CUNY professors tackle COVID-19 in new courses

Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
·2 min read

COVID-19 is part of the curriculum at CUNY.

More than a dozen spring semester courses spanning the system’s vocational and liberal arts programs tackle the medical, political and cultural implications of the pandemic.

One of them will be taught by a first-responder who experienced the ravages of the virus up close.

George Contreras, an active city paramedic who teaches in the emergency management program at John Jay College, will use his own experience dealing with the fallout of garbled public health messaging and conflicting federal, state and city policy to teach a new course on emergency management in a pandemic.

“Using COVID-19 as a real example…it really offers a great opportunity,” Contreras said.

The pandemic offers students and teachers a new way to evaluate material presented in textbooks, he explained. “Whatever we’re reading in the book — apply it to COVID and say ‘What worked well, what didn’t?’” Contreras said.

Another course, taught at Macaulay Honors College by Nobel Prize-winning doctor Harold Varmus, will use the pandemic to explore ethical questions in science — including the balance between releasing new research to the public as quickly as possible and subjecting it to a rigorous peer review.

Bertrade Ngo-Ngijol Banoum, the head of Lehman College’s Africana Studies department, is teaching a course on how Black women have mobilized in response to a virus that has disproportionately harmed communities of color.

“We hear a lot about how Black and brown communities have been devastated,” she said. “But I want my students to see how in these same communities, women are often the first to respond to a crisis.”

CUNY officials say the university system is uniquely positioned to study the pandemic in real time because of the breadth and diversity of its colleges — and because so many of its students have felt the impact of the virus directly.

“The hope is that these lessons will help to save lives in future crises and reconcile past injustices and inequities brought into stark relief by the pandemic,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez. “It is particularly fitting that these courses are being taught at CUNY, as many of our students come from some of the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.”