Student Reflects on Dream Course “Bodies That (Don’t) Matter”

What does it mean to matter, and are there some people who matter more than others in our society simply because of their race, class or gender?

These questions were at the heart of a fall semester Presidential Dream Course,” Bodies that (Don’t) Matter,” co-taught by Dr. Lupe Davidson, director of OU Women’s and Gender Studies, and Dr. Kirsten T. Edwards, assistant professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.

The course looked at opposing positions on the deaths of black, brown, cis and trans bodies and contextualized those positions along with the recent rise in activism, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, on campuses nationwide. Highlighting the course were several standing-room-only public lectures by such thinkers as Mariana Ortega, a Latina American feminist scholar at John Carroll University; George Yancy, an Emory University professor on philosophy of race; and Patricia Hill Collins, a University of Maryland sociologist and renowned scholar on black feminist thought. The Hill Collins lecture drew so many participants it required an overflow room to accommodate everyone.

Rachel Lopo, an Oklahoma City graduate student in Adult and Higher Education, was among approximately 20 students who participated in the Dream Course. She took time to answer questions for WGS Voices about what she gained from the course and how it will impact her career and advocacy work in the future.

Q: Describe the focus of the course and what inspired you to enroll in it. Was it what you expected?

A: The focus of the course “Bodies That (Don’t) Matter” was on the critical analysis of our society and the many injustices (implicit and explicit) which impact various marginalized groups including people of color, lower socioeconomic classes, women, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities alike. In the Adult and Higher Education program, students are required to take a class focused on diversity in higher education. I jumped at the opportunity to take this class to fulfill that requirement because of the renowned speakers who were invited to speak both during our class time and at a public lecture open to community members and OU students and faculty alike. I’ve taken one other Dream Course in my time here at OU (Environmental Ethics, spring of 2014) and enjoyed the format of the course and the depth of our discussions, so I was enthusiastic to be able to take another Dream Course. The class was everything I expected and more. I would go as far to say that “Bodies” is my favorite class I’ve taken in my time at OU.

Q: What for you was the highlight of the course, and what are some of the most important insights you took away from the experience?

A: The most exciting part of the course was being able to have meaningful discussions with renowned scholars about their own work. It’s not every day that a student is afforded the opportunity to actually meet the authors of the books they read in class. However, some of the most important insights I gained from this experience were from my instructors and my peers. They showed me that it is possible to create a meaningful dialogue around subjects many would consider “inappropriate” for the classroom. My instructors and peers further aided me in developing a strong voice, as they showed me the importance of leading by example. There was something quite liberating about being able to passionately exchange ideas in a respectful and productive manner.

Q: How did the guest lecturers complement the course content? Was there a particular speaker who especially inspired you or an a-ha moment that stood out among the public lectures?

A: It is rare that a student is given the opportunity to not only read the works of renowned scholars, but to also meet these said scholars in person. It really brings the author’s work to life when you realize that these are actual people writing these books and that you share similar ideologies with them. I had the pleasure of meeting Mariana Ortega, George Yancy, and Patricia Hill Collins. After the Patricia Hill Collins lecture our class went up on the stage to take a group photo, and she took my hands in hers and thanked me for the questions I posed during our class lecture. As a student, this moment was probably the highlight of my academic career. Being able to interact with scholars as distinguished as Patricia Hill Collins and have them commend you for the work you do as a student is inspiring. It proves that we can all learn something from one another regardless of our status. (Click here to read Rachel Lopo’s analysis of Patricia Hill Collins’ public lecture)

Q. One of the goals of the course was to give students a framework to evaluate how bodies are treated and mistreated in society. How will the experience help you going forward – as a scholar and as an advocate?

A. My focus in the Adult and Higher Education program is in social justice, so I plan to utilize what I’ve learned in this class and carry it into my career. As an advocate, this course taught me that taking action, no matter how big or small, is pertinent to creating social change. In addition, I learned the significance and effectiveness of actively listening to the needs of marginalized groups. Active listening and taking action are necessary elements of advocacy.

Q: Any other thoughts you want to share about the course?
 
A: This course would not have been available to the university if not for the dedication and perseverance of the instructors of the course, Dr. Edwards and Dr. Davidson. There was a lot going on politically and socially throughout the semester when this course was offered. and I am thankful that I was able to have an outlet for such rich and meaningful discussions.

Professor Davidson said the response to the course was so positive she hopes to make it a regular part of the WGS curriculum. “The course not only impacted our students, but also brought the community together. I think it would be a value add to the overall university curriculum.”

University of Maryland Professor Patricia Hill Collins speaks to an overflow crowd as part of OU's Presidential Dream Course "Bodies that (Don't) Matter."