Previous Challenges

Would I Lie to You? Democracy and Civic Engagement

Have you ever wondered why some of the most pressing global issues of our times - world hunger, HIV/AIDS, gender inequality, racism, climate change, even democratic revolutions are largely absent from the typical evening newscasts? Do you believe that vaccines cause autism? Is it true that you can’t search Google for information on the Dalai Lama in China? How did access to Twitter and Facebook influence the Black Lives Matter movement or spread the word about what happened in Baltimore or Ferguson? How do news coverage, political comedy, or viral social media campaigns shape the ways in which we view our world today? How do they shape our engagement with the social issues that really matter? How will they shape the 2016 elections?

The theme of the 2015-2016 challenge was Would I Lie to You? Democracy and Civic Engagement. In her graphic narrative, The Influencing Machine, NPR’s Brooke Gladstone, who has made the media her journalistic beat, takes a historical, political, cultural, and social look at the ways in which information is or isn’t accessible to the general populace. Using her volume as a jumping off point, this world challenge will ultimately investigate Neil Postman’s idea that the media is not simply the message, as McLuhan suggested. In fact, the media—the structures or forms of the ways in which we receive our information––delimit what it is possible for a culture to know. Media, says Postman, is epistemology. And since what we know, or what we define as true, informs our ability to think, act, evaluate, and articulate, this is a far-reaching, systemic, structural problem that merits serious and thoughtful attention.

Brutality: Violence in Local, National, and International Contexts

This Simmons World Challenge focuses on the various aspects of militarism and violence in society on local, national and international levels. The ultimate objective of the 2014 World Challenge is to provide you with a set of tools to engage in civil discourse on resolving situations in which violence has been chosen as a course of action, whether systematically or impulsively.

Topics that may be explored in the 2014 World Challenge include:

  • gang violence
  • the role of weapons technology and economy
  • internal and external political efforts to curb violence
  • the role of state, police and military organizations in society
  • social and cultural movements that endorse and even celebrate violence
  • groups that participate in or are subject to violence
  • existing strategies (including peace negotiation and reconciliation efforts) to resolve and recover from violence within local, national and international situations.

Would I Lie to You? Media, Misinformation and the Search for Social Justice

Is it true that vaccines cause Autism? How did access to Twitter and Facebook influence the Arab Spring movement? Does the Republican party platform really amount to a “war on women?” Have you ever wondered about questions like these? Have you ever thought about where your news comes from, and how to sort out what you can and can’t trust? 

Information comes at us 24/7 from bloggers, tweeters, reporters, pundits, and comedians. This course will take a historical, political, cultural, and social look at the ways in which information is or isn’t accessible to the general populace, and how the flow of information influences people’s lives. Students will learn how to employ the methodology of content analysis to come to an understanding of the challenges explicitly inhibiting and diluting public discourse. Student teams will then explore solutions that slice through the obscure and shine a light on informed social justice.

Migration and Immigration: The Search for Home

How does humankind flow across the world under perilous circumstances, and why? We will examine calamitous and politically contentious migration and immigration issues such as political asylum petitions, sex trafficking, and the "American Dream Act" with a special focus on women and gender.

We then move from understanding to action. After learning about the principles of social entrepreneurship, students work in teams as they develop a targeted course of action to address one facet of this overarching theme.

At the Edge of Poverty: Empowering Women to Change their Lives and their World

This two credit course focuses on empowering women, particularly women with young families, to break the cycle of poverty, creating opportunities for themselves, their families and their immediate social network and their broader community. Students will evaluate existing models of poverty alleviation, and, in teams will develop and present implementable solutions.

Food for Thought – Health, Hunger, and Humanity

This two-week course will address one of the major grand challenges of the 21st century – namely the complexities surrounding the production, equitable distribution, sustainability, and wholesomeness of food.