How do professors handle conversations of diversity if they can’t identify with the group?
Last semester I was in a film class where, as the only female, I had a very educating experience. I’m pretty privileged.
I’m pretty privileged to belong to a female dominated major, at a female dominated university, so this atmosphere was a little shocking.
But I figured I could use this as an opportunity to share my experiences and learn from theirs. What I didn’t realize was that my opinions about the female experience might not be welcomed.
My opinion of the class changed when the professor presented on the male gaze. We spent a total of an hour of class discussing the male gaze and the bias in the film industry. I was thrilled that we were finally covering an aspect of film I was passionate about. But after that class period the professor never brought up the topic again. Like the problem could be shoved into a box and forgotten.
To this professor, he had done his due diligence. He introduced the class to the idea of a problem, putting it in their hands. This bare minimum approach kept the class tethering on the edge between hypocritical and happily ignorant. This didn’t keep me from trying to add my own experience to the discussion on the female experience in film. Unfortunately, it seemed like I had put in a little too much hope in the professor when they said not to be surprised at the sexism in the course material and just focus on the lesson.
Fine. That’s just fine. I can ignore how all of the films revolved around a male lead or how none of the films showed vanity in sexuality. I can even ignore the fact that the majority of the films covered in this class couldn’t even pass the Bechdel test.
But the fact is I shouldn’t have too. The professor brought up the topics of male gaze and film bias. The professor chose films that withheld the bias and ignored films with minority representation that could be used to teach the same lessons. Why should it be my job to look past detrimental stereotypes just so we can talk about the use of the color red?
I don’t speak for all women and I certainly don’t speak for all members of a minority group but I can speak for myself. I can share my experience to hopefully add to the conversation and I can shut up and listen when others are talking about their experiences. Which is why I find it so odd that a professor couldn’t do the same.
Bringing up problems with diversity in academia are not only welcomed, it is now the bare minimum in educational environments. Professors should create a space where they can present the facts and then, if they are willing, allow the student to add their experiences to the conversation. If you find they are adding too much to the conversation, maybe you should take a look at your course material.
If, as an educator, you are not sure how to teach over a group you do not fall into I would recommend following in the footsteps of Bill Carroll. During the first week of Poetry 378, Professor Carroll explained that as a “straight white cis-man” he is obviously coming from a specific background but that in this class he wanted to showcase voices from different backgrounds. We covered diversity in racial minority, gender minority, sexual minority, economic minority and even voices from different religious backgrounds.
The time is past for us to use lack of resources as an excuse for not including voices outside of your own, especially in literature or fine art degrees. At this point it is just willful ignorance.