Yesterday was the first day of classes at my college, Central New Mexico Community College. For me, this was a more exciting day than usual because I am now teaching, only for the second time at this school, a sociology course I created called Animals & Society. From my syllabus:
“This course is designed to bring into the realm of sociological inquiry the relationships that exist between humans and other animals. A major focus will be on the social construction of animals in American culture and the way in which these social meanings are used to perpetuate hierarchical human/human relationships such as racism, sexism, and class privilege. Animal/human interaction in several major social institutions will be studied. We will also examine how different human groups construct a range of identities for themselves and for others through animals. Finally, we will examine several of the major philosophical positions about human social policy regarding the future of animal/human relations. What are the ethical, ecological and societal consequences of continuing our current patterns into the 21st century?”
As readers of this blog most likely know, courses like mine are relatively new in American colleges and universities, but thanks to the work of human-animal studies scholars, and the efforts of ASI, they are becoming more prevalent every year. The ASI website lists 245 HAS courses in North America alone (not counting law school courses), with an additional 38 in Australia and New Zealand, and 12 in Europe, plus a number of online courses and degree programs. Students today with an interest in human-animal studies have more places to go and more courses and programs to take than ever before.
In the case of my new students, I took a brief survey yesterday to find out why the students took the class. While many just took it because it fulfills an elective requirement and “sounds interesting,” a number of students registered because they have a strong interest in (or love of) animals and want to pursue that interest more deeply. One student is planning to become a veterinarian and another is working on her prerequisites for the CNM Veterinary Tech program (in which I also teach a section).
Realistically, I know that of the 25 students who showed up for class yesterday, about a third will drop out before the end of the semester. That seems to happen in all my classes. But of the students who remain, I feel confident that all will be challenged by the end of the semester to think about animals in a different way, and that, in turn, will most likely affect how they will treat animals.