Catastrophe: Community Resilience in the Face of Disaster

Winter 2020
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 46
16 Credits per quarter
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This program will explore the role of natural and human-made disasters—including earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, droughts, volcanic activity, landslides, wildfires, pandemics, wars, attacks, uprisings, and radioactive and toxic leaks—in shaping human society and consciousness. A central focus will be on how many of these place-based upheavals are becoming more common or intense in the climate crisis, and how communities can plan, respond, and adapt under new conditions. The program will apply the lessons from elsewhere in the world to locally in the Pacific Northwest; and look at the role media and film can play in shaping these narratives.  

On one hand, many so-called “natural” disasters have their roots in exploitation of the Earth and human beings, and social inequalities put the greatest burden of recovery on the poor (such as in earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, or hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas). “Disaster capitalism” is often used to centralize political and economic control in the aftermath of mass catastrophes, as Naomi Klein describes in The Shock Doctrine . These inequalities will be worsened as climate change generates more intense storms, sea-level rise, droughts, and flooding.

On the other hand, responses to disasters (such as hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Maria) have become opportunities to build better relationships to each other and our ecosystems, as Rebecca Solnit describes in A Paradise Built in Hell . Planning for “disaster cooperativism” strengthens the ability of local communities and cultures to sustain shocks (such as climate change and water degradation), unite communities across racial and cultural barriers, and promote greater social and ecological equality.

Our inquiry will draw insights from communities that have survived disasters and are recovering from historical trauma, some of which are using storytelling to educate and inform their recovery efforts. It will learn from Indigenous epics that describe disasters through oral tradition, and methods of resilience that Native societies have used to persevere over the centuries. These insights will be explored through texts, lectures, workshops, field trips, films, media critique, art, and literature.

The program will explore how communities and nations can democratically prepare and practice for disasters, as Elaine Scarry describes in Thinking in an Emergency . Planners and activists can use emergency planning and response to increase awareness of ecological ways to prevent future disasters, the need to share resources among neighbors, and deepen lasting cooperation. In particular, climate change adaptation can be effectively used a reason to quickly make necessary changes for a healthier future that otherwise may take many more years to implement.

Our inquiry will be conducted at the intersections of climate justice studies, Native studies, media studies, and geography. It will use varied research methodologies as tools of inquiry, including ethnographic interviews that establish narratives (storytelling), documentary film development, community mapping, film and media analysis, government document research, and case studies of disasters.


This program is currently open to first-years and sophomores. Depending on interest and availability, we may open the program to juniors and seniors on December 10, 2019. Please email the faculty at  to find out more about junior and senior registration.


Winter 2020 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16): 20192
So - Sr (16): 20336

Academic details

Preparatory For

disaster preparedness, hazards and risk assessment, community development, and climate change adaptation and resilience.

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$175 for a 3 day trip to the Olympic Peninsula (Quinault and Quileute nations). 


In Person or Remote
In Person
Time Offered
Advertised Schedule

Tuesday 9:30-3:30, Wednesday 9:30-12:30, Thursday 9:30-3:30

Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

LONGHOUSE 1007A - Workshop


Date Revision
2019-12-12 Program now open to all levels
2019-12-06 Program opened to Sophomores (was Freshman only)
2019-07-15 description and preporatory in sections updated
2019-04-16 fees updated