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The Rise of Conspiracy Theories with Rob Drummond

Senior Instructor Rob Drummond has been teaching students in the College of Liberal Arts and the Honors College for about a decade — and honors colloquia are among his favorite courses to teach. 

“All the colloquia I teach are my favorite. I know that sounds dumb, but I love them all,” Rob says. 

And Rob has taught a lot of these one- to two-credit seminar courses, including Folly’s Mirror: The Power and Reach of Contemporary Satire, Because It’s There (And Looks Fun): Survival as Entertainment, From Preppers to Zombies: America’s Apocalypse Addiction and an extremely topical student favorite, The Truth Is Out There: The Rise of Conspiracy Theories. 

Rob enjoys teaching the conspiracy theories class because it’s consistently relevant in today’s world and generates incredible discussions with students. He first came up with the idea four years ago, thinking the class would be something fun and lighthearted; as dangerous conspiracy theories such as QAnon began to gain traction, however, the class was suddenly engaging with more serious and timely topics, like when and how conspiracy theories become dangerous. 

“I’m always interested in how our own biases are built in, how the internet filters our information, especially for [the younger] generation,” Rob says. “How do you navigate the world of research and finding good sources, not just for academia, but for how you consume information?” 

Rob runs the class like a graduate school seminar — it’s very engaging and discussion-based, and students work on their own independent projects while exploring a driving question together.

“We’re not spending our time investigating conspiracy theories to find out if they’re true or untrue; we’re [acting] as analysts,” Rob notes. 

Rob wants students to leave the class with the tools to identify conspiracy theories, as well as the ability to keep their minds open. Each time he teaches the class, Rob and students find a conspiracy theory that they find believable to investigate. For example, the last time he taught the course, Rob and his students analyzed the theory that the circumstances of Jeffrey Epstein’s death were not consistent with what was reported in the media. 

While teaching the course, Rob adds, he learns from his students as well. For instance, when students make lists of conspiracy theories during class, he discovers dozens he’s never heard of before. 

In addition to teaching honors courses, Rob has co-led the short-term Honors College study abroad trip to France twice, while also teaching a trip-specific course called Outsiders to Insiders: Exploring Myth vs. Reality in Modern-Day France. 

Of his involvement with the HC, Rob says, “I love it. There’s many parts that I love.”

Rob explains that his favorite parts of the HC include the smaller community it provides and its ability to encourage students to branch outside of their studies. Colloquia and thesis research in particular offer students the chance to sample a subject or explore a perspective they might not otherwise encounter.

“I would encourage honors students to really step out of their comfort zone when they’re selecting colloquia. That’s the reason they’re there,” Rob says. 

He explains that honors students tend to always have a plan, which is great, but can also be limiting.

“I think some of the best things in your life can happen when you shake that up a little bit,” Rob adds, “even though it’s a little bit panic-inducing.”

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