Bigots and Snowflakes: Teaching Viewpoint Diversity

Communication across ideological divides is a skill like any other. With a willingness to learn, it can be taught. The importance of this topic is not to be underestimated and is something Ilana has written on here and here.

In spring 2019, she debuted a course called Bigots & Snowflakes: Living in a World Where Everyone Else Is Wrong to 14 curious students. The following year, enrollment doubled to 28. Beginning in spring 2021, the course will be offered under a regular (rather than a temporary) course number and has been renamed: SOC 230: The Sociology of Political Polarization: Bigots and Snowflakes. The syllabus for the course is available below.

Bigots & Snowflakes syllabus

While the Bigots & Snowflakes course is dedicated to the topic of communication across divides, Ilana weaves a similar approach into all of her teaching, including SOC 163: Social Problems.

Comments from students (shared with permission):

"This course has been an outstanding exploration of the dichotomy between bigots and snowflakes and between extremes of the political spectrum as well as, and possibly more importantly, the middle and the grey areas. My biggest takeaways...are the importance of humility and admitting when you do not know something, the importance of diversity of opinions and ideas (especially when those ideas are contrary to mainstream thought), and a reinforced understanding that nothing is quite as black and white as it is often made out to be."

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—Joseph Kreiling, student in Bigots & Snowflakes class

"Upon taking this class, I can say I learned how to have more productive arguments on political topics. I was the person who could simply not talk politics with someone of the opposing side without accusing them in my head of being racist. I loved the way this class challenged me to think in a different perspective than what I was used to."

—Ashley Carreon, student in Bigots & Snowflakes class

"...I feel that [this] was a very informative class and it helped me to develop new ways of thinking from different perspectives as well as gaining insight into many facets of social problems, specifically within the United States of America (U.S.)...I was not exactly sure what to expect in regards to the topics we would be discussing, the class layout and more, but after a few weeks in I grew to love the class and the way we discussed controversial topics within the class as a whole...I appreciate this class and you as a Professor for allowing us as students to be able to openly express ourselves and our opinions on diverse/controversial topics, especially us students of color."

—Khaliyah Davis, student in Bigots & Snowflakes class

"As a result of completing this course, I can confidently say that I am ending the semester with more critical thinking skills than I came in with. And to be frank, I believe that I acquired more critical thinking skills in this course than any other in my four years at Illinois. The key takeaways from this course were learning how to consider both sides of an issue, learning how to identify a dominant ideology, and using reason to arrive at my convictions."

—Miguel Quinones, student in Bigots & Snowflakes class

"This class has taught me so much about how to approach conversations differently, and I’ve already seen things we’ve discussed in class become important in my interactions outside of class."

—Lauren Paddock, student in Bigots & Snowflakes class

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