DukeImmerse breaks down traditional classroom walls

A new program next spring will allow students to travel to South Africa

As Duke increases opportunities for global teaching, a new program next spring will allow students to delve into a significant multi-national social, political and ethical problem -- and take an extended field trip to South Africa. 

William Chafe, the Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, and Robert Korstad, the Kevin D. Gorter Professor of Public Policy and History, designed the newest addition to Duke's global strategy: DukeImmerse. 

Chafe and Karin Shapiro, a South African scholar, will teach the first DukeImmerse program, "Black Freedom Struggles in the 20th Century: A Comparison of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa," a cluster of four courses on two of the most important liberation movements of the 20th century. 

"Both are based in community insurgency, when people in local communities gathered together to challenge the status quo and work together to create change," said Chafe, a distinguished author who has focused on gender and racial issues. "What is common is that they both involve average citizens using institutions in their communities such as the church or sometimes the labor unions." 

The program, taught in Durham for the first six weeks, is designed to satisfy general education requirements such as writing, cross-cultural interest, research and ethical inquiry. The students will attend seminars taught by faculty from several departments including African and African American studies, cultural anthropology, political science and music. Films, novels, guest lecturers and field trips will help students synthesize the material.

The "DukeImmerse" concept was developed by the Academic Council Committee on Undergraduate Education under the leadership of Susan Lozier, a professor of earth and ocean sciences. The goal is to seamlessly integrate a set of curricular experiences within a semester allowing for opportunities not ordinarily apart of a typical course load, such as the  extended excursion to South Africa at the core of the "Black Freedom Struggles" program. 

"What we want to do is create deep connectivity across the students' curriculum -- and between the curriculum and the real world," said Steve Nowicki, dean of undergraduate education. "The credits are mapped out with four separate registrations but one highly integrated educational experience. We are trying to break down the barriers of the traditional classroom wall." 

Nowicki is eager to have faculty experiment with combining classes in the United States with travel to other parts of the world. He cites the programs DukeIntenseGlobal and the Global Semester Abroad in Russia, India and China, as examples.

"Central to the DukeImmerse concept are greater connection between faculty and students and the incorporation of activities such as extended travel that won't work in a traditional classroom setting, both of which are enabled by having students in this kind of integrated program," Nowicki said.

While in South Africa, students enrolled in the "Black Freedom Struggles" program will spend time at the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of the Western Cape. They will visit Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, the site of a prison complex, Soweto, the largest black township in the country, and meet clergy and journalists who covered the struggle. Also on the itinerary is Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years. 

Chafe, who has led the DukeEngage program in Cape Town for four years, says he is excited about the immersive academic approach and the opportunity to absorb and reflect upon the material. 

"It's a big commitment," said Chafe. He believes the course will attract a diversity of students who have "a strong sense of connecting the past to the present." 

"They probably think of civil rights as Martin Luther King Jr. and as Nelson Mandela in South Africa. What they will learn is that this is the tip of the iceberg," he said.