Last term I had a political science class with a brilliant, yet racially insensitive professor. She’s a scholar who is very well versed in her field and extremely passionate about what she was teaching.
But, during lectures, she would insert her own political commentary. When doing so, she would target one specific South Asian country, which already has a poor, inaccurate and warped image in the West.
This is the same country my parents immigrated to 22 years ago. I was one of the only South Asian people in that class of over 100 students, so it felt very personal and almost as if she was calling me out specifically. I never want to feel uncomfortable in my class, ever again.
She would tell us factually incorrect information, making the nation seem as if they had a government infested with corrupted Islamic extremists and a population of Al-Qaeda fanatics.
At one point, she went as far as to say that a prominent figure had gone out of his way to sell weapons of mass destruction to Arab nations for his own financial gain. This is easily refuted, just after a 5-second google search.
My class was overwhelmingly male and white, as the rest of political science is. The same demographic that happens to hold the most economic, political, and social power.
On top of that, we’re students. When a professor tells us something, chances are that we’re probably going to believe them. Professors are people of authority and people with academic dominance over their students in most situations. They have a lot of influence over their students, as we’re extremely impressionable.
Spreading false information, similar to what my professor did, can be so dangerous. So many students probably took that information and just went with it, not questioning a thing she said. Spreading harmful, racist, and bigoted opinions to your students (who are predominantly white and male) is completely irresponsible.
It’s okay to express your opinions about the material one is teaching, but professors should also specify how it’s their own opinion so they can let students develop their own conclusions.
Professors— even the ones who say they take a stand against racism and claim to be anti-imperialists— are in positions of power and can be easily corrupted.
Knowing that they have such a powerful impact on their students’ learning, some may take advantage of that. I’m not saying that this particular professor was doing this, but it is definitely a possibility in other classrooms.
The University of Oregon, and other higher educational institutes, should put the power into the students’ hands. We pay for a quality education, so we should be getting exactly that. Students should be able to directly talk to our professors about their course material and we should give anonymous (or not) feedback to the professor throughout the course. But, to be able to get honest and true opinions from the student body, we mustn’t ever feel as if our grades would suffer in the process— (petty and immature adults exist!)
We should also be able to discuss with our professor on how culturally appropriate and racially sensitive their content is; this is especially prevalent in political science, global studies, history, and other similar studies.