Within in the Social Science division at Bellevue College is the Cultural and Ethnic studies department. Courses in this department can be used to fulfill the Cultural Diversity portion to attain an associate’s degree at the college. These courses include topics such as race in the U.S. and Asian American studies. There are about 17 different courses offered.
Out of the 17 courses is Cultural Ethnic Studies 257, Queer Studies. It was developed by Professor Croix Saffin six years ago, and he has been teaching the course every winter quarter since then. Since the course is only offered during winter quarter, the seats quickly fill and some students can get waitlisted.
Like most Cultural and Ethnic Studies courses, students have the opportunity to explore their background and see how it has evolved throughout society’s history. “Queerness is often erased or ignored within most educational spaces and thus having a course that centers on this provides many of us, queer and heterosexual alike, an opportunity to learn and begin filling in these educational gaps,” said Saffin.
When he reflects on his own education, Saffin remembers taking courses like women’s studies and feeling like he finally “got” school. “When I finally found classes such as queer studies although no such thing existed when I was in college, school finally clicked for me and I haven’t stopped since,” recalled Saffin.
He hopes to help other students connect and relate to their courses as an educator.
Queer Studies is a course that can be credited towards multiple requirements within an associate’s degree. It can fulfill either social science or humanities credits, not to mention the cultural diversity requirement on an associate’s degree. However, students do find greater meaning in taking this course than getting a degree.
“Students who sign up for this course do so for many different reasons – some identify openly as queer, some have family or friends who are LGBTQ,” said Saffin. Regardless of the reason, students can take the course and learn the difference between sex and gender while exploring issues impacting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-identified communities in the United States.
Queer Studies is listed under Ethnic and Cultural studies on the school website, and is only offered in the winter. In regards to teaching the course every year, Saffin says “I struggle with how to best teach the class so that those who are more knowledgeable feel challenged and those who are brand new to queer studies don’t feel left behind.”
Within the Cultural and Ethnic studies department, there are many subjects students can explore. “This would be the department where you can find classes that make you feel, think and be inspired,” said Saffin.
Within the Cultural Ethnic Studies department there are courses offered only certain quarters. Among these courses is Cultural Ethnic Studies 285, American Humor. This class explores topics from humorists of the 20th century to more contemporary forms like cartoons or stand-up comedy.
What sets this course apart from other CES courses is the fact that “it focuses on an issue that we can all relate to,” said Professor Ron Holland, who teaches the course every winter quarter. In the everyday lives of Americans, humor is constantly used. “With the advent of various forms of media, humor has been a positive means of entertainment, cultural contentedness and a way to endure hard times,” according to Holland.
Though humor is used in a positive light, Holland described its use from a more critical perspective. This includes stereotypical depictions and hate. “Humor has also been used to promote hate, self-degradation and intolerance. This course seeks to dive into all the aspects of humor and look primarily at the various ways it has impacted communities of color,” said Holland.
Every winter quarter, the course fills to maximum capacity. Students may be eager to see what it is all about from its name or may just want to fulfill the cultural diversity requirement on their degree. Whatever the case may be, what Holland looks forward to most about teaching the course is laughing. “I love to joke and laugh. If we as a society could laugh more about ourselves, the world would be a better place,” said Holland. “We must know and empathize with the reasons and stories behind the jokes, and understand the pain of the people who tell them because comedy can be a way of healing.”
As Holland mentioned his anticipation towards teaching American Humor next quarter, he also explained the challenges he has faced as an African-American male professor.
“Institutionalized racism is my biggest challenge,” said Holland. “Furthermore, to deal with the effects of it, build communities with whites who have started the process of using their privilege to lift up people of color,” he recommended.
“It is encouraging to know there are still some folks out there who recognize the inequity in society and want to do something about it,” explained Holland.
After taking the course, the goal is for students to be able to form their own perspectives on the subject matter and understand how these previously-held perspectives have or have not changed throughout the course.