ED 2221: Diversity and Identity in Literature and Film

Michael Small, A&E Editor and Michelle Page, Contributor, originally published in Issue 4, Volume 30 of The University Register on Friday, November 3, 2017

If you are still looking for classes for the upcoming spring semester, you are not alone! That said, if you have an interest in diversity, film, literature, and are looking for four credits and a Human Diversity category class, look no further than ED 2221: Diversity and Identity in Literature and Film. The class will be held Tuesday and Thursday from 8A.M. to 9:40A.M. in Science Building 1030, taught by Michelle Page. For more information, Page took the time to answer the questions below.

Has the class been taught before? How long? The class began in spring 2012 and has been taught several times (3-4 maybe?), though not every year (the ability to offer it depends on program priorities and obligations to teacher licensure students).

What texts/films will be studied? What texts/films have been focused on before? I have not completely finalized the book and film list for this spring yet, but in the past I have tried to include literary texts of various types and genres. Some of the more popular ones have been the graphic novel American Born Chinese and the novels Angry Black White Boy and Bastard out of Carolina. Last year we were able to include the Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight in our film list and that inspired some interesting discussion.

Is it open to more than just ED majors? ABSOLUTELY! In fact, most people who take the class are NOT education majors. The course is listed in the Division of Education because that is where my “academic home” is, not because it is specifically for education majors. The class is designed as a general education course, open to all. The mixture of majors and perspectives in the class supports a rich and engaging discussion.

How does the online component work? I believe the success of the course rests on the willingness of its participants to engage in discussion with one another. So the online component of the course has primarily been discussion boards where we do some of the discussion of the literary and film texts we are studying. We certainly discuss in a face-to-face setting as well. Some participants enjoy the in-person interaction with each other and some students find more freedom to express their thoughts in the online forum. It is an attempt to have “something for everyone.”

In the realm of power, prejudice, social justice, tolerance, identity representation and institutionalized discrimination, what ideas/theories in particular are applied to those domains? What theories/ideas about power relationships in schooling/media? In this class, we explore two theoretical constructs related to identity formation—dialogic identity formation (discussed by philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin) and racial identity construction (discussed by psychologists Janet Helms and William Cross). We study how identity is affected by interpersonal, cultural, institutional, and internalized racism, discrimination, classism, etc. and particularly how institutions like the media participate in the process of creating or disrupting these definitions and practices. We think about how we as individuals are affected by—and affect—these processes.

In a broader sense, what do students take away about human diversity from this class? I hope that students take away an understanding of their own identities, how they themselves are “diverse” no matter how they identify in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. I also hope they gain a deeper understanding of identities that are different from their own and how these identity categories function in society. I hope that all of us grow in our understanding of others and our valuing of others as human beings.

What would a typical day (if there is one) be like in the class? On most days we begin with a mental warm-up of sorts. This could be a discussion that is not fully related to the day’s content, a short game, a mindfulness exercise, or some other activity. We think about background information that will help us understand the texts we are examining more fully—sometimes that is me discussing some information on a concept and sometimes that is students presenting on a topic related to the reading. The bulk of our class time is spent in trying to apply the larger concepts of diversity and identity to the texts we are reading through discussion and reflection.

Are there any memories from previous teachings of the class that stick out? One of my favorite activities that we do in the class is what I call an “aesthetic response,” where we respond to something we have read through artistic and emotional channels rather than solely through analysis. I am always amazed by the creativity and sensitivity of students in doing this project—even students who initially do not think of themselves as very creative people. One that particularly stands out to me is the song a student wrote and sang. It brought tears to my eyes. Another student wrote a children’s book that was really creative. Having students share other parts of who they are is incredibly powerful, I think.