While engaging students in class can be a challenge, some professors are using the divisive presidential election as a starting block for conversation.
Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies professor Michelle Garvey said she likes to incorporate cultural references that will kindle thought-provoking class discussions and apply relevant course topics to students’ lives.
“The election is no different than any other kind of popular culture event or news event that I would bring in to class,” she said. “But it certainly has been an example that has dominated in the kind of [conversations] that we have.”
For GWSS junior Taylor Roberts, the election has created a palpable strain for some students and student groups, a stressor that can be felt in the classroom.
“Much of what we talk about in class can always be tied back to our current political climate,” she said. “And the general tension this election has created for our campus can definitely be felt in class.”
During class discussions, some students say they find solidarity in knowing that their peers share the same anxieties as they do, which helps them cope with their apprehensions.
“You get to talk and play off each other and understand that people are going through the same anxiety about this election as you are,” said Katrina Keys, a mortuary science sophomore who is taking a feminist theory class. “That can be really nice for trying to deal with that.”
GWSS junior Esther Callahan said women sometimes have dissenting opinions of Hillary Clinton in order to be taken seriously.
“They don’t want to feel like, ‘Oh I’m just voting [for her] because she’s a woman,’” she said.
Keys said that in classes where most opinions are typically left-leaning, some feel hesitant to express their beliefs.
“This is definitely more of an open space, but … people do lean one way,” she said. “There’s still definitely a minority in this room and I don’t think they’re as comfortable bringing it up because a lot of us have very liberal ideas.”
Garvey said professors are aware of students’ anxieties and make a concerted effort to remind students of mental health resources available on campus. She added that students have come to her to talk about how the election rhetoric affects them.
“It’s healing to talk about it and let out our steam,” said Chicano studies and GWSS junior Cecilia Rasgado. “I wouldn’t ever talk about these things in a math class, but especially in these classes there’s more of a brave space to talk about [it].”
Garvey, who is cancelling class on Tuesday to give students a chance to vote, said she wants students to engage with ideas and theories in the classroom, but she also aims to galvanize her students into using their political power.
“[It’s] a way of not only expressing … political identity, but also finding community,” she said. “I really want to stress to them how very important the youth vote is and how underrepresented their views and perspectives are at the electoral level.”