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New Lyco course teaches about pandemics in society

With much work still to be done to understand the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on nearly every factor of our society, one Lycoming professor is making it the focal point of a new course available to students this coming fall semester.

“Viruses, Pandemics, and Society,” taught by Mary Morrison, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Lycoming College, aims to help students understand what can be expected after a pandemic by studying pandemic events throughout history and how pathogens have influenced not just the biology field, but the very structures of society. Students will learn about historic viruses, ranging from the plague, smallpox, influenza, cholera and polio, to HIV, Ebola, SARS, Zika virus and COVID-19. In addition to studying the history, course material will cover the fundamentals of virology, immunity and vaccine development and the sociopolitical impacts that often arise in the wake of a pandemic.

“I want students to feel empowered and educated enough to be able to seek out reliable sources of information about infectious diseases and pandemics that will emerge across their lifetimes,” said Morrison, in a news release. When it comes to recovering from this pandemic and combating any future ones, Morrison believes it is important for everyone to let science guide their actions. From reaching herd immunity to developing public health policies that protect everyone, understanding the science of how viruses spread, and recognizing how to sort out misinformation surrounding them, is vital to responding effectively now and in the future.

Global crises such as pandemics historically bring about sociopolitical persecution, which Morrison isn’t shying away from in this course. “After most pandemics, there is some sort of wave of persecution of some group, which is usually falsely blamed for that pandemic.” We have seen this occur with the increase of attacks against Asian people with the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will read first-hand accounts from targeted groups throughout history alongside other resources to guide important discussions on this topic. “This is an ugly side of human behavior,” said Morrison, “but if we don’t talk about it, it will continue to recur.”

The course will encourage students to view the topic of pandemics from multiple angles and perspectives, staying true to liberal arts tradition. Given recent events, “Viruses, Pandemics, and Society” is sure to be a popular choice among biology majors and non-majors seeking their science requirements. Morrison may teach the course again in the fall of 2022.

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