Rorie Solberg doesn’t like scary movies or the horror genre in general, but she finds zombies an amazing tool for classroom activity.
This fall, the Oregon State University professor is teaching Political Science 110, “Governing After the Zombie Apocalypse.”
Honors College class students meet twice a week to figure out how to form a new government after a fictional pandemic wipes out 98% of the population.
“The whole course is basically a constitutional convention,” Solberg said.
After studying the guiding documents of the United States and numerous other countries, as well as the United Nations Declaration of Rights, student groups create proposals for new constitutions, including a new Bill of Rights.
Of course, occasionally people see the course name and sign up with misconceptions, dreams of crossbow bolts dancing in their heads.
“Some students come in and think they’re doing ‘Walking Dead,’ and they’re like, ‘No, we’re done with that part,'” chuckled Solberg.
On the other hand, many constitutions involve trial by struggle.
Solberg, a professor of public policy in OSU’s political science program, has been with the university since 2002. She has been teaching her Zombipokalypse class, usually once a year, since 2016, well before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
When she created the course, she knew that zombies had been successfully used in several areas to make learning more engaging and interactive.
Solberg also understood that people today find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of the Founding Fathers when the basic building blocks of US government were created.
The undead would be the perfect excuse for a new beginning for society, so Solberg created a cataclysm that brings down the government and leaves society in its natural state.
“The kind of things,” she said, “that you see on zombie shows — at least that’s what I’m told.”
Solberg acknowledged that she is not an accomplished novelist and urges people not to pay attention to the science in the scenario. But we know you’re curious, and this is how it works.
Solberg blamed fracking for causing a major earthquake that led to a volcanic eruption and the release of a deadly pathogen. (This story was inspired by real-life scientists’ concerns that ancient bacteria were exposed to the melting of permafrost in Siberia.)
Some people didn’t become zombies, but adapted to the virus, with chalk-blue skin. The “Blues” think slower but more strategically, have limited mobility and are not as good at processing food.
She said the Blues, a new people transformed by the pandemic, are a proxy for minorities so students can explore issues of difference, power and discrimination. And some students are assigned roles as blue citizens.
Students are divided into three geographic groups: “Cascadia,” which includes western Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia; “Baja America”, including California and the Baja Peninsula; and “Greater Interior Western America”, including eastern Oregon and Washington and Idaho.
In this zombie fictional universe, each region has evolved differently post-pandemic, with different takes on issues, including the blues. The Cascadia region is more hospitable to the evergreens, while Baja America has norms of segregation, similar to the de facto segregation during the Jim Crow era.
“Students need to think about their constituents and what they want,” Solberg said.
Each region creates its own proposal for a constitution, and the best elements are selected and modified into a combined term-end document.
“I get really interesting and generally well-thought-out proposals from the groups,” Solberg said, adding that sometimes they contain elements from other countries. “Even if students love the US Constitution, they can see what other countries have done to capture something better.”
What’s happening in the world today is reflected in constitutions, and the right to health care and education is usually in place — perhaps unsurprising to college students living through an actual pandemic.
Given its name, Governing After the Zombie Apocalypse might come across as a little offbeat. Solberg sees it as similar to other experiential learning courses such as B. Oral reasoning simulations in Supreme Court classes in which students take on roles to apply their knowledge in a way that is far different from memorization.
“It can bring students to life who aren’t really busy with constant lectures,” Solberg added.
Siena Buchanan, a first-year student of Eugene’s, said the course provided insight into the difficulties faced by the Founding Fathers in building a new government for the United States, and the trade-offs involved.
“You don’t realize how hard it is until you really try,” she said. “Our constitution is by no means perfect, and there are many problems with it.”
Buchanan is an animal science major, but she said she really enjoys the political science class.
“It’s really fun to learn about things and put them into practice,” she added.