Students, teachers confront possible bias in classroom

By Joshua Soto

MCP Staff Reporter

Midland College’s students, like its professors, are politically diverse and few say they have been unduly influenced in a classroom, according to several recent interviews conducted by the Midland College Press.

Any class will contain students and professors who have different points of view and biases because of their backgrounds. As a result, it is easy to forget that a professor may unwittingly have difficulty presenting controversial and diverse material in a manner that does not step on someone’s views.

“It’s a matter of trying to provide stimulating discussions without students thinking they are being brainwashed through the authority of the instructor,” said Bob Templeton, Allison Chair of Journalism at MC. “I often have to use extreme views to ferret out the motivation of the media source’s stories. I like vigorous discussion, but it must be balanced. It often runs against the grain of a student’s personal beliefs.”

As a student, it can be discouraging to attend a class and feel uncomfortable because of the beliefs and biases of the professor, some students said.

Sometimes all it takes is one comment from the professor and students can get offended. It may not be the intention of the professor, but if there is no explanation as to why the comment was said, students will immediately have a negative outlook toward the professor.

Dr. William Morris, MC History Professor, said that as a history professor, “you almost have to let students know where you stand on particular issues because otherwise there is always the feeling that I am trying to sneak something past my students.”

Morris said he believes that informing his students as to his beliefs makes him more human by letting his students judge what he says by knowing his values.

When asked about his student’s beliefs and how he handles their different perspectives, he said he does not try to persuade them to change their views. “I am not going to try to directly change anything; you can think what you want to think,” he said.

With 32 years of experience at MC, Morris has seen a growth in diversity among students.

“There are definitely more students of minority status coming to Midland College than there used to be and I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “We’ve got to have that increase.”

Morris adds that while he has never been confronted by a student on a political agenda, he has been confronted by a few students involving religion. “That seems to be the biggest stumbling block with students. It’s almost always just an issue with the person, not their beliefs, honestly.”

A former student of Midland College, Veronica Ramos, took history 1301 with Dr. Damon Kennedy. According to her, the only instance when she felt like Kennedy was challenging her beliefs was when Kennedy wanted his students to think beyond their own political agenda.

“It’s not like Kennedy tried to push his agenda on us. He would just try to get us to have a discussion amongst ourselves, the students, on certain political agendas,” she said. During class he would say something either very conservative or very liberal to see what we had to say about it.”

When asked about the teaching methods used in class, Kennedy said, “What I try to do, and I tell my students periodically, I try to present information in such a way that it intrudes on their basic assumptions. I tell my classes all the time that one of my goals as an instructor is to offend each and every one of you at least once.”

“It’s not like I stand up and say things that are purposely crude, but I will make a comment from the far left or a comment from the far right to see if I get a reaction from anybody and maybe stimulate a discussion from everybody.”

Another former student of Kennedy, Luis Estrada, was asked about Kennedy’s teaching methods.

“Kennedy would just try to get us to interact with each other as students about certain agendas,” he said. “He liked to make us think and he liked challenging our beliefs.”

Again, it is what Kennedy as an instructor tries to do.

“None of us push agendas; we just like to stimulate thought,” Kennedy said. “We all have different political persuasions. I sincerely believe there is never an intent to brainwash people, and that’s not me getting defensive about it saying it does not happen. It does happen, it just doesn’t really happen in this group.”

 

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