Course Earns National Award from Humane Society of the U.S.

photo of Robert Mitchell

An academic course at Eastern Kentucky University has earned national recognition from an unusual source.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Animals and Society Institute have honored the university’s Introduction to Animal Studies course, taught by Dr. Robert Mitchell, with its 2011 Distinguished Established Course Award.

The course is part of EKU’s Animal Studies baccalaureate degree program, which became the first such undergraduate major in the world when it was established in 2010. The cross-disciplinary program, housed in the Department of Psychology, concentrates on non-human animals, their interactions and relationships with people, and the mutual influences that humans and non-human animals exert on each other’s existence, evolution and history.

The winning course is a survey of the field of animal studies, focusing on animals’ lives and histories, and the human experience of animals as food, as objects of entertainment, spectacle and science, as companions, and as representations.

“Among the things I want students to learn is how conflicted and confusing our ideas and treatment of animals are, how to think about animals and people in interaction in such a way as to benefit both, and ways to make animals' lives better,” said Mitchell, coordinator of EKU’s Animal Studies Program. “I also want students to take animals' points of view, and to understand how differently people may think about animals.”

Judges from The Humane Society of the United States and the Animals and Society Institute evaluated the submissions using criteria such as depth and rigor within the topic, impact on the study of animals and society, and originality of approach. The honor includes a cash award of $1,500 to EKU’s Animal Studies Program.

“The increasing presence of animal studies courses within institutions of higher education worldwide is a true marker of expanding interest in the human-animal bond,” said Dr. Bernard Unti, senior policy adviser and special assistant to the CEO of The Humane Society.

In an announcement recognizing the award, the EKU course was praised as “one of the few attempts at a truly cross-disciplinary syllabus” and for a range that covers “several fields: psychology, history, philosophy, social justice and cultural studies.”

The EKU course was first taught in Fall 2010 and is taught by Mitchell every fall semester. Twenty-six students, mostly animal studies majors, have taken the course each semester thus far. Forty-five EKU students are majoring in Animal Studies.

Incorporating applied fields, science and the arts and humanities, other courses in EKU’s Animal Studies include Animals in History, Animal Ethics, Sociology of Animal-Human Relations, Animals in Literature, General Zoology, Comparative Psychology, Ecology, Animal Behavior, Principles of Animal Science, Primate Conservation, Animals and the Law, Wildlife Law and Law Enforcement, Principles of Biology, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Introduction to Physical Anthropology, among other requirements and electives.

For more information about EKU’s Animal Studies Program, visit psychology.eku.edu/animal-studies-major or call 859-622-1105.

Published on January 13, 2012