Essential Questions

Our Essential Questions Seminar is a signature feature of the Bridges Common Learning Experience (CLE). These smaller scale seminars are organized around animating questions that are essential because they:

  • Articulate enduring human concerns;
  • Raise timely issues of great importance; or
  • Tap into your passions or excite your interest.

Essential Questions seminars awaken intellectual curiosity while acclimating you to habits of mind (i.e., persistence, metacognition, flexibility, openness) that are crucial to your success in college and your career readiness.

Sample of EQ Courses Offered

Talk with your student success coach about registering for one of the EQ courses below.

Can Faith Save the Earth?

EQ icon for Can Faith Save the Earth? courseWe live in an unprecedented moment of human and Earth history, a time when the future of life on the planet is under threat, and we ask: will human beings and other living creatures survive? Can religious faith help us learn to live in a healthy and sustainable relationship with the rest of Earth? This course begins with a basic overview of the challenges of sustainability, merging science, economics, and ethics to address issues like climate change and fresh water. Next, we turn to the role various religious traditions can play in inspiring new ways of thinking about humanity's relationship to the planet. We will address ideas like: how important "nature" is for understanding what it means to be human and what we experience as sacred or divine; what ethical principles religious traditions offer; how religious traditions can diagnose the spiritual and ethical roots of the ecological crisis; and how religious and spiritual practices might foster the mutual flourishing of humankind and the rest of nature.

Are Dogs Our Best Friends?

EQ icon for Are Dogs Our Best Friends? courseWe will explore the latest science on dog evolution, dog psychology, and the story of us — the unique relationship between dogs and humans, to any level of dog enthusiast. We will learn about how and why humans bring wild animals into domestication, evolutionary theory, cognition and the theory of mind, and animal communication with a focus on faces. When you finish this course, you should think about dogs and humans in new ways and be able to apply your knowledge to higher level courses on biology, psychology and anatomy.

Are Robots People? EQ course iconAre Robots People?

This course explores what makes a person a person and whether robots can be considered people too. We begin by considering whether sentience is merely some sort of intelligence or whether it must involve a living, breathing body with biologically-generated emotions and self-awareness. We then consider how sentience might apply to different types of robots, in the real world and in fiction/film.

What is Yoga? EQ course iconWhat is Yoga?

There's more to yoga than stretching! We'll explore the way of life practiced by the ancient yogis, which teaches us how to reduce suffering and cultivate health in our thoughts and actions. Along the way we'll see what contemporary exercise science can add to the ancient yoga texts. And we'll do some simple stretching exercises.

What is Money? EQ course iconWhat is Money?

You know you want it, but do you really know what it is? Money is actually a mysterious thing, at once material, mathematical, social, and symbolic, and it has intrigued thinkers, activists, and artists since the dawn of civilization. This course will introduce you to those traditions, including the work of philosophers, coin makers, economists, artists and novelists who have grappled with the mystery of money. Through discussions, individual research, and other projects you will explore, not how to get money, but what it means to have it.

Must Art Be Beautiful? EQ course iconMust Art Be Beautiful?

What is "beauty?" What makes something inherently "beautiful" and other things less so? What makes us delight in the appearance of a freshly bloomed rose, and quickly turn away at the sight of a garden grub? The slippery nature of beauty fascinated Classical philosophers, and has continued to stir debate for centuries: is beauty a subjective thing (that beauty is in "the eye of the beholder") or objective (that beauty is an essential "truth" inherent and innate within a thing)?

Law+Morality=? EQ course iconLaw+Morality=?

Do law and morality go together like vinegar and ice cream? Both important, but best consumed apart? Or are they like milk and cookies? Both delightful on their own, but even better when consumed together? Scratch a contemporary legal or political dispute and you will find this question just under the surface. In this class we will explore the various conceptions of the relationship between of law and morality and think about how these conceptions inform (or misinform!) contemporary political and legal analyses.

What is Truth? EQ course iconWhat is Truth?

