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North Central College Webinar Series

Exploring the Ripples of COVID-19

North Central College welcomes you to share in our free summer webinar series centered on the COVID-19 pandemic and the many effects it has in our lives and throughout our communities, as well as within a broader cultural and historical context. Below you will find informative sessions presented by North Central faculty from 13 academic programs.

Webinar Archive

Social Media and Misinformation

Dr. Michael Blight, Assistant Professor of Communication

In the age of misinformation, social media platforms are pressed to make changes to combat misinformation. Under fire currently is Twitter with the controversial decision to fact-check Trump’s tweets. Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer science recently data suggesting that almost half of the “reopen America” accounts are actually bots. There is a disgruntled “Republican” President claiming that Twitter is out to get him with a targeted attack infringing upon his rights. Now more than ever, individuals are being bombarded with competing messages surrounding the legitimacy of their sources (i.e., who is trustworthy?). Further, YouTube has begun redirecting users to credible information rather than directly challenging information present in questionable videos.  Another example is Facebook’s policies to combat misinformation and what they describe as “false news” rather than “fake news.” Social media organizations are in an unprecedented circumstance wherein their platforms are being used as vehicles to spread misinformation.

Watch the presentation (32 minutes)

Dr. Michael Blight of North Central College.

The Chinese Response to COVID-19 in Three Stages

Dr. Jinai Sun, Associate Professor of Chinese

Chinese official and social messaging around CoVID-19 has evolved over the course of this pandemic. This presentation will survey three stages in the messages from national news and in popular opinion. The first, from January 9 through February 10, consisted mainly of information regarding the public response to the progression of the outbreak. The second, from February 11 to May 20, was dominated by news regarding the shift from China as the source of the pandemic to China positioning itself as a global leader in its response. Third, on May 21, the start of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, presented an opportunity for China to show the world that it has tamed the epidemic. My analysis will aim to present patterns in China’s part in the worldwide dialogue concerning the pandemic and its participation in the response, at first almost alone and later as a member of the global community.

Watch the presentation (17 minutes)


Dr. Jinai Sun of North Central College.

How Epidemics Have Shaped Chicago's History

Dr. Ann Durkin Keating, Dr. C. Frederick Toenniges Professor of History
Even before Chicago was organized as a city in 1837, epidemics shaped the region's history. People in nineteenth century in Chicago confronted epidemics and pandemics from cholera to typhoid to smallpox to diphtheria. Epidemics have shaped the way people live, as well as what they expected from their community and local government.  During 1918/19 about 20,000 Chicagoans perished in the influenza pandemic. Since then, truly disastrous epidemics have been rare as vaccinations and therapies like penicillin were rare.  Yet polio and HIV-AIDS reshaped how Chicagoans lived.

Watch the presentation (38 minutes)

Dr. Ann Keating of North Central College.

The Epidemiology of Coronaviruses

Dr. Greg Ruthig, Associate Professor of Biology

Coronaviruses can spread through direct and indirect contact and are considered density-dependent diseases. There are three things that increase the spread of density-dependent diseases: the number of susceptible hosts, the number of infected hosts, and the transmission of germs between those groups. We can slow the spread of coronaviruses by changing all three of these things. We can reduce the number of susceptible people by staying at home and vaccinating (we hope!). We can reduce the number of infected people by testing and quarantining sick people and giving them medicine to make their infections go away (we hope!). Finally, we can reduce transmission in lots of ways like wearing masks, social distancing, and cleaning our hands and environment. I will talk about how we can use our understanding of density dependent disease to “flatten the curve” and reduce the number of people who get sick.

Watch the presentation (40 minutes)

Dr. Greg Ruthig of North Central College.

