Advertisement

Common Ground on the Hill class examines changing the understanding of gender

Common Ground on the Hill class examines changing the understanding of gender
Students watch a "It's Pat," a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch about a gender-ambiguous character as part of Gender - Understanding the Complexities of a Seemingly Simple Term - a class at Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Westminster Monday, July 3, 2017. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

A class made up largely of educators gathered in the Hill Center to discuss a complex topic that can appear simple and one that has grown in the national consciousness over recent memory: gender.

Some were more interested in questions of identity, while others wanted to know more about the biology of sex. One thing all had in common was a desire to learn more so they could better understand the challenges their students face in terms of identity and gender.

Advertisement

Instructor Roxanna Harlow is teaching the Gender: Understanding the Complexities of a Seemingly Simple Term class throughout the week at Common Ground on the Hill, a two-week series of classes focusing on arts, music and culture held annually at McDaniel College.

Harlow said the class is designed to investigate and answer questions individuals may have as the general public becomes more and more aware of the complexities of gender and individuals push for more equality in terms of gender identity.

A.J. Bodnar, center, a student from Berea, Ky. comments on the gender stereotypes portrayed in cartoons during Gender - Understanding the Complexities of a Seemingly Simple Term - a class at Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Westminster Monday, July 3, 2017. Also pictured are Dolly Hall, left, and George Perkins, right.
A.J. Bodnar, center, a student from Berea, Ky. comments on the gender stereotypes portrayed in cartoons during Gender - Understanding the Complexities of a Seemingly Simple Term - a class at Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Westminster Monday, July 3, 2017. Also pictured are Dolly Hall, left, and George Perkins, right. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

The five-day class is designed to give an overview in the ways gender is used to construct differences, the role it has played in inequality and defining terms that, to some, can seem confusing.

Harlow said she wanted students to walk out of the class with the ability to define sex, a person's physical reproductive anatomy; gender, how a person is socially perceived; gender identity, how a person perceives themselves; and sexuality, the range of people to which a person is attracted.

"People don't understand what a lot of these are about," Harlow said. "I want people to know what the debates are, what the arguments are and what the facts are."

Harlow said a lot of information and misinformation is swirling around, and even those with the best intentions can be tripped up by not fully understanding the terminology they're using.

In the first two days of the class, Harlow and the students discussed the biology of sex and of intersex individuals — those who are born with a combination of sexual characteristics — as well as the ethics behind administering reassignment surgery on a newborn baby who is too young to consent.

Instructor Roxanna Harlow leads Gender - Understanding the Complexities of a Seemingly Simple Term, a class at Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Westminster Monday, July 3, 2017.
Instructor Roxanna Harlow leads Gender - Understanding the Complexities of a Seemingly Simple Term, a class at Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Westminster Monday, July 3, 2017. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

In the middle of a conversation, student Maureen Rooney said she had been caught up in a Facebook argument with someone who was denying the existence of intersex individuals, and she was glad to finally have the tools to communicate effectively.

Rooney said she signed up for the course because of her work as the Gay Straight Alliance faculty member at Winters Mill High School. She said in recent years, as students have come out as transgender or rejected the gender binary, she's wanted to make sure she had the right tools to be an ally to them. She said the younger generation is rapidly changing; when she first started teaching at the school, there was no GSA program, but the club currently has more than 70 members.

During the class, they also discussed the ways in which gender is used as a shorthand for determining characteristics of strangers, though it is a shorthand that is frequently lacking or completely inaccurate.

"If we shift our brains and thinking to challenge ourselves to think through what if we didn't have these binaries," Harlow said, "would civilization fall, or have these been artificially constructed?"

410-857-7890



Advertisement
Advertisement