DENTON (UNT), Texas — During December 1777 and the first months of 1778, famine took its toll on George Washington’s Continental Army, with malnutrition contributing to diseases that led to the deaths of 2,500 soldiers by the end of the winter. The Army also lost many of its horses to starvation.
University of North Texas students who are enrolled in the Hunger Games Learning Community this fall semester will study how the Valley Forge famine became a turning point for the Army during the Revolutionary War, as part of a class on U.S. history to 1865 The students will also learn how race, gender and class contribute to sociological issues involving food, such as access to healthy food.
The Hunger Games Learning Community is designed for freshmen who have not chosen their majors. The community consists of several core curriculum courses, which are required for all students earning bachelor’s degrees, with the courses organized around the theme of food and hunger.
For the fall 2013 semester, the community includes History 2610: U.S. History to 1865; Sociology 1510: Introduction to Sociology and UGST 1000: First Year Seminar. All of the 70 students in the Learning Community will be in the same history and sociology courses, which will be taught back-to-back in the same lecture hall. They will be in smaller classes of no more than 30 students for the First Year Seminar course.
Despite its name, the Hunger Games Learning Community won’t require students to read “The Hunger Games” as part of the courses, or see the next “Hunger Games” movie, “Catching Fire,” when it premieres in November.
Instead, students will study themes that can be seen in the popular books and movie, such as class, race and gender, “through the lens of food, hunger, sociology and history,” said Julie Glass, special assistant for the core curriculum in UNT’s Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
“We wanted an overarching theme that would grab students’ interest,” said Glass, who added that at some universities, learning communities are called freshman interest groups. “Students who have already decided on majors are connected to others with the same major through academic departments. A learning community provides the same connection as students are deciding on majors. Our goal is to have students in a community declare a major by their sophomore year.”
Courtney Welch, a lecturer of history and instructor of the history course, said the three courses are linked through a semester-long group project on the historical changes in food advertising, and how advertising and pop culture influence messages about food for certain races, socioeconomic groups and genders.
“The students will learn to not think about history and sociology as being separate, but will analyze the information by studying topics through a new viewpoint,” Welch said. “Nothing happens in a vacuum. The historical power of tea, salt and sugar are some examples of a food commodity that affected conquest of other nations, political protest and revolution.”
In the First-Year Seminar classes, students will read articles on the links between food and poverty to race and ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status. Ryan Ferguson, instructor of one of the First-Year Seminars, said students in each seminar will be divided into nine groups, with three groups studying race and ethnicity, three groups studying gender and three groups studying socioeconomic status.
Besides reading the articles and discussing food and hunger, the students will learn critical thinking and reading, study skills, time management and other skills for academic success, and explore different majors.
“The advantage of having First-Year Seminars as part of the Learning Community is that the 15 to 20 students in each seminar get to be with each other in the larger history and sociology classes. The students start to feel connected to each other and the UNT campus in the way that they would if they had majors and were taking classes with other students in their majors,” Ferguson said.
The First-Year Seminar classes will also participate in activities outside of class that focus on hunger, such as gathering non-perishable canned food and other food for CANstruction on Oct. 18. In CANstruction, the students will compete for trophies by building sculptures from the packaged food. After the competition, the food will be donated to the Denton Community Food Center.
The Hunger Games Learning Community will continue during the spring 2014 semester by offering students a second U.S. history course, a world literature course and a mathematics statistics course.