by Evan Herbison
Silence hangs over the students in Heiner 101, punctuated only by an occasional cough or rustling of papers. They patiently await the arrival of their instructor, John Gonzales, who will certainly make the class live up to its name, as he seamlessly weaves together literature, gender, and science.
Gonzales, however, believes that the class could practically run itself on discussions alone.
“It generates fantastic discussion,” he said.
The class tends to be more popular among women, said Gonzales, but really isn’t tilted that way in terms of material.
Gonzales explains that men “tend to think it means feminism. They think that means ‘males not welcome,’ which is an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Despite the sleepy pace of the warm Thursday afternoon, a lively discussion blooms from a student presentation on the Epic of Gilgamesh and related mythology. The social separation of men and women arises as an issue in the writing, its depth and complexity is made apparent, and as quickly as the topic came up, another takes its place as the focus of discussion.
Occasionally, a student will allow their personal beliefs regarding religion, gender, or other touchy subjects to hinder their participation in the class. However, even those who are offended are unable to slow the momentum of the class.
“They learn to deal with it,” said Gonzales. He added that very few students close themselves off from the information, and stressed the importance of students learning even when they don’t entirely agree with the material.
He explains that students don’t necessarily need to agree with the information to know and understand it. Indeed, students are encouraged to bring their own views into discussions.
“It’s easy to get lost because there’s so much information,” said Iris Dupree of the class discussions. “It’s intense – makes you want to hit pause.”
Students generally find such discussions to be a major part of what makes the class. Everything from ancient mythology and cultural anthropology to modern society and gender roles is a potential topic for discussion.
As Gonzales lectures during lulls in discussion, his expertise as an instructor becomes readily apparent. He finds connections between facts and ideas that most people would never see.Practicing exactly what he preaches to his students, he even (perhaps especially) references writings with which he doesn’t entirely agree, but which seem relevant and present both sides of an argument.
In reality, the class title could easily have included religion, philosophy, history, cultural anthropology, and a vast array of other topics, considering how often they come up in the class. “It really does tie in well,” said Janice Shin. “He makes it interesting.” Overall, the class strives to paint a complete picture for students of much of history where often only a very small part has been presented to them in the past. “It’s one of the better classes going on,” said Dupree. As the class winds down, students get antsy, eager to enjoy the sunshine now so very close to being within reach. Even as the class leaves excitedly to make use of the remaining hours of the unusually warm spring day, an air of quiet satisfaction from the productive discussions permeates Heiner 101. Students generally come into the class with many preconceived notions of the world and why things are the way they are. By all accounts, this is what the class changes more than anything else.
“It really makes you think about things differently,” said Shin.