WEST department hopes to combat discrimination in classes

Mar. 14, 2016

Halle Thornton
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Discrimination can occur in college courses, especially in classes focused on issues such as race and gender.

The Women’s and Ethnic Studies department strives to keep discrimination out of the discussion.

The mission of the WEST department is to think critically about institutions of race, gender, sexuality, disability and nationality, and to understand history, culture and society from all different perspectives.

Classes aim to help students develop skills to shape the future in collective ways that aid in diversity and equity, according to WEST department director Andrea Herrera.

According to Herrera, students may perceive class discussions in WEST classes as discriminatory or derogatory, but this is not always the case.

“Sometimes when people coming from dominant groups are challenged and responded to, they perceive that they are being undermined, but they are simply being challenged,” said Herrera.

Professors are attempting to challenge student’s views about oppression and privilege, Herrera said.

Geography and WEST double major Sarah Smith said she has never faced any sort of discrimination in her WEST courses. Smith’s class received discussion guidelines that aid students in making sure that little to no discrimination occurs in the classroom at the beginning of the semester.

“No one is ever forced to speak unless they want to. It’s usually just people saying what they feel on the particular subject and then the professor chimes in when she needs to,” said Smith.

Junior WEST major Nicole Taylor said that discrimination is not a prominent issue and that it is only a topic discussed as part of the curriculum.

“Discrimination is one of the main ideas that we discuss in these types of classes, along with other similar concepts like oppression and stereotypes.”

“We discuss them as a way to understand how and where they are as well as the function they play in our everyday lives,” said Taylor.

Professors will intervene in class discussions if they need to.

“The main reason for intervention was to provide a clear and calm atmosphere for the discussion to dig deeper, and figure out what the disconnect was for certain people,” said Taylor.

Herrera explained that class discussions are aimed at attacking oppression and privilege as an institution, not the individual.

“The key for students is to realize that everyone may experience oppression, but the degrees of oppression and privilege vary from person to person.”