As a sociology major and women’s studies minor, I find myself surrounded by intelligent individuals who dedicate their academic lives to understanding diversity and conflict in the social world. As final exams approach, I'm drowning in classwork and readings related to racism, sexism, global inequality and LGBTQ+ rights. Many times throughout this school year at Geneseo, however, I've experienced cognitive dissonance between the welcoming and stimulating discourse in the classroom and the problematic and offensive behavior of individuals outside on the greater campus.
In response to racist and anti-LGBTQ+ behaviors and language reported by many students throughout this year, I propose that introductory courses in women's studies be a general education requirement at Geneseo. To say I feel disappointment and shame about the actions of fellow students at my college while other students and I study this discipline in order to combat and prevent these actions is a great understatement.
The day I failed a physical geology exam was not a bright one for me—science and math are not my strong suits. I was required to take natural science courses to fulfill a general education requirement typical of a liberal arts school. I can guarantee, however, that categorizing rocks and understanding the formation of volcanoes is not relevant to my pursuit of studying social change and helping oppressed groups under my current areas of study.
When we reverse this example and claim that required learning about oppressed groups, social inequality and the social construction of gender is not relevant to science, technology, engineering and math majors, I definitely disagree. As students, we are all a part of a small community that echoes the function of larger society. No matter your major, you will encounter individuals who differ from yourself in many ways—including race, class, gender identity and ability. I believe all students should at least experience an introductory course about the diversity and complexity of different groups of people in order to combat ignorance on our campus.
All State University of New York colleges are required to enact education requirements of at least seven different disciplines—at Geneseo, only the social science requirement comes close to offering the type of requirement I suggest. There are at least 50 classes of different disciplines that can fulfill the two social science requirements. In my opinion, sociology courses are the best options on the current list to potentially address these issues. I believe an introductory course in women’s studies should be added as a required discipline.
As a student who transferred many Advanced Placement exam credits from high school as an incoming freshman, my social science requirements were already fulfilled. For students in similar situations, a student can go through their entire college career without taking a sociology or women’s studies course.
Geneseo’s women’s studies department has great introductory courses that address social and economic inequality, gender inequality, institutional racism and LGBTQ+ issues. For a predominantly white college, I believe it is important for students to learn about these topics as—from my own personal experience—students who come from majority-white areas are often unaware of inequalities and oppressions their fellow students may face.
I’m not sure if I believe that taking a geology course makes me a well-rounded liberal arts student. But I do believe all people should be educated on how to respect and support one another’s differences through an addition to the general education requirement.
It is very important for a college campus—especially one as small as Geneseo—to actively educate students starting freshman year about how to overcome ignorance and implicit biases. I believe addressing our own internalized issues and undoing our personal prejudices truly makes us well-rounded students.