Panel talks identity in the classroom


On Monday, Nov. 21, 2016, a panel of students and professors addressed “the role our individual identities and experiences play during classroom discussion” as described in an email SGA sent to all students.

The panelists included Dr. Karla Scott (communication and African American studies) and Dr. Laurie Shornick (biology) along with students Noelle Janak (African American studies and women and gender studies), Graham Vogt (Spanish, economics, and international studies), and Grant Mayfield (political science and communication) who served as moderator of the panel discussion.

Scott, who teaches in both communication and African American studies, first pointed out that some identities are “agent identities,” meaning that they are afforded power and privilege.

Shornick, a biology professor, then shared her personal experience of being harassed by a professor while she was a student in college.

As one of three women in the biology department of her university at the time, Shornick noted that the professor’s actions went without comment by other students and faculty.

She explained that, “[Her] only recourse was to change my major.”

Janak, who now studies African American studies and women and gender studies related to the feeling of not going to class because she did not feel safe to be there.

She recounted how one of her white, male professors continually shut down students of color from contributing to the classroom discussion.

Often fearing retribution and simply not being understood, Janak shared how she often will not say things in class because she does not want to deal with the aftermath.

Noting how varying perspectives and identities can be shared in teaching, Shornick told of how she now uses images from a genetic counseling journal to teach pedigrees to students.

As biology teaches, there are not simply men and women. “Nothing in biology is absolute; everything in biology happens on a spectrum.”

Shornick mentioned how chromosomes come from the egg and sperm, not necessarily the mother and father.

Scott then highlighted that, “You can argue to change someone’s opinion, but you cannot argue to change someone’s experience.”

She also recognized the work that professors need to do in order to explore various identities with students.

“As professors, we must create an environment where you can go there with us.”

Scott is a first-generation college graduate and from a family a few generations removed from slavery. She explained how the work of the Civil Rights Movement is still going on, and that ultimately, as she put, “We haven’t been at this for very long.”

Discouraged that other professors were refusing to discuss Occupy SLU in the classroom, Scott shared that, “I take the mission very seriously. That is why I haven’t left.”

Shornick shared how she has personally benefited from a “witnessing whiteness” faculty group, and mentioned that a similar group for students will begin meeting next semester.

Still receiving emails from past students, Scott knows the power of education.

“The work I do, I believe, can transform society.”

As a tenured professor, she also mentioned the latitude such a privilege can afford her when dealing with other faculty and administrators.,

Especially in regards to the mission, adding, “I will hold these Jesuits accountable.”

The mission was also important to Janak. “I came to SLU, and I stayed at SLU because of the Jesuit mission.”

Calling herself a student first and an organizer second, Janak feels compelled to “call SLU on some of its problematic behavior,” such as its progress, or lack thereof, towards fulfilling the Clock Tower Accords, or partnering with a food service company that supports for-profit prisons.

Both Occupy SLU and the Ferguson Movement, Janak shared, have kept her here, knowing that “There are people here who want to do good, just work.”

During the question-and-answer period, Scott  brought attention to the fact  that “Some folks get listened to more than others,” and challenged others with the question, “What can you do to create that space for others to feel listened to?”


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