Challenge Week 2021

About the Theme

Hosted by UCA’s Norbert O. Schedler Honors College, Challenge Week brings to campus a wide range of regional, national, and international thinkers to discuss a specific issue or problem that impacts our society. Speakers present compelling information and arguments, challenging us to see that issue or problem from a new perspective and to take action toward thoughtful change.

Our theme for Challenge Week 2021 is COVID-19: Recovering and Reimagining.

Two main questions frame the week.

  • What can we learn from our response to and experience with COVID-19 locally, nationally, and globally?
  • How can we take these lessons and reimagine the future?

Speaker and Event Preview

Putting COVID-19 in Context

October 8th. Friday, 3:00 p.m.

Ida Waldran Auditorium

We might think our reaction to COVID-19 is driven entirely by modern science and public policy, but COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to upend millions of lives around the world and it is not the first virus to be perceived in the United States as a threat from abroad.

To help us shed light on why this past matters, we will be joined this afternoon by Professor Trish Starks, from the University of Arkansas Department of History and Professor Adam Frank, from the University of Central Arkansas Honors College.

Professor Starks is a historian of public health and medicine and has studied how societies in the past responded to the plague in the 14th-17th centuries, cholera in the 19th century, and typhus and influenza in the 20th century. Professor Frank is an anthropologist and Asian studies scholar. He has followed the American labelling of COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus” and the anti-Asian sentiment and violence that followed, connecting our contemporary moment with a long history of American perceptions of China.

Responding and Reacting to COVID-19: Public Health

October 11th. Monday, 6:00-7:00 p.m.

Ida Waldran Auditorium

Our panel discussion this evening is framed by two big questions. How did public health and education officials respond to COVID-19? From these reactions, what lessons can we learn about the strengths and weaknesses of our institutions?

We will be joined by Portia King, Program Manager of COVID-19 Surveillance and Investigation Division at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Ms. King will discuss how the COVID-19 public health response was built on the experiences of STI Investigators, officials in charge of responding to the spread of sexually transmitted infections in local communities, and will share the challenges she has had to navigate as a public health official in a largely rural state. She will also reflect on what 2020 taught her and her colleagues and discuss how we can become prepared for future outbreaks.

Panel Biographies:

Portia King graduated from the UCA Schedler Honors College in 2006 and the University of Missouri with a Masters in Sociology in 2008. She began working for the Oklahoma State Department of Health in 2009, focused on disease intervention and outbreak management. In 2017, she was the recipient of a National Coalition of STD Directors Public Service Award and was featured in a front-page article of the New York Times for her role in innovative outbreak response. In 2020, she began responding to COVID-19, working to start up Oklahoma’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing Call Center and developing technological solutions to managing COVID-19 data.

Living with COVID-19

October 13th. Wednesday, 6:00-7:00 p.m.

Ida Waldran Auditorium

COVID-19 has affected millions of people in the United States and thousands of communities, but with unequal impact. Race and class have played a key role in shaping what it means to live with and through this pandemic.

An unsettling case study of this inequity, rooted in systemic social and racial injustice, is the Arkansas prison system. To help us think through the reality and implications of these connections, we welcome Zachary Crow, ordained minister and Executive Director of decARcerate. From decARcerate’s website, this nonprofit is a “grassroots coalition working to end mass incarceration in Arkansas with and on behalf of prisoners and their families.”

Global Lessons

October 14th. Thursday, 8:00-9:00 p.m.

Live on Zoom (click here)

Tonight we will welcome our keynote speaker, Alanna Shaikh, who will join us live via video stream from Sri Lanka. Ms. Shaikh is co-founder of Tomorrow Global, a policy research and strategy firm, who holds a master’s degree in public health from Boston University and has worked for the US State Department, International Medical Corps, and the United States Agency for International Development. Her TED talk “Coronavirus is our future” has been watched by over seven million people.

Ms. Shaikh will help us explore critical questions about the pandemic from a global and interdisciplinary perspective. How did we get here? What are the political, policy, economic, and technological implications for today and the future? What now? How does our country, as part of the global community, move forward and build a resilient tomorrow?


October 15th. Friday, 3:00-4:00 p.m.

Ida Waldran Auditorium

This final afternoon session is dedicated to reflection and conversation. What have we learned from the week regarding our response to and experience with COVID-19? How can we take these lessons and reimagine our future? What work needs to be done?

Dr. Sharon Mason, Assistant Professor in UCA’s Department of Philosophy & Religion, will help us think through these important questions. Dr. Mason has been a regular contributor to Challenge Week for the past few years, helping us explore big ideas and big questions using applied philosophy. Dr. Mason’s scholarly work focuses on contemporary epistemology, “making sense of perspective in knowledge,” with a particular emphasis on the relationship between knowledge, ethics, and scientific inquiry. Her course offerings at UCA include Theory of Knowledge (PHIL 3341), Modern Philosophy (3302), Philosophy of Science (3380), and Philosophy for Living (1310).