of collegiate methods of teaching and learning grew significantly thanks to this trip, and I strongly encourage others to search out similar eye-opening opportunities at Rice and elsewhere.