Beyond Woodlawn Avenue: My experience taking non-Booth courses at UChicago

So many courses, so little time! That’s how most of us feel at Booth, but wait till you consider the wider University! As a center for intellectual thought, the University of Chicago has a lot to offer – be it art history, molecular engineering or theater. Being part of the University gives us a chance to explore these areas of study as Booth students are permitted to take up to six non-Booth courses (and to offer some much-needed respite to those overworked DCF brain cells!)

My first foray into the larger University, beyond the walls of Harper Center, was attending Wendy Doniger’s course Many Ramayanas. A renowned Indologist, Doniger published The Hindus: An Alternative History in 2009, which ruffled a lot of feathers in India due to its controversial treatment of Hinduism. The wide-ranging and informative nature of class conversations, in addition to Professor Doniger’s almost encyclopedic understanding of the Hindu epic Ramayana, was captivating. It was then that I decided I would definitely take a non-Booth course every quarter.

While looking for a course at Harris (the school of Public Policy), the title Lessons from Policies That Went Wrong immediately drew my attention. The course offered a holistic look into policies implemented across the world that did not achieve the results they targeted. I learnt a lot from my classmates as well, most of whom had enviable experience in public policy and government.

To supplement the influencing skills I honed in the Booth course Persuasion, this quarter I decided to attend Little Red Schoolhouse (LRS), one of the most famous UChicago courses of all time. Perhaps its official name, Academic and Professional Writing, conveys a bit more information about the course than LRS does. Every week, each one of my seven seminar group members writes a paper targeted to a specific audience. Getting to read such a diverse collection of writings – from feminism, music theory, and surgical medicine to criminology – helped me immensely in expanding my understanding of these topics. Simultaneously, listening to each other’s and the professor’s feedback on the structure and flow of the papers made me realize how my writing can be perceived so differently by different readers.

UChicago is also home to many distinguished faculty members that are probably the most prominent voices in their fields. Martha Nussbaum (Philosophy) is one of the most prominent American philosophers and recently won the 2018 Berggruen Prize, which is awarded annually to a thinker whose ideas “have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world”. Her course, Emotion, Reason, and Law, discusses the role emotions play in law. Chris Blattman (Harris) is a popular blogger on international conflict and poverty. His course Order and Violence explores the causes of and possible policy solutions to unstable regions of the world. James Robinson (Harris) is the co-author of Why Nations Fail, an influential and popular book on comparative politics. His course of the same name allows students to explore the different developmental paths nations took to get where they are today. All these courses are generally offered in the Spring quarter!

The courses I have talked about so far barely scratch the surface of the courses offered by the University. In true UChicago spirit, I am sure most of us Boothies have a hidden passion for an obscure topic, and I am confident the University has a course for it.

This article was originally published in Booth’s student newspaper ChiBus.

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