So I'm teaching, as I think I noted at some point a while back, a course that has some explicit material and that will perhaps challenge the values of some of my more conservative students in the class. Now, classes of this type, at other sorts of institutions, may tend to attract students who are not conservative at all - students who are exploring their own identities in such a way that they are positioning themselves outside of normative gender/sexual roles - but at my university, the subject matter doesn't necessarily inspire that sort of politically/socially identified enrollment. Students at my university are most likely to take a course because a) it fits into their schedule b) because they know/like the instructor or c) because somebody told them to take the course based on either their own experience with it or, more typically, their experience with the instructor.
We're now solidly underway with the course, and on the one hand I'm pleased with the students' commitment to the course thus far. On the other hand, I've got a handful who really don't seem to get that they need to interrogate the assumptions that they make about sexuality as they relate to normative sex/gender roles. For example I had a student say in class, without any awareness that such a comment might be perceived as offensive, that to see two men kissing is "gross." This was at the end of the class meeting, and so I didn't have time to respond at length. I responded with a bunch of questions for the class as a whole to think about for next time - questions about the construction of masculinity in relation to notions about who gets to function in culture as an object of desire, questions about whether students would be similarly bothered by the sight of two women kissing - and if not, why not - questions about why homosexuality or homoerotic representation might pose a threat to heteronormative, patriarchal culture.
I don't know whether what I did was enough. Part of me (a pretty big part) feels like it wasn't - like I should have more aggressively challenged the student's homophobic assumptions rather than posing a bunch of questions that will (I hope) get students there on their own. On the other hand, the student's comment is exactly the reason why I developed this course in the first place: the students at my university are often very sheltered and they really do not realize that such statements would be perceived as anything other than the "normal" reaction. I don't want to alienate those students who most need to be exposed to this stuff that is outside their frame of reference by shouting them down when they say offensive or homophobic things: I really want them to learn from this course and to think critically about their presuppositions, and I don't know how to make that happen without granting them the freedom to speak honestly, even if I find their honest responses disheartening (and even repugnant). What I'm thinking I'll do is to begin the next class with a bit stronger of a statement about approaching the texts of the course with an open mind and about thinking about how our comments about those texts might personally offend others in the course. But I don't know whether that really resolves the issue.
6 years ago