It was a new semester. New professors and new classmates and new subjects and greater enlightenment waited ahead. I filed into my 500-person lecture early, eager to make new friends as the term started anew, and anxious to proceed through the course with a new study buddy.

Luckily, a plain-looking guy plopped this bags next to mine, and we easily struck up a conversation. He was amiable, eloquent in speech and seemingly open-minded. We were all Michigan liberals in a Race and Ethnicity requirement class that heightened a sense of progressivism inside us all.

He started by asking about the classes I was taking — standard. I was taking blah, blah, blah and Working Women’s Class Literature — the one class that stuck out to him.

“Oh, so you’re a feminist,” he suddenly chuckled — scoffed.

Confused, I rebutted with wavering confidence, “Yeah … Yes. I am.”

I probed further. “Is that bad?” I asked.

“Well, I guess not. But you’re a feminist. You’re one of those,” he answered, as if the title was a disease.

Reflecting in retrospect, he turned what is, at the core, simply the support of gender equality into a pejorative concept that the media often portrays negatively. His understanding of feminism was based on the rants of Tumblr extremists, the angry Facebook posts of his “feminist friends” and radical perspectives brought to light by the news. Feminism to him only had one degree: extreme. It equated to a hatred of men and a disavowal of anyone who disagreed. Feminism has now become a concept people love to hate — an idea stigmatized by people’s ignorance on the subject.

As shocked as I was by his lack of understanding, I realize that as a feminist, labeling or condemning people for being “dumb” or despicable is neither a solution to the problem nor a way to demonstrate my support for feminism. That day in lecture, I could have berated him for his gross misconceptions, and then indoctrinated him with what I believe to be correct. However, I most likely wouldn’t have inspired him to change his outlook by belittling his intelligence. In his eyes, I probably would’ve exemplified the exact social-media radical feminist that he envisions.

Rather, it is important to understand that some people are simply misled about the subject of feminism. Thus, where better to implement this education than in college? It is becoming increasingly necessary for universities — namely, Michigan — to have a gender studies requirement as part of the core distribution.

Historically, racial progress has typically come before progress of gender equality. Most prominently, African-American men were initially granted the right to vote in 1865, about 55 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. This is not to overshadow the significance of any civil rights advancement. However, in similar fashion to the precedent history has set, it seems like an appropriate progression to extend the University’s Race and Ethnicity requirement to a Gender Studies course as well.

The University currently requires every student to take at least one Race and Ethnicity course for a minimum of three credits. As the LSA page explains, an approved Race and Ethnicity requirement discusses “the meaning of race, ethnicity, and racism; racial and ethnic intolerance and resulting inequality as it occurs in the United States or elsewhere; (and) comparisons of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, social class, or gender.”

Even though the University’s Curriculum Committee requires courses to be re-certified as a Race and Ethnicity requirement every five years, there is a reason these courses are labeled as they are, where discussion of gender study is limited. Though many Race and Ethnicity requirement classes do sometimes address feminism, students can only be provided with a fractional understanding — superficially glazing over women’s rights and skimming over transgender issues.

Just as with accepting racial and ethnic equality, gender equality is not — or should not be — a revolutionary concept. Especially at a college that prides itself on its diversity, we must reflect that through our academic courses. As students, we learn about the oppression, the history and the gradual improvement of different cultures in our country. Yet we often overlook the struggles of half of our population. Essentially, discrimination to different ethnicities feels different from oppression of different sexes. Every identity feels social struggle and social advancement differently.

Our society is becoming increasingly aware of feminist issues, especially with recent campaigns promoting female equality, such as the United Nations He for She and the White House’s It’s On Us this past September. We are college students with malleable mindsets before the real world hardens us; we are young adults at the peak of fighting for what we are passionate about. It is the prime opportunity to teach us about injustices, inequalities — or simply, diversity — in the world so we have the opportunity to ameliorate them in our lifetime.

Even as students at a reputable college such as Michigan, there is still so much we do not understand. We represent some of the “leaders and best” in the nation, yet not all of us are equipped with a complete understanding of all facets of the society we will soon lead.

We are all uneducated about our own respective topics. We can’t all be radical feminists who will lead to the reform of the entire system of societal thinking. But we can at least equip students with the literature and tools to develop their own opinions, which hopefully will be for greater equality in our society.

Karen Hua can be reached at khua@umich.edu.

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