Project Update #9: A New Semester Begins
January 30, 2018
Part of the: World Bank & Sexual Violence Research Initiative Project: ‘Combatting Sexual Violence in Kyrgyzstan through Innovative Education and Information Technology (Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia)’
Dr Elena Kim, Dr Elena Molchanova, Aigerim Bakubatova, and Dr Frank G. Karioris
For academics and anyone involved in education, calendars are set in terms of academic years, and then subdivided into semesters. Each semester brings new classes, new students, new challenges, new successes, and new opportunities. This week kicked off the academic semester for our new group of students in the ‘Gender, Ethics, and the Politics of Violence’ course.
Already the title has led to an enlightening accident, when one of the students accidentally said, “violence of politics” rather than “politics of violence” (as is in the course title). It was a lovely accident that shed light onto the importance of recognizing the structural components of violence and the way that violence is imbricated into political institutions, policies, and practices. Rather than simply recognizing and discussing the politics of violence, it is important to maintain an emphasis on the violence of politics.
Building off of last semester, the course enrollment this semester is nearing full capacity, with roughly 15 students enrolled, and 5 members of the MA Research Team sitting in on the course. Over the next twelve weeks or so we will be working through some of the most pressing topics surrounding gender and sexual violence. Working from last semester’s syllabus, we’re refined it and substituted some previous readings for new ones. At the end of this semester the team will undergo a full evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the syllabus, building off of this to improve every aspect of the course for next year.
But this semester has just begun! Today we started from the fundamentals, asking questions about what sex and gender are and how they are constructed. Leading off the course, Dr Kim asked the students to write down on a post-it note: “why gender exits”. Giving the students a minute to think about this question that, on its service, may seem like a strange thing to ask. Dr Kim then guided the students through a simplified version of a card sort. They were asked to place their post-its on a white board.
Having placed the post-its on the white board, students were now directed to start shaping the responses into clusters. These clusters could be as tightly bound or as loose as the students decided. One of the great strengths of card sorts is that it allows the entire group to see thinking processes laid out and worked through in real time.
Following the card sort, Dr Kim guided the students through some of the fundamentals with a short engaged and engaging lecture. Using various pictorial examples, and asking students to think on their feet, the lecture provided students the opportunity to deepen their thinking on some of the ways that gender and sex impact on individuals and is structured.
The last portion of class was taken up by two presentations by students. A large part of the overall aim of the class is to get students to not simply regurgitate the course materials, but to think through them in different ways, and from their own specific vantage point. While both presenters chose standards PowerPoint presentations, much of the time was spent in discussion with their classmates. Both presentations – each dealing with a text by Dr Anne Fausto-Sterling – were well received by the class. Of note was the discussion surrounding medical interventions and practices on intersex individuals. While an exceedingly complex and challenging topic, the class rose to the occasion, showing their strong ability to process information quickly and to assess arguments.
Any first class period is going to be a learning process as the group figures out its rhythm. As first days go, this was a very auspicious start to the course. Throughout this semester, the team has already planned to invite activists, scholars, researchers, and technical experts to come work with our students as they continue deepening their understanding of these issues.
One of the main goals of this World Bank & Sexual Violence Research Initiative project is to educate students on topics related to gender, sex, sexuality, sexual and gender-based violence, and the ways to approach, address, and research these topics. The goal of this is not simply to provide students the chance to learn, but to build that impact into the wider communities. With this second iteration of the course, we as a team have learned and improved – in content, delivery, approach – and the students themselves seem eager and ready to approach these difficult topics head on.
As we move through the semester we will continue providing updates on the class and the work of the project. Look for an update about the technological side of the project coming in the next month or two as well. While we haven’t provided as many updates on that aspect of the project, a large amount of work and movement has occurred and we are looking forward to sharing it soon.