Student-created Course Aims to Teach Use of Neutral Language
Raeann Risko ’22
Majors: Dance; Gender and Social Justice Studies
Mentor: Rebecca Evans, associate professor of politics
Community service has always been important to dance major Raeann Risko ’22. When she considered adding peace and social justice studies minor, she decided she wanted to take it even further. Working with Associate Professor of Theater Meghan Brodie, she designed her own unique major: gender and social justice studies. “It all stems from this idea of helping a community,” said Risko.
Her Summer Fellows project, which involves creating a course that teaches best practices related to foundational language for gender and sexuality, was inspired by her self-initiated major. “This project came from the courses that I’ve taken in relation to my own major, and the different things that I’ve explored in those classes,” said Risko. “I have realized how important language is in so many senses, but especially when it comes to gender and sexuality.”
One of the biggest things a person can do? Ask for pronouns. “I’ve seen a lot of people really expressing who they are through their pronouns. It’s important to normalize pronouns and be aware that people use more than just she/her and he/him. You shouldn’t assume pronouns, and that is one of the very early things that is talked about in my course.”
Using resources found on Ursinus’s website and research she has conducted on language, gender, and sexuality, Risko has been exploring how language that is more neutral can be used, well, everywhere. She has created 30 days’ worth of content for the one-semester course. It will be centered around nine main units that include general overviews of the history of identity, sexuality, and gender, and then dive into some more specific topics afterwards. “One of my goals is to make it a more creative learning environment so it’s not just a pattern of reading a paper, writing a paper, reading a paper, writing a paper. So while I’ve enjoyed reading as part of my research, I also enjoy discovering things like TED talks or other videos that are beneficial.”
Her next step with the project is to move to honors research and create workshops based on the curriculum she has developed. Ultimately she would love to see the content offered at Ursinus and elsewhere, including non-academic workplace settings.
“There are so many things that are so simple that can be done in the classroom to completely change how someone learns and how someone feels. Adopting more neutral language is really not that hard, but it’s something that you have to be willing to learn about and take on.”