A Class on the Plagues Hits Close to Home

July 28, 2020

Wheaton Biology Professor Dr. Jovanka Tepavcevic shares how her course “Good in the Great Plagues” became extremely prescient this past spring. 

Lab Jovanka Tepavcevic 380x253Five years ago when Wheaton College Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jovanka Tepavcevic proposed a new course called "Good in the Great Plagues," she didn’t know that in 2020 she’d be teaching it during one.

"During A-Quad, COVID-19 still felt hypothetical and removed from us," Tepavcevic said. "But in B-Quad, the course really hit close to home."

"Good in the Great Plagues" is one of Wheaton’s advanced integrated seminars, meaning that it ties two or three disciplines together under the Christian liberal arts umbrella. In this course, Tepavcevic incorporated biology, sociology, history, and faith to ask the questions: What was the impact of the plagues on both people’s bodies and their interactions with one another? What was the larger impact on the history of the world? And how could a good God allow a sickness to decimate one-third of the European population?

Tepavcevic is a microbiologist and has a particular research interest in the microbes Mycobacterium tuberculosis which causes TB and Yersinia pestis which causes the bubonic plague. While she was very familiar with these diseases under the microscope and their ravages on the body, she was less familiar with the historical human response.

Jovanka Tepavcevic with mask 253x380"I had no expertise in this, but I was inspired to learn about the effect of epidemics throughout history," she said. "The class is an attempt to look at these epidemics with my students from a variety of perspectives."

Tepavcevic has now taught “Good in the Great Plagues” course four times. This past spring, her class went from the abstract to the applicable when Wheaton College made the difficult decision to transition to remote learning during the early stages of COVID-19.  Many students told Tepavcevic that they were bringing their Zoom classroom conversations to the family dinner tables, processing what they were learning in their class with family members at home.

Ultimately, Tepavcevic said, she hopes students left her class with a knowledge of the sovereignty and goodness of God even in these difficult days.

"Our world continues to be His world. He’s made it. He knows where it’s going," she said. "If we can just hold on to that and trust that there will be something good that comes from all of this while at the same time sitting with the grief of all those that have gotten sick or watched love ones die. It calls for a lot of humility—a lot of love and grace for people and God."–Emily Bratcher