After a brief career working in Silicon Valley and helping to engineer what we now consume in social media, Tristan Harris of the Center for Human Technology, recently shared his grave concerns about what social media usage is doing to our perceptions of truth and our ability to maintain civil society. He says, our emotions are Paleolithic, our institutions are medieval, but our technology is accelerating at a godlike pace. We cannot change any of these quickly enough to stop the alienation, fake news, violence, and distorted "truths" that we consume daily on social media. But we able to work to change our culture by raising awareness of social media manipulation and reclaiming our own rationality. This course is a deep dive into philosophical questions surrounding Truth, faith commitments that uphold truth, the technologies that put truth at risk, and our ability to protect ourselves and others in the "Information Age."

What is Gender? EQ course iconWhat is Gender?

What's your gender? The answer seems to be obvious, simple even. But there are many layers to the question of gender — what it is, what it's supposed to be, and how it connects with our experiences, societies, histories, sciences, religions, and of course, interpersonal relationships. How we identify our gender also intersects with our race, culture, class, sexual orientation, and many other factors. This EQ will engage a variety of perspectives that both illuminate and complicate these many aspects of the question of gender. The course will be discussion based, challenging students both to bring their own experiences to the theory and to de-centralize their own positions on this topic in the face of diverse insights. Students will work together in discussion as well as through the textual readings to understand the intersection of gender with other identities.

Is God Good? EQ course iconIs God Good?

Why do human beings suffer? How do we make sense out of violence, trauma, and devastation of the natural world? What are human beings supposed to be doing with our lives and where can we find hope? Every major religion has addressed these questions. In this class, we are going to explore different ways in which Christianity has interpreted suffering and evil with an eye toward hope. The course will engage a number of contemporary issues including: sexual violence and racism.

Can We Talk? EQ course iconCan We Talk?

One of the most rewarding and challenging parts of human life is communicating across differences, including gender, race, nationality, religion and politics, and power inequities. Such conversations require a desire to learn from difference in both face-to-face and social media settings. Additionally, professional settings, such as asking for a raise and offering constructive feedback to a team member, all require thoughtful communication skills. This course investigates dialogue, discussion, and disagreement in contested communicative contexts.

How Can We Advocate for Health and Wellbeing? EQ course iconHow Can We Advocate for Health and Wellbeing?

We all want to live a long and healthy life. Communication and wellness are interwoven with health care. Human communication is central in advocating for health, whether for oneself or others in an examination room or hospital room, as one is employed in a healthcare organization, or in working to support the health of people in our communities. Healthcare policies and the relationships that health care providers have with diverse community members affects how health is understood and how care is provided in face-to-face interactions and through digital platforms.

What is Love? EQ course iconWhat is Love?

Love is a phenomenon that shapes human experience from birth to death, in the most profound and mysterious ways. The experience of "love" is at turns comforting, scary, dangerous, courageous, uplifting, damaging, or soul-making. What do we know of this mysterious force? Can "love" be accounted for merely by biology? Or is there more — is it genetic, spiritual, primal? All of the above? Most importantly, is love primarily self-serving or can it truly seek the good? This course surveys texts from an array of disciplines and explores these topics through class discussion, short exploratory essays, and digital humanities projects.

Can We Snap Back After Setbacks? EQ course iconCan We Snap Back After Setbacks?

How do we maintain a sense of balance, and well-being, in the midst of challenging circumstances including times of crisis? Contemplative practices that facilitate pausing, quieting the mind, centering, and receiving what is present, such as mindfulness meditation, deep listening, gentle movement, journaling, interpersonal mindfulness and dialogue, help us step back and create a space for being that is not dominated by fear, anxiety, and stress. We will explore cultivating wellness, resilience and even joy in challenging times through practicing various kinds of contemplative practices.

Light or Shadow? Media in American History EQ course iconLight or Shadow? Media in American History

This course will cover the development, role and ramifications of the American Media from its Enlightenment roots until roughly the 1970's. The course focuses on a wide variety of mediums, the technologies that made them possible, the social forces that made them popular, the key figures who drove them and the historical context in which they operated.

