Hobart and William Smith Colleges - Politics of Epidemics Course Inspires Innovation
The HWS Update
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Politics of Epidemics Course Inspires Innovation

As a final project for the “Politics of Epidemics” Maymester course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Ricky Price, students were challenged to confront the political problems of our time by developing creative and transformative solutions for their communities. Recently, several students had the opportunity to present their projects to HWS alums in a Zoom session hosted by the Office of Advancement.

“One of the things I tell my students is when we’re thinking of these large, overwhelming political problems, we have to start where we’re at,” says Price. “We have to start in our homes, in our communities, and we have to start in our institutions. We have to work to make those places represent the justice we want to see in the world. That’s what I tried to challenge the students in this class to do.”

The “Politics of Epidemics” covered the political history of epidemics and pandemics through the lens of institutional and community responses to threats such as the 1918 flu, polio and  malaria. To learn more about the course objectives, click here.

International relations and biology double major Hannah Bilton ’21 created a coloring book for children that features preventative care in a pandemic. She envisioned the implementation of the project as part of a national protocol to stop the spread of COVID-19. The coloring book provides an accessible introduction to COVID-19 control and prevention for children of all ages. “I wanted to create a resource that could help normalize CDC recommendations such as social distancing, wearing a mask and routinely washing hands,” Bilton says.

Molly Dexter ’22, a double major in biology and critical health studies, says her independently designed course of study has given her the opportunity to research social determinants of health. For her Maymester project, Dexter created posters and other communications materials to promote the health and safety of backstretch employees, those who train and care for horses at the popular Saratoga Race Course.

International relations major Olivia Stine ’21 became interested in the hyper-polarization of politics, even in small communities, and the consequences of political division on the spread of COVID-19. For her project, she looked at 2016 polling data in the Upstate New York region to determine which counties emerged red or blue and then created two COVID-19 communications campaigns that could be deployed based on a community’s majority party affiliation. Stine envisioned her campaigns being distributed through billboards, posters and social media. “In an attempt to prevent a second wave, I could see these campaigns being persuasive for both political ideologies,” she says.

Price’s research interests focus on the criminalization of illness and the criminalization of poverty in communities without affordable access to biomedical interventions. His work also focuses on the policies created to manage the HIV/ AIDS epidemic that have become the dominant strategy for healthcare intervention more broadly. Price recently presented his research at a virtual teach-in on racial justice titled “Voices of Protest and Love: Liberatory Knowledge in the Hour of George Floyd.” The event was hosted by a diverse coalition of scholars, teachers and activists from the Colleges and the Geneva, N.Y., community.