Having generated buzz even in international media outlets, the sorority photo currently at the heart of the latest controversy at Penn State could not possibly have gone unmentioned during Sam Richards' SOC 119 class.
The 4:15 p.m. class on Thursday was devoted to a lecture titled "White Identity Development," throughout which Richards touched upon the issue of the offensive photo several times.
"You might be involved with it, you might not, but you certainly have an opinion on it," he said.
Richards later mentioned how the controversial image has made the global rounds.
"One of my friends on the other side of the world sent me an email and said 'You guys are in it again,'" he said.
For the lecture itself, Richards explained how identity develops through the lens of race, which often lends itself to the desire of being politically correct. Simultaneously, however, this can run against other implicit beliefs one may hold, he said.
Connecting the lecture's core points to the recent event on campus, Richards said that ignorance and ethnocentrism lead to objectification.
"You can't tell race jokes if you don't understand what it's about," he said. "The problem is this -- when you know just enough [about the race], it becomes ethnocentrism."
Richards explained that ethnocentrism is related to thinking that your culture is superior to other cultures "because it's the one you know" while also adding that "most of us are ethnocentric most of the time."
He further added that when one really understands a culture, nonetheless, objectification becomes harder.
"Once [you put yourself in their shoes], it becomes hard to objectify. But with enough ethnocentrism and ignorance, you can just objectify them because they are not real people, and that's the problem of course in this case that we are dealing here with Penn State," Richards said.
Richards finally threw his voice behind the idea of humility.
"What I want to encourage everyone to do is to have a certain sense of humility meaning in the first place, a) that we've all done things that we look back on that we later regret," he said.
Nevertheless, Richards said that when one makes jokes and stereotypes, it does matter to people's lives.
A student in SOC 119, Justina Eskaf (junior-communication sciences and disorders) said that her class took a substantial portion of the previous lecture to discuss the heated issue at length, and they also took a survey to assess the general consensus on it. While some people voiced their concerns over it, she said that others simply thought it was characteristic of a "crazy college party."
Elaisha Asher (senior-psychology), another student in the class, said that small conversation sessions like those required for SOC 119 could assist students in adopting more tolerant views.
"For certain classes it's compulsory, and I feel like it should be for all the first year seminar students," she said. "I think that could make people more comfortable because people come here from all sorts of places, so I feel like that could open a lot of eyes."