Liberal arts course examining prejudice set to launch Oct. 4

Student registration open now through Sept. 27

What does it mean to be an American? Who is American? Who should benefit from our systems and institutions? Can white people really understand racial biases? Can men see gender biases?

These are just some of the questions to be addressed in “Interrogating Prejudice,” a course being offered later this fall by the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts.  According to Paul C. Taylor, the college’s associate dean of undergraduate studies, “Interrogating Prejudice” is the latest Liberal Arts Edge seminar—a series of courses in the college designed to look at a timely and topical issue from various perspectives. Previous courses examined public reaction to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; the impact of Donald Trump’s presidential bid on future political campaigns; and, growing ethical concerns within professional sports.

“In light of events happening around the country, from Charlottesville to the dispute over our southern border, I don’t think there is a more important topic to tackle right now,” Taylor said.

Terri Vescio, professor of psychology, will serve as the lead faculty member for the course.  Vescio’s research focuses on power, sexism, racism, heterosexism and ageism. “In this class, we will analyze and reflect on political efforts that limit human rights and attempt to divide us,” she explained. “It’s important for students to understand how bias influences our public policy and to be able to understand prejudice in various context, from the psychological to the historical.”

As with all Liberal Arts Edge seminars, faculty from across the college and the University will examine the topic from their particular area of specialization.  For this course, they include:

  • Courtney Morris, assistant professor of African-American studies and women’s studies – "Racism in America, Then and Now"
  • Jes Matsick, assistant professor of psychology and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies – "Homophobia and Prejudice toward LGBTQ People"
  • Anne Demo, assistant professor of communication arts and sciences – "Race, Religion, and Discourse about Immigration"
  • Maha Marouan, associate professor of African-American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies – "Islamophobia and the Rejection of Religious Minorities"
  • Eduardo Mendieta, professor of philosophy and associate director of the Rock Ethics Institute – "Xenophobia, Racism, and Latino/a Identity"

Shannon Telenko, academic adviser in the College of the Liberal Arts and co-chair of Penn State’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, will team-teach the course.

“My interest in this course is based on my academic research as well as my personal experiences,” Telenko said.  “Growing up in rural Pennsylvania—a place that I argue has also been impacted by racial segregation but in very different ways from more urban areas—I had little opportunity to interact with people who did not look or think like me.”  Telenko feels that this, combined with her white, working class background, has led her into spaces that make her investigate ways we might come together to examine our diverse struggles and how they interrelate. 

The eight-session, one-credit “Interrogating Prejudice” (Liberal Arts 297) course will take place on Wednesday evenings beginning Oct. 4. Students will be expected to read one or two articles before each class and participate in group discussions centered on a “challenge scenario” posed before each class.

“Ultimately, we want students to leave this class with the tools they need to participate in a community of people who understand prejudice – their own and that faced by others – and who are able and motivated to fight against prejudice and for equality,” Vescio said.

Students can register for the course by visiting and completing a statement of interest no later than Sept. 27.  Enrollment will be limited to forty students; those accepted will receive notification via email approximately one week before class begins.

To learn more or ask questions about the course, contact Shannon Telenko at

Last Updated September 11, 2017