STORY BY BETH LEVALLEY
Driving down the interstate, the electronic sign above warns you to drive safe.
“280 traffic deaths in Iowa this year,” it states.
The thought hovers above your head as you reduce your speed.
The thought is if the Iowa Department of Transportation can make drivers aware of rising number of deaths per year, it can scare people into making the highway a safer place.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 2,515,418 deaths in the United States alone in 2010. “Worldometers” keeps an ongoing count of the deaths throughout the world, which is currently at 52,734,121 and counting. For such a common occurrence, our culture has a tendency to avoid the topic.
Professor Nancy Berns is attempting to change that. “Death and Society,” a sociology course, was created three years ago to create a discussion about the cultural and social issues that death and dying create.
“We go over topics including types of funerals, burials, cremation and grief,” Berns said. “We also cover the economic cost of traditional funerals and the effects laws have on death.”
Berns said the class is valuable on a personal and professional level to those who are both majors and non-majors in sociology.
“Everyone dies, and it’s an important part of life,” Berns said. “Many students are appreciative of the course because they don’t get to talk about it often enough. They also frequently say they didn’t know there were so many different burial options.”
Between papers, writing and research assignments, students study not only death itself but all of the attachments to it.
“We live in a culture where people don’t want to talk about death, and this course is usually the first time students openly talk about the issue,” Berns said.
Virginia Fawcett, a senior sociology major, has not taken the course but signed up for next semester.
Fawcett said she registered for it because it sounded interesting, and most professors don’t talk about death, even in a classroom setting. She also knew someone that had already taken the course.
“I heard the professor who teaches the course is really good, and I’m curious as to what other people think about different subjects,” Fawcett said.
Fawcett is worried about where the border lies between sharing too much information, or