Class project highlights issues students feel passionate about

Andrew Linnabary

Sarah Newcomer encourages her students to take action for their beliefs.

“I want my students to harness their passion and funnel it toward positive change,” she said.

Newcomer, a Friends University graduate and first-time teacher at Wichita State, said her course, Intro to LGBT, is as much a lesson in advocacy as it is a history lesson. She teaches in the women’s studies and religion department.

“There’s a lot of students who have never done advocacy,” Newcomer said. “They’ve got a lot of passionate ideas but they’ve never had an opportunity to voice them. The way we’re going to make changes is if students are affected emotionally.”  

Newcomer asked her 36 students to choose a societal issue and to create a poster detailing the issue for a midterm advocacy project. The class presented their posters March 10 in Lindquist Hall.

The guidelines required focusing on a marginalized population, Newcomer said.

 “I think in general, people don’t think about these issues. It’s out of sight, out of mind, especially when it comes to marginalized populations,” Newcomer said.

She said she was thrilled with the extent her students took the project.

Junior social work majors Rick Rangel, Sharon Troutman and Christine Wagner advocated for the Flint, Michigan water crisis for their project. They illustrated Flint’s lead poisoned water with brown-tinted water bottles taped to their poster.

“As the water comes from the river, it’s clean until it gets to the plant,” Rangel said. “It’s when it goes from the plants to the homes that the lead contaminates the water. The sad part is the city still requires people to pay their water bill when they’re getting water like this.”

Rangel said his group will be involved in an on-campus rally for Flint in April.

Junior musical theater majors Hannah Fernandez and Caleb Reich advocated for the Wichita Women’s Crisis Center, which provides help for abused or exploited women, for their project. In addition to their poster, Fernandez and Reich are putting on a cabaret show of the musical “Chicago” to raise money and awareness for the Crisis Center.

“April is sexual assault awareness month,” Fernandez said. “‘Chicago’ is all about women who have been mistreated and who stand up and get their independence. We decided it was a good opportunity to benefit the community.”

The cabaret will be at 7:30 p.m. on April 2 at the Heskett Center.

Leeah Webb, a sophomore studying integrated marketing communications, and Courtney Galliher, a senior women studies major, focused their project on gender language.

“You always assume a doctor or a professor is a male. Male is always the default. But a lot of times it’s a female and I think it really discredits women,” Webb said.

Their poster displayed phrases such as ‘hey man’ and ‘hey guys,’ which Webb said can be off-putting to people unsure about their gender identity.

“This is something I’ve been continuing trying to work on. Nobody really realizes it could be offensive. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing, but I think learning and trying to change your habits can help,” Webb said.

Some of the other topics included gender-neutral bathrooms, LGBT police officers and the wage gap for women.

 “It really blows my mind how far some of these students took this,” Newcomer said. “It just shows how passionate they are and that they have it in them. They just need to be nudged a little bit. This project allowed them to do that. I’m so proud of my students. I’m really blown away.”

Newcomer said these issues need unity, and that the country can’t be divided.

“Division just hurts things in general,” she said. “I don’t think there will ever be any real solutions until we learn to love each other.”