The Invisible Pandemic

Professor Judith Brodhead, Associate Professor of English

It’s long been a truism of American, British, and Irish literature that World War I figures heavily in the writing of the interwar period, while the 1918 flu pandemic seems almost invisible. How could that happen? How could the best writers of their generation, including Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and W.B. Yeats, ignore such a phenomenon, even when it affected and infected them or their loved ones? In a new book, Viral Modernism, author Elizabeth Outka argues that it actually appears more frequently than we have thought: below the surface in “The Wasteland” and “The Second Coming,” more explicitly in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and metaphorically in the science fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. It remains to been seen how CoVID-19 will figure in the literature, drama, film, and television portrayals of the future.

Watch the presentation (41 minutes)

Dr. Judith Brodhead of North Central College.

COVID & the Constitution

Professor Tom Cavenagh, Schneller Sisters Professor of Leadership, Ethics, and Values; Director of Leadership, Ethics and Values program; co-director, Center for Social Impact

The legal issues borne from the coronavirus pandemic are staggering in terms of number and complexity.  These issues range from First Amendment questions regarding the right to gather and the right to worship, to Fourth Amendment privacy questions relative to testing and contact tracing, to broad constitutional questions on the authority vested in governors and the president to lock down and quarantine all or portions of the population.  Can one be compelled to wear a mask?  To take a virus test?  To download a contact tracing smartphone app?  Can employers require temperature checks as a condition of returning to the workplace?  As states and cities reopen, potential liability for virus transmission looms as a major source of worry.  Should government provide immunity to businesses that meet certain safety standards?  This session will explore the current state of the law on these pressing questions.

Watch the presentation (55 minutes)

Dr. Tom Cavenagh of North Central College.

The Individualistic Root of the Resistance to Prevention in the U.S.

Dr. Yadong Ji, Assistant Professor of Communication

The mainstream culture in the United States is fundamentally individualistic, meaning that it values individual independence, self-sufficiency, and autonomy. On the contrary, some other countries, such as China and Japan, are collective, meaning that the cultures prioritize group harmony, norms, and interdependence. Government-led initiations of preventative measures (quarantine, social distancing, wearing masks, etc.) went much more smoothly in most collective cultures/countries than in individualistic ones. One reason is that the collective culture members are less likely to resist sacrificing individual interests (maybe rights) for the collective good. This pandemic has offered us a chance to look at other cultures and mirror ours. Is being individualistic equal to being selfish? Are collective culture members just brainwashed and manipulated? Now it is an excellent time to reflect on the unexamined aspects of our cultural orientation.

Watch the presentation (34 minutes)

Dr. Yadong Ji of North Central College.

Voting During a Global Pandemic

Dr. Suzanne Chod, Associate Professor of Political Science
Dr. William Muck, Professor of Political Science

The coronavirus has flipped our political system on its head and created significant challenges for the 2020 presidential election. In this presentation, Drs. Chod and Muck will examine the ramifications for the U.S. political system and how the coronavirus will impact the electoral process and voting this November. Specific attention will be paid to debunking the many myths surrounding voting by mail. The 2020 presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most contentious in history. The presentation will help citizens understand the issues at play and steps that can be taken to help make the electoral process safe and secure.

Watch the presentation (30 minutes)

Doctors Suzanne Chod and William Muck of North Central College.

The Black Death 1347-1352: Voices, Perspective and Context of a Late Medieval Pandemic

Dr. Bruce Janacek, Professor of History, North Central College; Executive Director, Sixteenth Century Society & Conference

While the figures are elusive, the mortality rate for CoVID-19 is being estimated at its worst at 4%. That's an extraordinarily high number in the early twenty-first century. The mortality rate of what nineteenth-century historians coined, "the Black Death," the plague or pestilence that coursed through Western civilization from 1348 to 1352, is estimated to be 40-45%. While to some extent the plague touched all levels of society, wealthier peoples could afford to flee infected areas. Trade and the economy came to a standstill. Civil order collapsed when "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!" was literally the way some saw their lot. Bodies were buried in common graves without receiving last rites or a funeral blessing. Worship practices were disrupted or even abandoned. Accused of poisoning the wells of Christians, pogroms were instituted that led to the annihilation of numerous Jewish communities in various regions of the Holy Roman Empire. Understanding the causes and effects of the Black Death, a turning point in Western civilization, will help us to understand our own experience with the coronavirus more fully.

