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Author: Cynthia Toms Smedley
This page includes syllabus information, specifically the course overview and course requirements.

At the Capitol

Photo Courtesy of Sara Wright-Avila. Used with Permission.

Course Overview

As American citizens have begun calling for changes to our deteriorating healthcare system, politicians have responded by making health care reform a major issue in the upcoming elections. As voters, we have a responsibility to evaluate our current system as well as the various proposals to reform it. Furthermore, the Catholic Social Tradition invites persons of good will to pursue a healthcare system that raises the dignity of each person. This seminar invites you to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of our healthcare system, explore the possibilities for the future of American healthcare, and ask how modifications might help create the society we hope to become.

A survey of our current system will include an evaluation of:

  • employer based healthcare (historical and current)
  • causes and consequences of uninsurance, public safety nets (Medicare, Medicad, SCHIP, and community health clinics),
  • underserved populations (working poor, children, minorities, immigrants)
  • factors driving up the costs (technologies, overuse, emergency care, lack of prevention, and public health)


Additional examination will be paid to the following fundamental questions both in the pre-immersion classes and during site visits to various healthcare organizations and government agencies in Washington, D.C.

  • Should healthcare be guaranteed? What services should be included?
  • Is it a human right? Who should and/or deserves to be covered?
  • Whose priorities are most important (patient, physician, hospital, insurers, research & development)?
  • What are the most effective proposals for managing healthcare costs and needs?
  • What role should the Catholic Church play in advocating for institutional and policy positions that place human dignity at the center of the discussion?

"Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we really are responsible for all."
(On Social Concern, #38)

Course Requirements

The Washington Seminar is a one credit course, graded "S" or "U," cross-listed in the departments of Theology (THEO 33951) and Center for Social Concerns (CSC 33951). The following requirements are expected:

  • Participation in four classes prior to the immersion and one follow-up class.

  • Completion of assigned readings, weekly written assignments, and a final research paper (4-6 pages).
  • Participation in all site visits and activities in Washington, D.C.
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