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Spring 2023 MHC Special Topics and Colloquia

MHC Colloquia 

Fact vs. Fiction: Discerning Reality

  • Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:20-3:40

What tools do we require to live an authentic and fulfilled life? How do we know we are operating with an accurate understanding of reality? How do we sift fact from fiction in a world that bombards us with information? This course will engage you in the practice of critical inquiry and constructive discussion. You will develop skills in discerning the quality of information that comes to you. Each week we will apply these skills as we take up topics from the media, popular culture, and history/society. Our examination will include a wide range of genres, among them readings from selected sources, excerpts of films/television shows and real video footage. Some examples of course topics are the psychology of money and consumer choices, the facts and statistics regarding the use of tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs, a practical examination of human sexuality, and other topics that are prone to myth, distorted views, and misguided public opinion. After completing this course, you will be less vulnerable to the barrage of flawed and deliberately manipulative information found in social media, news, and other publications. You will be empowered to distinguish for yourself what is real.



Dr. Matt Foraker received his PhD in Higher Education from the University of Arizona and works as a Research Coordinator for Institutional Research at Western Kentucky University. He served as Executive Director of a Workforce Development Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Prior to that he worked in private industry as an engineer and financial manager. His other degrees are a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Mathematics. Matt is an avid cinema fan with an extensive collection of films. He enjoys hiking, rowing, and conversations with his daughter (PhD Sociology).


Public Enemies, Prisons and…Tourists?

  • Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:10-12:30

How is it that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world but also romanticizes outlaw criminals like Jesse James, Billy the Kid, John Dillinger, and Bonnie & Clyde? Scholars will answer this question by exploring underlying social, economic, and political conditions; analyzing representations of criminals and prisons in pop culture; and visiting tourism sites related to crime.

These “social bandits” rose to fame under unique social conditions that made their criminal exploits, detailed in countless newspaper stories, not despicable but admirable. They would’ve been long forgotten if not for the “dime” novels, detective magazines, comics, songs, and old movies that turned these criminals into legends. Today, these legends remain household names as they are celebrated at festivals, museums, and in contemporary films. Scholars will experience this firsthand through a visit to the Alcatraz East Crime Museum.

Prison museums often prioritize their associations with notorious criminals or “escape artists” to attract visitors. However, focusing only on these issues can distort a visitor’s perception of what life was like in prison and oversimplify the complex factors that influence crime. Scholars will learn about several prison museums that are now moving beyond the “gangster appeal” and tackling contemporary issues like income inequality, racial injustice, and mass incarceration.

Scholars will read about the rise of mass incarceration in the U.S., firsthand accounts of prison experiences, visit Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary (now a museum), and reflect upon the interactions between each. Most importantly, by the end of the course, scholars will attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction between romanticized outlaws and mass incarceration through a tourism lens.



Eric Knackmuhs received his Ph.D. from the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Studies at Indiana University. Prior to entering academia, he spent his time on “The Rock,” as an historical interpreter on the Alcatraz Night Tour. There, he became interested in why people visit prison museums, what outcomes they experience, and how prison museums can serve as a platform for discussing contemporary criminal justice issues. He has published several articles on these topics. He enjoys reading, triathlon-ing, and visiting historic sites and national parks with his wife, Katie, and infant son, Benjamin.


Special Topics Course

Language Across the Lifespan

  • Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:25-4:45

This course takes a cross disciplinary perspective discussingdata from linguistics, psycholinguistics, developmental psychology, sociology, humanities, and cognitive neuroscience in answering the question “What is human language and how does speaking, writing, and reading separate the human from the animal and the machine?”



Trini Stickle is an Associate Professor of English at Western Kentucky University. As an applied linguist, her research interests are broadly focused on factors that negatively affect persons’ access to meaningful interaction within their communities. She focuses on individuals with dementia, individuals with autism, and individuals learning English as a second language to better understand the interaction barriers unique to each group and specific participant strategies to overcome these difficulties. Dr. Stickle is currently investigating the aging and health care experiences of immigrant and refugee populations living in the southern regions of the US. She is also developing trainings for K-12 teachers on embracing dialect diversity. She is the current section editor on Old Age for "The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Critical Perspectives on Mental Health." Her PhD in English Language & Linguistics is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2015).


Request for Special Topics/Colloquia Form

Spring 2023 Faculty

Dr. Trini StickleDr. Matt Foraker
Research Coordinator,
Institutional Research

Fact vs. Fiction: Discerning Reality




Dr. Trini StickleDr. Eric Knackmuhs
Assistant Professor,
Recreation, Park & Nonprofit Administration

Public Enemies, Prisons and...Tourists?

(Picture taken during class Spring 2022)


Dr. Trini StickleDr. Trini Stickle
Associate Professor,

Language Across the Lifespan


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 Last Modified 10/3/22