Students engage issues of animal ethics

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Peter Lovenheim

Students from the class Burden of Beasts

Great courses often expand students’ understanding of broader issues facing our society, including how we relate to each other and the world around us.

Helping students challenge their own thinking about relationships with animals, while at the same time improving their skills as writers, is the goal of Burden of Beasts, a new Arts of Expression course offered by the College of Liberal Arts. The class, taught by Peter Lovenheim, adjunct professor of English, included an examination of research and writing related to animal ethics and the humane treatment of animals in society.

Essays on animal experimentation, philosophy and the operation of zoos were interspersed with class discussion and writing assignments that required students to expand on their own ideas on the humane treatment of animals and weighing human needs versus animal needs. The class took a tour of the Seneca Park Zoo and, in a question-and-answer session with the director, examined how animals are acquired and cared for.

“There are so many more issues related to the treatment of animals than whether or not we should eat them,” notes Marissa Giambrone, a second-year graphic design major. “This course provided an unbiased view of the different perspectives and allowed us to form our own opinions.”

“My goal was to provide students with a wide variety of views on the topic so they could make more informed decisions about how animals should be treated and whether current approaches are correct,” adds Lovenheim.

He also notes that since many of the students who took the course are planning careers in science or research professions, the class could assist them in making better decisions related to animal experimentation and the use of animals in scientific testing.

“The course gave me a greater understanding of what cruelty to animals really means and under what circumstances animal testing may not be necessary,” notes Giambrone.

“I believe it is essential, particularly at a technology school, to help students develop a greater understanding of the relationships between humans and the other creatures with whom we share this planet,” says Lovenheim.

Lovenheim received a grant from the Animal Welfare Trust to create the course. All RIT undergraduates are required to take one Arts of Expression course as part of their curriculum of study. Burden of Beasts is one of 30 such classes now offered.