Whose Humanity Matters? EQ course iconWhose Humanity Matters?

Whose Humanity Matters? There is perhaps no question that appears to have a more obvious: Everyone's humanity matters! But do we actually behave toward others in ways that affirm that truth? This course will explore this question through the lens of incarceration practices, historically and in our own times. Through examinations of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and racist theologies that have been used to justify the incarceration and lynching of African-Americans in this country, we will consider ways in which Christianity has been distorted to justification dehumanizing, imprisoning, and killing people who have been pushed to the margins of society. A re-examination of the Christian scriptures will identify why a true understanding of the Christian faith affirms the human dignity of every person.

Does God Exist? EQ course iconDoes God Exist?

This course examines the claims atheists make against faith and the responses believers make to these claims. Those who take this course may expect to gain a solid understanding of the most prominent traditional arguments in favor of God's existence, along with the counterarguments against them. The course emphasizes a balanced approach between the two, inviting students to think critically about the material and to formulate their own conclusions.

Why Am I Imagining Things? EQ course iconWhy Am I Imagining Things?

We are all imaginative beings. The capacity to imagine and create enriches our humanity, fostering connections with others and our environments. This course grows out of questions such as: Why do we need imagination as humans? What does it mean to be creative, to be a creative being? How does imagination exist in our everyday lives? How can or do we bring imagination into our lives? How are creativity and imaginative activity linked? What prompts imaginative creativity, and how can we be creative? How is creativity linked to self-expression and self-understanding? How is imaginative creativity both playful and purposeful? We will explore ideas about imagination and creativity, ranging from the (literary, visual, musical, and performance) arts to science to popular culture. Thinking critically and creatively, we will draw upon our own imaginative capacity in writing and talking, as well as engaging with creative processes. Everyone will design and develop some kind of creative project over the course of the semester, generated by individual interests.

Who Needs Healing? EQ course iconWho Needs Healing?

How are our views of health and disability socially and culturally conditioned? This course provides students an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences of health, the role that health plays within their understanding of their own wellbeing, and their personal, professional, and civic responsibilities toward persons who are disabled. Students will explore a number of intellectual arguments about how health is constituted and what counts as a disability, and participate in assignments that consider how academic discussions of disability intersect with current events and public policy measures and with art and literature. We focus in particular on how health and disability are understood in the Christian theological tradition, both in historical Christian thought and in contemporary theologies of disability, and on the ways that Christianity has both influenced and been shaped by broader cultural attitudes toward disability.

Are We Immortal? EQ course iconAre We Immortal?

There are many philosophical arguments about what happens after we die. Some argue that our immortal souls survive the death of our bodies and that we are either rewarded or punished in the afterlife. Some argue that we're rewarded or punished by being reborn in a new kind of body. And some argue that nothing happens at all. But our different beliefs about the afterlife (or lack thereof!) affect how we live our lives while we're still living them. In this course, we will read and discuss philosophical literature from a diverse set of intellectual contexts to explore the existential consequences of different beliefs about the afterlife. We will ask how the values we hold, the choices we make, and the lives we hope to live might change if we changed our minds about whether or not we are mortal beings.

Do You Know the Real Africa? EQ course iconDo You Know the Real Africa?

How to understand Africa? It is the second largest continent in terms of size and population and is considered the richest in natural resources. Yet it is the poorest continent, plagued by conflict, the effects of colonization, burdening debt and political instability. In the midst of all these things there continue to be vibrant cultures, religions, music, food, and people with an enduring spirit to survive and live well. We will engage in collaborative research, discussion, and presentations to call attention to the varying ways in which we re/invent our understandings of the continent.

Am I An Algorithm? EQ course iconAm I An Algorithm?

We live in an age defined by our technologies, from computers, smartphones, the internet, social media, self-driving cars, and artificial intelligence. Starting with the question, "how does technology influence who we are," this course guides students in a series of questions concerning the relationship between technology and both individual human beings and society as a whole. The course will take a realistic view toward technology that avoids the pitfalls of overly optimistic and pessimistic orientations.