Watch the presentation (41 minutes)

How the Pandemic Threatens Local Journalism (and What Might Be Done About It)

Dr. Steve Macek, Professor of Communication

The “Great Recession” of 2007-08 pushed several newspapers into bankruptcy – including, for a time, Chicago’s own Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times—and forced more than a few smaller local dailies and weeklies to close altogether. Now, in the midst of a hotly-contested presidential election and a still-unfolding public health crisis, an even worse economic downturn is threatening to undermine the few institutions of local journalism that remain. For instance, The Cleveland Plain Dealer was hit by a series of brutal newsroom layoffs and announced that henceforth none of its seasoned staff reporters would be allowed report on news from the city but would be reassigned to cover the surrounding suburbs. The Tribune Publishing Co., which owns The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun, imposed 2-10% pay cuts on employees earning over $67,000 a year and implemented mandatory three-week furloughs for virtually all Chicago Tribune staffers. At a time when citizens need accurate information about the government’s response to the spread of COVID-19 and to the economic crisis the virus has created, among other things, the collapse of local journalism and the depletion of the ranks of professional reporters is threatening to deprive us of the news people need to make what are literally life and death decisions. This presentation will review the ways the current economic crisis threatens local journalism and examine some of the policies we could adopt to prevent the extinction of local news outlets.

Watch the presentation (33 minutes)

From the Plague to COVID-19: Responding to Pandemic in Stories

Dr. Jennifer Smith, Associate Professor of English; Chairperson, Department of English

In Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a group of fourteenth-century nobles flee Florence, hoping to escape the Black Death. They spend their nights telling stories that both amuse and process the anxieties they feel.  Today, we turn to Netflix for diversion and information; after all, two of the biggest hits in recent months have been Tiger King and the docuseries Pandemic. Writers, from Daniel Defoe in the seventeenth century to Colson Whitehead in the twenty-first, have long treated contagions--both real and imagined--in stories. In this talk, I will examine what this literary history reveals about who we are and what we value to show that narratives of disease express very real anxieties about the meaning of humanity, mortality, and normality.

Watch the presentation (38 minutes)

Dr. Jennifer Smith of North Central College.

The Chemistry of Anti-Viral Drugs Used to Treat COVID-19

Dr. Nicholas Boaz, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

The CoVID-19 pandemic has shown a new spotlight on recently developed anti-viral medications. CoVID-19, like other viruses, are not technically living beings as they are not capable of reproducing without the aid of a living cell. In this case, CoVID-19 uses the cellular machinery of human (and likely bat and pangolin) cells to make additional copies of itself. Of specific interest to chemists is the manner in which the virus reproduces its genetic information (RNA), because an analogous process is not used in human cells. Thus, if a small molecule can inhibit the operation of the enzyme that causes this reproduction, the spread of a virus can be slowed. Of specific interest and promise are the pharmaceuticals that inhibit this replication are Remdesivir (Gilead), EIDD-2801 (Emory/Merck), and GS-441524 (UC Davis/Gilead). In this webinar I will discuss the cycle of replication of CoVID-19 within human cells with specific detail shown to the RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase which the virus uses to copy its genetic material. Subsequently I will discuss (with inhibitor bound enzyme structures) how these promising pharmaceuticals work to inhibit the action of the RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase.

Watch the presentation (50 minutes)

Dr. Nicholas Boaz of North Central College.

