Dr. Cynthia Manns is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Olive-Harvey College and has been teaching at City Colleges of Chicago since 2010. She was born and raised in Chicago and attended Michigan State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Health Studies and a Master of Arts and a Doctorate in Sociology. Dr. Mann’s research focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and class, with an emphasis on minority health care.
In addition to teaching, Dr. Manns also serves as the District Curriculum Facilitator for City Colleges. When she is not teaching, she enjoys yoga, horticulture, and spending time with her children and her pets.
I’ve taught Sociology 207: The Sociology of Sex and Gender at City Colleges of Chicago for the last seven years. As Pride Month comes to a close, here’s why I think we should be talking about gender and sexuality more often.
Sociology 207 is a requirement for a handful of degree pathways, but students from all majors and walks of life enroll each term. As students join me in learning about sex and gender, we explore what society expects from people in terms of masculinity and femininity. Assignments guide students to consider their own sexual and gender identities and help them understand heterosexism, which is a social prejudice that assumes heterosexuality (being “straight”) is the norm, and all other sexualities are not.
Many people join the class thinking that humans fall into one of two categories: gay or straight. But I challenge students to stretch out their hands and consider that all of us are somewhere on a wider spectrum of sexuality and gender. I hope that every person who takes my class leaves knowing that sex and gender are different things, and they walk away with a more expansive and inclusive understanding of sex and gender at the end of the term.
The course takes students on a journey through the major events and watershed moments in the fight for feminist and LGBTQ+ rights. We learn about the Stonewall Uprising, track key moments in the feminist, gay, and trans liberation movements, and, equally important, we reckon with the mistakes made and harm done in the path toward full human rights for all people.
Perhaps the most powerful learning experience each term comes when students write a series of simulated “coming out” letters. They craft three imaginary letters: the first informing others that they are gay or lesbian, the second revealing that they are bisexual, transgender, or non-binary, and the third telling others that they are heterosexual.
Many LGBTQ+ students in class share that they have already written such letters, and they often share the bravery that comes with revealing that information to family and friends. Cisgender and heterosexual students often experience an “a-ha!” moment writing the third letter, when they realize that their sexuality is always assumed and never questioned or judged the way it often is for their LGBTQ+ classmates.
Societal pressures and biases like these often harm LGBTQ+ people. That’s why the course places an emphasis on the power structures that intersect with sex and gender. Throughout history, institutions have created gender barriers and biases in healthcare, education, the media, the criminal justice and legal system, religious institutions, marriage, and family. LGBTQ+ members of our community are at greater risk of depression, homelessness, and addiction, and they experience violence and discrimination more frequently than their straight and cisgender counterparts. Gender and sexuality influence every age and stage of our lives.
As a woman of color, when I think of the challenges the LGBTQ+ community is facing, I know it is paramount that we continue to advocate, educate, and create safe spaces for people who have historically been marginalized. We live in amazing, yet troubling, times. We have achieved so much in terms of diversity, inclusion, and equity, and yet, there is much we still need to learn.
I am proud to work and teach at City Colleges of Chicago because it’s an institution that places a strong value on equity and inclusion. As a college system, we are mission-driven to provide our diverse student body with respect and support as they pursue their education. We don’t just teach our lesson plans–we aim to give students the tools they need to use their knowledge and voices to create a future that we can be proud of.
Progress isn’t always linear. We can all do more, and we will—this Pride Month and every month.
Interested in expanding your worldview? Login to my.ccc.edu to browse the Fall 2022 catalog and class schedule to find a great class. Register today – Fall term begins August 29th!