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The Class

Five UVA students share
the course that made the
biggest impact on their lives.

By Caroline Newman


What is one course that changed the way you think about the world?

The one that spurred you to think differently, to act, to grow, or maybe even to choose a career?

The course you will look back on with a smile, even years later?

We posed those questions to five University of Virginia student leaders, asking them to recommend a course to their fellow students.

Here’s what they told us.


Culture, Gender and Violence

Anthropology | Professor Richard Handler

It changed the way I try to view life.

— Joan Lee

Fourth-year student and Head Lawn Resident Joan Lee remembers signing up for courses her first year when one professor told her that Richard Handler’s offering would change her life.

“Obviously, I had high expectations,” said Lee, who studies global security and justice. “My parents asked me at the end of the semester if it did indeed change my life, and I said it changed the way I try to view life. It made think more critically, pay attention to the details of how we do things, and wonder why.”

The course examined sexual and gender norms in the U.S. and abroad, and how those cultural norms impact sexual violence. Handler first created and taught it in 2015, shortly after a Rolling Stone story about an alleged sexual assault at UVA. Though that story has been discredited, the article prompted both national and local conversations about sexual assault on college campuses.

Lee said that Handler encouraged students to face such sensitive topics head-on and debate him and each other.

“At the end of the class, he would take off his microphone, open up his arms and say, ‘OK, now someone yell at me,’” she said. “To me, he was trying to get us to be passionate about something, to defend what we believed and why. He wanted people to fight for things, and that really inspired me.”


Race and Ethnicity in Latinx Literature

English | Professor Carmen Lamas

It was one of the first classes where I got to learn about people like me.

— Alex Cintron

English and American studies professor Carmen Lamas’ course gave Alex Cintron a unique window into his own background. Race and Ethnicity in Latinx Literature focused on books and authors that embody Latinx culture, a term referring specifically to the culture and experiences of Latino Americans.

“I loved it so much because it was one of the first classes where I got to learn about people like me,” said the fourth-year student, who is double-majoring in Latin American studies and politics and currently serves as UVA’s Student Council president.

Cintron’s father is Puerto Rican and his mother is Ecuadorian; both served in the U.S. Navy while Cintron was growing up. Though he enjoyed every book in the course, Cintron said his favorite was “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Díaz, chronicling the life of a Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey near where Cintron himself grew up.

“It was personal, and at the same time it was very informative because we not only read the books, we got more context around when and how they were written, the background of the authors and relevant history, such as the Puerto Rican independence movements in New York and the Mexican-American War,” he said.

When in doubt, Cintron said, take a course with Lamas.

“She is amazing,” he said. “I recommend anyone interested in Latinx history take a class with her. You don’t just learn specific things, you learn how to think.”


Computer Science 2150: Program and Data Representation

Computer Science | Professor Aaron Bloomfield

It’s challenging, but it is one of the most worthwhile classes I have ever taken.

— Kevin Warshaw

The title might sound intimidating, but fourth-year engineering student Kevin Warshaw said this computer science offering is one of the most interesting, applicable and, yes, difficult courses he has ever taken.

“It’s challenging, but it is one of the most worthwhile classes I ever taken,” said Warshaw, who chairs the University Judiciary Committee. “It’s the first time you challenge yourself to think about computer science not just as making software work, but as making it more efficient, making it run really well.”

Warshaw took the course during the spring of his second year, and it helped him narrow his focus within engineering. After graduation, he hopes to land a job in software engineering.

Theory and Practice of Yoga

Religious Studies | Professor John Campbell

It enabled me to take care of myself and stay grounded in what is important.

— Galen Green

Faced with a general education requirement for a course with a non-Western perspective, fourth-year McIntire School of Commerce student Galen Green was eager to test herself and try something different from any of her other courses. She decided on “Theory and Practice of Yoga,” which combines lessons on the history of yoga and how it fits into Buddhism and Hinduism with weekly yoga practice.

“After having class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we met every Friday to have a discussion and do yoga, putting what we talked about into practice,” she said. “It was really cool to see all of that come together.”

Now starting her final year in the Commerce School and serving as president of the Class of 2019 Trustees, Green said she still relies on concepts from the course.

“I learned, and have used since, concepts around thinking internally and calming myself,” she said. “It has been so useful for my career in the Commerce School because it has enabled me to take care of myself and stay grounded in what is important. When things get stressful, I think back to that class.”



Music | Professor Ted Coffey

I grew more than I have in any other class.

— Emily Williams

In her Songwriting course, Emily Williams – who is a member of University Singers, plays violin and co-chairs Student Council’s Student Arts Committee – wrote everything from pop to classical to country music and learned to record and produce her own songs.

“It gives you a different look at the music industry,” said the third-year student, who is studying music and statistics. “Collaborating with others, I grew more than I have in any other class.”

To encourage the budding songwriters, Coffey brought in local singer songwriters like Chris Keup, who has helped write and produce songs for well-known musicians like Jason Mraz. Williams still has many of those local musicians cued up on her Spotify app, ready to go when she needs inspiration.

“They played original songs for us and talked to us about their careers,” Williams said. “It definitely opened up my perspective.”