Rarely do I ever hate classes. When I pick out my new schedules for the semester, it’s exciting to have so many classes to choose from to fulfill the last few GE requirements I have left. As I start diving into more of my core classes for my major and minor, the opportunity to learn about unrelated interests becomes more and more narrow. In choosing my GE classes, I’ve picked those most directly related to my interests as a kid. In the past, this has worked to my benefit, leading me into the classrooms of inspiring, thoughtful professors and the arms of the fields I hold closest to me: Astrophysics and Race & Resistance Studies.
This exact thought process was what I went through when choosing what class to pick for my Life Science GEs. Unfortunately as a Physics major, none of the classes needed had any overlap with the life sciences, so I was left to my own devices. Picking the right science class was crucial, especially considering my own weaknesses within the field that wasn’t as heavily based on mathematics. I ended up choosing a Paleontology class known as “History of Life” that would whet my previous appetite to learn more about prehistoric life and it’s overlap within my own field of Astrophysics. I was excited to learn and even more excited knowing it had overlap within Genetics, a life science field that I particularly enjoyed in high school.
Our first day of class was strange. Our professor, Ocean Matt, came in with rowdy rock music from the 70’s in a gorilla costume, bouncing from wall to wall and jumping on tables. This was my first red flag within the class itself, as he pretended to feed a banana to a small, female student and almost sit on her lap while doing so. I freaked out a bit, a feeling of discomfort creeping up on me as I considered whether or not this act was a violation of Title IX.
Throughout the semester, I grew bitter towards the class. It was clear that to pass, you needed to have a level of class privilege, and nothing more. Our studies were never truly tested within the class as he declared a lack of exams within our section. All you had to do were the projects, “Paleo papers”, and weekly reading quizzes from our $50 textbook. The projects have been taxing on myself especially as someone who depends on mass transit, unable to gather all the supplies needed without the help of my housemate who drives. A huge chunk of the grade within our Paleo Papers are dependent on a book our professor wrote, full of definitions of various words used within the field, not holding any value in regards to learning outside of this class. The textbook, at $50, is worn down with its pages falling out everyday, and is the only way to pass any of the reading quizzes assigned. From my own point of view, I can see easily how a student with financial means could pass this class by paying for it.
It wasn’t the rigged class system that broke me, though. It wasn’t even the fact that I wasn’t learning a single thing within the classroom, his lack of lectures and excess of irrelevant tangents filling up the majority of the class time, but today’s class where he completed overstepped. He, a white cis man, brought racist genetics into the classroom without considering the impact it would make on those in the class.
I came in late today, and stepped into the film halfway through. The film was dealing with racism within genetics in the context of craniums and the differences between skulls. Automatically, I was uncomfortable with the speaker of the film himself being another white cis man trying to discuss what racism within genetics looked like. I don’t even think my discomfort came primarily from the fact that he was white, although it was still a huge chunk of it, but the lack of qualifications he held to discuss this topic. When I first learned about racism within genetics, I was in my introductory Race and Resistance Studies class, where the speaker of the film held credentials speaking to not only life science but sociology. A discussion about systematic racism and it’s intentions were address and spoken about within the context of science, the way a topic like this should be addressed.
But in our class, the amount of discussion in regards to race was minimal, and glossed over the struggles of the people this study effected most. At the bottom of the note taking page, there was only a single question directly dealing with race: Have you personally ever been victimized or victimized someone through racial prejudice? Any other type of prejudice?
I was furious throughout the whole class, my eyes rolling back into my head whenever the speaker of the film spoke. I couldn’t get over his rhetoric about Asians, even calling us “yellows” at one point. My discomfort and anger was never dealt with by the end of class, as my professor never took the time to address any of the systematic issues related to racism, which wasn’t surprising since he lacked the credentials and background to speak about it.
The way this topic was presented was wrong. The film created this negative, uncomfortable space for those who were of color within the classroom and left this idea of colorblindness based on genetics within my classmates. This overstepping of boundaries isn’t uncommon within discussions of race and speaks to a bigger issue of staying in your lane. Speaking over marginalized groups does absolutely nothing to uplift and empower them, much less deals with the root issues at hand. It’s important when having discussion about race, sexuality, class, and so on that we look at ourselves and our own privileges. As an individual, it’s our responsibly to understand the spaces we’re in and to not talk over those who are the most affected by the system we live in. Acknowledging our roles in our community and understanding the spaces we’re in is one of many steps leading towards a society that isn’t just meant for a small portion of its people.