Matter of Course: Creating a More Just Society
Sociology SOCI-2220H: Social Inequality
Dr. Naomi Nichols, Canada Research Chair in Community-Partnered Social Justice
There are systems embedded in society that benefit certain people and disadvantage others. These systems are visible everywhere, if you know where to look. This is what Social Inequality, a second-year Sociology course aims to illuminate for students.
“Processes we think of as normal, like demanding that people show their I.D. in order to access services, may serve to perpetuate social inequalities such as unequal housing and employment outcomes for Trans* people, but that we don’t see as being linked to things as ubiquitous as a request for I.D., for example,” says Dr. Naomi Nichols, associate professor in Trent’s Department of Sociology and new Canada research chair in Community-Partnered Social Justice. “I am constantly challenging my students to toggle from the centre to the margins to understand whose identities are centered and whose are marginalized in particular social institutions and what we can learn from going back and forth.”
A broad range of topics explored
From gender and sexuality and the pay and power gap to topics like race, class, consumption practices, and labour and exploitation, Social Inequality pairs a strong foundation in theoretical ideas of how social inequalities are reproduced over time and across space, with opportunities for students to apply big ideas to their own lives to understand contemporary patterns of inequality.
“The course is really about bringing squarely into view processes that we think of as ordinary and unproblematic that actually disadvantage certain groups,” explains Professor Nichols. “I’ve used the course itself as a point of reference to help students connect abstract sociological theories with familiar experiences – for example, by exploring key ideas from critical disabilities perspective in the contexts of our own lives and then re-designing the course with students to ensure it adheres to concepts of universal design.
Learning that is more than memorization
An important aspect of Prof. Nichol’s teaching philosophy for the course is that it is more important for students to be able to demonstrate their learning, rather than memorize facts.
“In this class, you get to hear the ideas and theories of the other students,” says Holly Eckensweiler, second-year Sociology student and member of Lady Eaton College. “It’s great because then brainstorming and sharing ideas is super easy. I’ve really enjoyed learning about how to uncover the underlying assumptions and norms of our society and looking at how they were created and reinforced by those in power.”
An important area of study, now more than ever
Speaking on the relevance of such a course during the COVID-19 pandemic, Prof. Nichols says:
“Pretty much all inequalities that exist in our society have the heat turned up on them because of the pandemic. I hope that, by taking this course, my students have access to tools for making sense of the inequalities that we all see, and that they become more attuned to the ways their experiences are connected to others’ so we can start working towards a more just society.”
Learn more about studying Sociology at Trent. Applications are still open for fall 2021.
Posted on February 19, 2021