Today’s class discussion was a mixture of white privilege, racism, heterosexism, institutional power, rape laws if written by women, rape as defined by men, the Kennedy’s and their whiteness, the rampant heterosexism-racism-sexism in the textbook, and a general sense that 50 minutes is just long enough to get everyone thinking before the “bell” rings. We talked about the fact that everyone in the class is a TAB = Temporarily Able Bodied individual.
I could tell that there was plenty of resistance from the white students in the classroom. The nonverbals were telling me a lot. I saw several double crosses = arms crossed & legs crossed. We talked about the institutional privileges that advantage white folks. The class came up with a list of institutions — Legal system, Medicine, Education, Government, Corporations, etc. One student said that his family had institutional power. I illustrated that his family did have power but on a small scale and that families did not have institutional power. Then I was struck with a great question: What about the Kennedy’s? We then talked at length about the Kennedy’s and how they could affect change on a large scale. I asked my students why the Kennedy’s had institutional power. They said things like, history, traditions, etc. No one said anything about the Kennedy’s being white. I wrote “white” on the chalkboard and one of my students erupted “WHY DOES WHITE HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT?” I calmly proceeded to say that the Kennedy’s power and influence is in large part because they are white. They benefit from all of the other institutions that benefit white people. The Kennedy’s have advantages because someone else has disadvantages. To further prove my point, I referenced the fact the President and the majority of our government leaders are white and this has been the case since the beginning of this country. My students agreed that this was indeed an issue. I asked my students how many presidents of color we have had in this country? or how many openly gay supreme court justices? or how many textbooks reference the “discovery of America” by Columbus.
One of the most difficult parts of today’s class was when a male student said that rape was essentially a term that had been given a bad rap and that only men could rape women. I kept thinking to myself as he was talking that I needed to figure out a way to preserve his dignity while at the same time affirming to all students that rape was 1) awful and 2) could be perpetrated by both men and women. I offered up that violence against women is why women are afraid to walk alone at night on campus and that he would most likely never, ever have to worry about being raped and that I felt that it was wrong that women have to prove that they are raped – which can lead to victim blaming. (How do you squash dominant-ignorant viewpoints, maintain a safe classroom, and still allow this student to feel like he can voice his opinion?) It was probably the most challenging moment I have ever experienced in a classroom.
On Wednesday we are going to watch a clip from the OSU Voices Project about diversity and discrimination. I plan on having the students write a one minute reaction paper and then we will gather for a large group discussion. Wish me luck. 18 students and a guy from Iowa, what a wild ride!
By the way, the class is an academic success class. We are covering time management, note taking, goal setting, learning styles, wellness, diversity, critical thinking, communication styles, and more! I’m taking a holistic approach with this class. Academic success is made up of many dimensions and I hope to cover as much as possible.