Each semester, the University Scholars enroll in small-group, discussion-based seminars. Ryan Randle ’21, a history and English double-major, participated in the “Science of Attraction” seminar in Spring 2019. In this post, she explores the impact of her first Explorations Group seminar.
by Ryan Randle ’21
Howdy! My name is Ryan Ansley Malia Randle (quite the mouthful, I know) and I am a history and English double major from San Antonio, Texas. This is my second year at Texas A&M but my first year in the University Scholars Program.
This semester in the UScholars Program I elected to take the course on the science of sexuality and attraction. The course topics week to week ranged from cultural standards of beauty, philosophy on gender, representations of gender roles in popular culture, and yes- even pickup lines. Given the weekly topics, sometimes things would get a little awkward to discuss in a group of a dozen or so other college students and facilitator in Timberlands and reflective silver jacket. However, by the end of every session, everyone would leave knowing things that they did not before, and seeing the world around them in a new light.
The seminar consisted mostly of white, female, and sheltered individuals from upper to middle class backgrounds (including myself to some extent) so the seminars concerning how race and sexual orientation were some of the more uncomfortable for all the students, but also my personal favorites. While I could never fully and truly understand the biases that face individuals of different minority groups face in terms of how their ethnic features are interpreted by mass culture or how they might be persecuted for their sexual preferences, I can now acknowledge and be an ally to those individuals because I am more aware of the disparities they face. I realize that sounds a bit pageant-y in response to my experience with this class, however it is in fact something that I have gained from this experience this semester.
Within the class we had weekly reading responses due that we would later discuss in the meeting of the next week with each other, or a major project that we would present on. I had the opportunity to do some research on a non-Western nation’s/culture’s view on gender and sexuality as well as present on a “sexpert”. For the first project, I chose to look into the history of Iran dating from the Qajar Dynasty (ranging from approximately the late eighteenth century to the early twenty-first century) up to the present day. Through this examination, I found out that during the Qajar Dynasty, before Western powers had intervened a great deal in the political and social affairs of Iran, their notion of gender and sexuality was much more fluid and less binary than it is today. Within art and literature, what we would describe as “homoerotic” scenes were depicted between an older man and a young man in his early twenties or late teens. These younger men were seen as the apex of beauty at the time, so even women made efforts to emulate them through building up muscle tone, emphasizing facial hair, and appearing overall as more masculine. This dynamic changed dramatically with the onslaught of U.S. and other European forces entering Iran in the early twenty-first century, who brought with them their own cultural biases concerning beauty and acceptable sexual liaisons. Now Iran is known within the world for being one of the least tolerant countries of individuals of the LGBTQ+ community, which their theocracy claims now is the product of tainted Western culture.
Another project that I have been currently working on is a presentation on Francis Wright (if you are unfamiliar with her you should look her up) and her contributions to society’s understanding of sex and sexuality. Her stance on feminism, the abolitionist movement, the family unit, and even free love in an antebellum society would make your head spin. From doing projects like these, and getting the opportunity to engage with other scholars on campus about this has been a cherished part of my sophomore year, and the start of more worldly and self discovery to come in future seminars!
Freshmen are recruited each spring to join the University Scholars program. To learn more, please see: http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.