Visiting instructors expand student perspectives

One Course At A Time allows visiting lecturers to regularly teach entire Cornell College courses for 18 days and share their knowledge and research with students.

Each year about 25 instructors spend a block at Cornell, introducing new and interesting topics.

Most recently, the sociology faculty invited George Ellerbach ’11 to teach a course called Race and Social Justice. The alumnus majored in sociology and politics while at Cornell, and now he’s working toward his Ph.D. in sociology while teaching at the University of Iowa.

“I was excited for George to teach this course both for him and for our students,” said Professor of Sociology Tori Barnes-Brus. “Not only was George knowledgeable about the course materials, but students recognized that George’s expertise in the block plan was also beneficial. I also saw this as a great opportunity for one of our own.”

Students had a lot of experiential learning opportunities during the course. On top of the readings and reflections, students went on a field trip to a court hearing and heard from several area speakers, including police officers, lawyers, researchers, and an activist, who visited the class.

“The overall goal of this course was to develop an understanding of how race impacts every part of the criminal justice system,” Ellerbach said. “Students came to know about the issues of racial disparities and bias in policing, arrests, courts, sentencing, incarceration and also in the issues of reentry.”

Ellerbach has thoroughly researched race and inequalities through his thesis about belief in the American dream. This research demonstrates that while African-Americans are less optimistic than whites about the American Dream in general, African-Americans are actually more optimistic than whites about their own personal likelihood of achieving the American dream.

“I think that to be global citizens, Cornell students have an obligation to understand issues of inequality and stratification,” Ellerbach said. “In the U.S. in particular, there are inequalities that communities of color face in the criminal justice system. It is important for all students to understand this, and the structural and cultural causes of these inequalities.” 

Rachel Antonuccio ’02 talks with students about her experiences working for the Johnson County Public Defender's Office.
Rachel Antonuccio ’02 talks with students about her experiences working for the Johnson County Public Defender’s Office.

Part of understanding the story surrounding inequalities in the justice system included reaching out to another Cornellian, Rachel Antonuccio ’02. She’s working as an attorney who represents juveniles with the Johnson County Public Defender’s Office. The alumna spoke with the class about a case she worked on in 2013-14 in which her teenage client faced a murder charge. Antonuccio said she wanted the students to think more deeply about someone else’s perspective. 

“I hope they can see people are not their worst act,” Antonuccio said. “We would not want to be defined by our own worst act, and that’s the same for folks involved in the criminal justice system. There’s just so much more to people than the worst thing they have ever done.” 

The public defender said she was glad to hear the students’ questions about race within the criminal justice system saying it shows they’re thinking critically about the topic. She recalls her time at Cornell saying it was the first time she examined how economic and racial differences make world experiences different for each person.

“I think the foundation of everything I’m doing right now came from my classes at Cornell, including my experiences specifically dealing with inequality, race, poverty, and gender,” Antonuccio said. “All of those things play into what drives me and what made me want to choose this particular profession.”

Ellerbach said he believes students also learned a lot about different professions because the speakers, like Antonuccio, passionately presented about their work.

“I know that students appreciated hearing from people in all different careers, to see how they might take the knowledge from this course and go on to apply this after leaving Cornell,” he said.

There are many other examples of the unique learning opportunities that come along with recent courses taught by visiting instructors at Cornell College:

Intro to Entrepreneurship–Andy Stoll, social entrepreneur, producer, and speaker (video below)

Screenwriting: Creating Characters–Brian Sloan, writer, producer, and filmmaker (video below)

The Lyric Essay: Hit Me with Music–Kisha Schlegel, Distinguished Visiting Writer in Lyric Essay

Anthropology 110–John Doershuk, State Archaeologist at University of Iowa

DIY Documentary Production: Essaying in Cinema–Richard Wiebe, Distinguished Visiting Writer in Digital Storytelling

Creating Monsters: Eng 111–Mary Lou Batenhorst, English Department Chairperson of Visitation Academy in St. Louis, Mo.