From Global to Glocal: Supply Chain Structure Evolution and COVID-19

Dr. Esen Andic-Mortan, Assistant Professor of Management

From the first coining of the term “supply chain” we’ve seen a tremendous growth in globalization and global supply chain structures. A catalyst of the rise of globalization has been the Internet with the capabilities afforded to its users of communication across great distances, and all related technologies that were enabled by it. Introduction of the Internet 2.0 though marked perhaps an even more remarkable point, as this version refers to the capability of hosting user-generated content, which is the primary capability that allows anyone who uses the Internet to be able contribute, and not only “read.” The visibility of various things happening all through the globe reaching so many people has also allowed a number of ugly truths to become visible. As one of the most major ones, ill practices employed by companies has created another movement in the business world, and a remarkable number of companies/organizations have been working on course-correcting. In the heart of all of these endeavors lies global accessibility of goods (and services to some extent), even though the goal is not quite reached. While globalization has been evolving in this way, we’ve all hit a halt: the CoVID-19 Pandemic. Little is known about what happens next, but we have a moment here that we can pause and ask ourselves what could happen next and how would we want to shape the world of tomorrow. In this webinar, we will explore some fundamentals of supply chain structures and their evolution to provide a strong basis to build off of, and then explore what are crucial elements that can shape how supply chains might look into the future.

Watch the presentation (48 minutes)

COVID-19 and the Environment

Dr. Rebecca Sanders, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Dr. Paul Bloom, Associate Professor of Physics
Environmental issues such as climate change and pollution are some of the greatest challenges that face our planet. The CoVID-19 pandemic has brought about abrupt changes to everyday life – changes that have altered our environment in both positive and negative ways. In this seminar, we will discuss the science behind how changes in our day-to-day lives due to CoVID-19 have affected our environment. Then, we will explore how the choices made during the pandemic will alter our environment in the future.

Watch the presentation (40 minutes)

Understanding the Physiological and Psychological Aspects of COVID-19

Dr. Leila Azarbad, Professor of Psychology
Dr. Maggie Gill, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Dr. Alexis Chambers, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Dr. Michael Stefanik, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Curious about how CoVID-19 is impacting your brain and body physiologically and psychologically? This webinar will explain some of the strange physiological symptoms of CoVID-19, how the pandemic is impacting us physiologically and psychologically through stress, and why maintaining healthy sleep habits is so important during this time. Drs. Gill and Stefanik will begin by answering the question “Why do people lose their sense of taste and smell with CoVID-19?” Dr. Azarbad will then examine how the pandemic is compounding stress for millions of individuals around the globe, focusing on the CoVID-19's influence on our stress levels and the effects of chronic stress on our physical and mental health. Finally, Dr. Chambers will discuss the negative effects of sleep disruption resulting from the stressors of CoVID-19 and behaviors that promote healthy sleep.

Watch the presentation (52 minutes)

Professors Leila Azarbad, Maggie Gill, Alexis Chambers and Michael Stefanik of North Central College.

Unintended Consequences: Big Tech and the Pandemic

Dr. Daniela Barberis, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Shimer Great Books School
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected our relationship with Big Tech? The pandemic has speeded adoption of various technologies and brought a future we were in the process of developing into being ahead of schedule and with less scrutiny. What is at stake in these changes?  Will supposedly temporary technological interventions become permanently integrated into every aspect of our lives after the crisis is over? During the shutdown, more Americans started working from home, learning from home, shopping from home—using telehealth, remote learning, teleconferencing, e-commerce and delivery services—and became used to the comfort offered by their ease of use and efficacy. On the one hand, with no vaccine in sight, minimizing human contact seems optimal. As a tech executive put it, “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.” On the other hand, the downsides of distanced interactions became clear to many of us. Naomi Klein, among others, raised concerns about how tech companies are using the crisis to increase their wealth and power and how this is not an unalloyed good. What degree of invasive surveillance are we willing to accept in the name of contact tracing, for example?

Watch the presentation (33 minutes)

Dr. Daniela Barberis of the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College.

COVID-19 Safety and North Central

The College is committed to the health and safety of all students, faculty and staff, and to that of the broader community. In anticipation of the fall 2020 semester, we have adopted a number of proactive health and safety measures in accordance with guidance from local, state and federal health officials. Take a look at the resources and information we have available at our TogetherNC website, and let us know if you have any questions.

Old Main, the administrative building at North Central College.