It was an interesting ALS 116

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.

5 thoughts on “It was an interesting ALS 116”

  1. “(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.”

    not an enviable situation. i would suggest, if only to prevent future occurrences in this particular class, that you might want to at least speak to him outside the context of the classroom about it. young men rarely respond well to, what they might perceive as, public shaming. for future classes, you might include setting certain ground rules for discussions. (maybe you already do this) one ground rule might be: consider how the subject might be viewed from an alternate paradigm before speaking. (maybe that’s too much to expect, but i have pretty high standards…)

    also, i just read about an exercise that *might* or might not be appropriate for your class. i read it while looking through the parent post which i was going to recommend to you anyway. the parent post and the posts that it links too at the very beginning cover a really interesting perspective on rape and how it’s handled/discussed/viewed (and particularly, possibly, by college students). i hope you find it useful.

    btw, thanks for the link to my blog. the concept of privilege is often very difficult for the privileged to grasp. i salute you for attempting to do so at OSU, especially in a class that doesn’t seem to be part of a gender/ethnic studies program. it’s certainly not likely to be friendly territory.

  2. Fournier, the “exercise” link does not contain a URL. Could you please re-post it. Thanks for the insight. I’ve tried to develop a safe classroom atmosphere and I agree that shaming someone is not useful technique. I think it’s a profound mistake within higher education that diversity and social justice is all too often seen as the territory of a few select disciplines. Thanks for your support.

    p.s. I’m glad that you have high standards :-)

  3. i’ll try again. here.

    like i said above, the whole post is excellent, as are the comments. the posts that are linked to at the top are definitely worth checking out. there’s a great critique of standpoint theory over at the “the debate link” post.

    i’ve wanted to do a post on it, but i haven’t really figured out how to handle the matter so i’ve just kind of passed it on in emails and comments instead. (if i had a higher volume readership, i might feel more compelled… :) )

  4. Interesting reading. However, it strikes me that the primary purpose of ALS 116 should probably be to teach students study skills and other techniques for academic success. Yet a typical ALS 116 course at Oregon State devotes an entire week to “Diversity”. Certainly the presence of diversity enhances the college experience; but doesn’t it seem that there are enough important study skills that we don’t need to be spending a tenth of the course off-topic?

  5. I guess my question would be: why do you think that teaching diversity in ALS 116 is “off-topic”? There are many factors that can influence academic success. The academic study skills text that was in use at that time (2006) had a chapter on diversity knowledge/awareness and how it relates to academic success.

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