Is Care For the Planet My Responsibility? EQ course iconIs Care For the Planet My Responsibility?

With the stakes of climate change already high and ever rising, this essential-question course considers various levels of responsibility-personal, societal, global-for the ecological crisis facing humanity. The consideration of one's own responsibility will be facilitated by an engagement with myriad resources both within and outside of Catholic Christianity treating issues of ecology, care for the planet and a renewed understanding of creation and faith informed by dialogue with the natural sciences.

Why Should Anyone Become a Scientist? EQ course iconWhy Should Anyone Become a Scientist?

Who are scientists? Are they nerds? Geniuses? Weird? Ordinary? In it for money and power? In this course we will read articles, listen to podcasts, and watch videos about what scientists do and why. We will discuss the unusual, innovative, and relevant topics scientists devote their lives to understanding. We will also explore how scientists do science, communicate their results, handle controversy, and more. We will discuss the role of science and science writing in society. We will apply the methods scientists use to contemporary issues such as climate change and COVID vaccination.

Are We Our Planet's Keeper? EQ course iconAre We Our Planet's Keeper?

Are we our planet's keeper? Consumption of energy and materials has grown exponentially for over half a century, greatly improving the material standards of living across much of the globe. At the same time, this development has triggered global warming, acutely stressing the planet's major ecosystems and the condition of the entire biosphere itself while leaving a great segment of humanity at levels of poverty and destitution. How can climate change and resource limitation be addressed while improving economic and social impacts? What is possible, with current technology, for building a sustainable world?

What is Colonialism? EQ course iconWhat is Colonialism?

The word "colonialism" often conjures up highly romanticized images from movies, Netflix series, and high school textbooks. In reality it was an oppressive political system that resulted in incalculable human suffering. How did colonial regimes develop over the past five hundred years? What ideas did these powers use to justify their empires? And how did colonial subjects fight back against the tyranny of imperial rule? This class examines the ideologies of empire from roughly 1500 to the present, exploring how the legacy of colonialism and imperialism shaped our modern world.

Does Protest Matter? EQ course iconDoes Protest Matter?

This course asks whether protest makes a difference in affecting significant social change? This question is important in today's world in which protests over a range of issues happens on a daily basis. Protest occurs almost all the time just about everywhere; the BLM protests during the summer of 2020, the January 6 insurrection, the current protests against "Critical Race Theory," the movements for LGBTQ rights and for gay marriage, among many others. What makes one set of protests effective but not others? Does protest make a difference only under certain conditions such as support among elites or powerful allies? Is there a difference between protests on the right or left of the political spectrum in terms of their ability to effect change? What about the role of violence (on the part of authorities or protesters) and disruption? We'll discuss these questions with the help of short readings in the sociology of social movements as well as narratives and documents from social movement activists themselves.

What Does it Mean to Be Human? EQ course iconWhat Does it Mean to Be Human?

What are the past, present, and future of our humanity? This course blends forms of inquiry drawn from philosophy, literature, anthropology, biology, and psychology to ask what our humanity has looked like, what it might mean to us now, and what it might become. Is humanity a biological fact, a socially and historically determined experience, a technological platform, a form of behavior, a reflective self-definition, a political claim, some combination of these, or none of them? Reflectively engaging primary source material in the form of theoretical texts, films, scifi novels, etc., this course aims not to define our shared humanity but to turn it into a question for us.

What is African Thought? Honors College EQ courseWhat is African Thought? (Honors College EQ)

How does African thought contribute to the way we see ourselves, others, and the world? Philosophy began in Africa, with ancient Egyptian concepts of justice and soul, and relations between humans and gods. More recently, colonial and post-colonial African philosophers deal with reason and culture, time and destiny, witchcraft and aesthetics, religion and modernism, ethics and community, politics and the philosophy of history, independence and freedom. This seminar will engage both the history of African thought, its postcolonial present, and its influence on schools of contemporary African-American thought, including aesthetic, political, literary, and philosophical schools such as Afropessimism.