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In a Eureka College class, students do the teaching about social justice

A core class at Eureka College was upended this semester when students and a professor tried out a new method of handling the course.

The private liberal arts college in Woodford County has been offering the class, called "ECC 101: Justice and Civic Responsibility" in course catalogues, for about four years.

Educators take turns teaching the class, or one of the others offered as a general education course that’s meant to impart more than straight academic knowledge.

This semester, it was visiting assistant professor of business Cameron Horn’s turn to lead the course — and he decided to switch gears entirely.

“When I was looking at (doing) it, I was looking at this idea that we really need to understand this broader perspective of what is justice… and all of these different injustices that we face in communities both local and global,” he said. “Being an engaged citizen looks at a lot of different things, but one of those is recognizing injustice and being willing to use your voice. I couldn’t think of a better way of looking at being an engaged citizen than by allowing (students) to use their voice, which is so often not allowed.”

On Thursday evening, the class gathered at the Donald B. Cerf Center and prepared to discuss their particular focuses with community members via an in-person town hall, as well as on Zoom with remote attendees.

In some ways, it reflected topics that interested students and in other ways, it reflected the diversity of experiences and identities students carry with them.

One student chose to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, another on immigration issues at the Mexico-U.S. border and another said a relative’s COVID diagnosis prompted them to explore vaccination mandates.

In Horn’s mind, that was a better experience than having himself choose a topic for the class to explore all semester, he said.

“With all of these students, we don’t know a lot of injustices that are occurring,” he said. “We have a lot of students with varied backgrounds, so they can bring fresh, new perspectives to some of these injustices that we either know or don’t know about. There are several topics that the students brought to me and I said, ‘I don't know enough about that topic. This is your opportunity.’”

Junior Mason Meints said he was surprised his topic — the constitutionality of vaccine mandates — didn’t create the level of controversy that he somewhat expected from his peers.

“I feel like I was expecting more people to be like — especially if they had the vaccine — pretty much be against people not getting it,” he said. “For me, I see why they don’t get it or do get it… but I feel like most people don’t want to get off their viewpoint because they’re stubborn and don’t want to listen to the other side.”

He added that he appreciated the town hall format and assignment style because “it gets you to understand more and… see both sides.”

“You can understand more where both sides are coming from to understand more of what’s going on.”

Freshman Marcus Toussaint, who is Black, said he chose to focus on the origins, purpose and need for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of police brutality because “it’s a personal topic...and I just feel like it’s important for individuals to know what the movement actually means.”

“Some people just think it’s just a fraud organization where people are just trying to make money off it, but it’s deeper than that,” he said. “It’s to give a voice to innocent people who lost their lives. There needs to be a voice so, that's why the movement started — there needs to be a voice for all innocent victims that went down to, just, discrimination and racially motivated violence.

“I don't know if there really can be a major solution, but the movement just needs to focus on getting more support so it can grow socially.”

Horn said some of the topics students were passionate about surprised him — and were better handled by them, rather than himself.

“One that surprised me that I knew almost nothing about… was the concept of environmental racism, and environmental justice,” he said. “It shouldn't surprise me, because we have sustainability (efforts) here on campus and we have environmental science here on campus, but this is the purpose of the town hall: I didn't know enough, but they looked at these topic and wanted to… take the mantle. It was fantastic: I knew almost nothing about environmental racism and they taught me so much this semester.”

When the time comes for him to teach the course next, Horn said he’ll tweak aspects of it that needed a little work, but he plans to keep the town hall format going indefinitely.

“I've gotten a lot of great feedback on it from both the students as well as members of the public that (came) through,” he said. “Overall, the majority of feedback is that this is unique, it's different and it's refreshing. It’s really given the ability for these students to have a voice — and that matters.”

Copyright 2021 WGLT. To see more, visit WGLT.

Lyndsay Jones