All too often, college students find it difficult to connect course material to the real world and are left questioning its applicability. In her course WMST 210: Race, Class & Gender, assistant professor in philosophy Amanda Roth aims to foster students’ understanding of lessons in the larger context by requiring an activist project. Instead of simply having her students memorize material and recite it back to her, she asks them to use the information they study to address a real social or political issue.
Due to the nature of the course, many of the students focused on women’s issues in their projects. One such project included the implementation of a system to make feminine hygiene products more easily accessible to women on campus. Another group wanted to address an issue that could apply to students of all genders and they decided to raise awareness about body positivity.
“A lot of the conversation about body positivity is geared toward women, but we wanted to take a more intersectional approach,” sophomore Alyssa Forbes said. Other project members included sophomore Paige Bressett, junior Aubrie Johnsen and senior Miranda McKinney.
During their brainstorming process for the project, the members realized that practically everyone they know—regardless of gender—struggles with body image issues. The group decided that the best way to help people with such a ubiquitous problem would be to start a dialogue about it in an effort to dispel rumors and myths that perpetuate common insecurities. To carry out this activist project, the group decided to table in the MacVittie College Union.
The group incorporated artistic elements such as a poster to catch the attention of those walking past and also provided a blank poster and an array of colorful markers to encourage students to write something that made them feel good about their bodies. This aspect allowed the group to successfully provide evidence of student participation.
The group also handed out informational flyers that explained the importance of body image as well as different strategies that could be used to improve negative body image. The project members explained that they sought to distribute accurate information about this issue because of how often misinformation contributes to people’s insecurities.
“Pictures in magazines are Photoshopped and unrealistic,” Forbes said. She added that her group felt that acknowledging the unrealistic nature of society’s expectations was an important first step in addressing body insecurity.
Despite their specific attempts to make the project gender neutral, the group members did acknowledge that they attracted the attention of many more female students than males—only one male student had agreed to write an empowering message on the poster. The members emphasized that they weren’t surprised about this outcome due to the cultural expectation of confidence and emotional strength as inherent in masculinity.
“A lot of men don’t want to show their insecurities because it goes against the idea of the ideal man,” Forbes said.
Forbes noted that despite the discrepancy between male and female responses, she and the other students in her group project were pleased with the end result.