July 8, 2013 — by Dr. Paula Brown-Weinstock
I remember going off to college thinking I was going to change the world. As I sat in my college classes and learned about the various social problems our society faces and the complexities of solving them, I began to feel helpless and wondered how one person could make a difference. Today, as a Professor of Social Science, I imagine that some of my students might feel the same way I did when I stand in front of them and discuss the various social problems in the world today. So I tried something new in my Gender and Society class this past semester.
In my Gender and Society class, we discuss the social construction of femininity and masculinity (i.e., gender) and explore how gender norms are constructed, maintained and challenged in language, personal relationships, pop culture, the family, education, work arrangements, and other social institutions. Students are asked to consider gender at the personal and global level. As you might imagine, it is a class that generates much discussion and exchange of thoughts and ideas, sometimes at a very humorous level and sometimes at a very serious level. With the new knowledge and insights they have gained, students are often eager to do something with that knowledge. We discuss ways in which each student can make changes in their everyday lives. This past semester, we worked on a project together to make a change at a global level.
At the beginning of the semester, students were asked if they would be willing to forgo one cup of coffee or a bag of chips or candy bar that they might normally purchase each week, and instead donate $0.50 toward a “charitable donation fund.” Could they spare some change to make a change? They all eagerly agreed. The desire to make a difference was alive and well in my class. But, this is college, so the assignment wasn’t just simply to donate $0.50 each week. Each student had to research and write a persuasive essay about an important social problem related to gender. They had to identify a problem, present arguments for why it is important, and discuss potential solutions for the problem. Next, they had to identify an organization that was doing work surrounding the social problem they identified. Lastly, they had to give an oral presentation and persuade their classmates to give the funds we had been collecting over the course of the semester to their organization.
In addition, the students held a bake sale at the end of the semester. In class, we discussed the issue of pay inequity and the fact that women make approximately $0.80 for every $1.00 men make. Because of this pay inequity, the students agreed to charge males $0.50 and females $0.40 for each bake sale item.
Between the class donation and the bake sale revenues, the class raised a total of $325.00. After each student gave her/his persuasive presentation, the class voted and decided to donate our funds to V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. While we didn’t eliminate violence against women and girls, we all ended the semester knowing we had worked together to make a change with our change.
Dr. Paula Brown-Weinstock is Associate Professor of Social Science at FM.