From napping to horror: Unusual UGS classes to explore

Abigail Rosenthal

Two unusual classes fill up fast every fall, with first-time UT students attracted to ideas and topics not commonly found in the classroom. 

These courses are part of the signature course program, which incoming freshman and transfer students are required to take to experience college-level learning and research at UT.

Associate English professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza’s course, “Modernity, Anxiety and the Art of the Uncanny,” is centered around the idea that things feel “secretly familiar,” something she experienced as a child living in San Francisco, California, London, Oxford, Paris, Florence and Rome where she felt simultaneously at home and not. 

“It’s this notion that you see something or experience something (that) is simultaneously ‘Oh, I know that’ and ‘Wait a minute … ’” said Richmond-Garza, director of the comparative literature program. “It’s that cognitive gap that makes you want to explore it.” 

To help her class of 240 explore that gap, she turns to a multitude of sources. Readings including “Dracula,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny,” scenes from “Inception” and “Get Out” offer a visualization of that feeling, and Richmond-Garza’s class-specific Spotify playlists provide the soundtrack.

“A lot of the media Dr. Richmond-Garza shared with us in class was incredibly thought-provoking and fascinating,” said Justin Lau, a recent chemistry graduate who took the course his sophomore year. “It also came from both traditional and modern sources, which was exciting because it reinforced that these concepts were relevant … and contemporary.”

While Richmond-Garza teaches around the things that keep us up at night, Dr. Patricia Carter helps her students understand sleep in her course, “Sleep: Are We Getting Enough?,” something she first studied while earning her doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles. 

There have been rumors one can get credit in the course for napping. Carter said while this isn’t true, she’s not going to interrupt anyone catching up on sleep in her class. 

“My preference, of course, is that they sleep well (outside of class and) don’t feel compelled to sleep in class,” said Carter, an associate professor in the School of Nursing. “But I also understand that just like if somebody was talking to you about a really wonderful, flavorful meal that they had, that your mouth might start watering. If I’m talking to you about sleep, people start to get sleepy.” 

Instead, she teaches tips on how to take an effective nap based on a specific need. To catch up on lost sleep, a 90-minute snooze is helpful. A 20-minute nap can offer a “power boost.” For “emergency purposes only,” she emphasizes, there’s what she calls the “nappuccino.” 

“Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to hit its full potential,” Carter said. “You drink your caffeine, you lay down, set your alarm clock for 20 minutes, you wake up in 20 minutes and you’re refreshed from the nap (while) also getting the caffeine hitting about that same time.”   

Carter said because everyone sleeps, it’s not hard for students to find something interesting in the course. She also believes her passion for the topic is what makes the 250-student course popular.

“If I’m passionate about what I’m teaching now and I’m passionate about the importance of the skills that we’re trying to help them either gain or polish, then that sort of goes a little bit further and helping them be convinced that maybe it is important,” Carter said. “Fortunately for sleep, everybody loves sleep.”