Creating Community in the Virtual Classroom: A Conversation about Social Change with Anand Giridharadas

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A few weeks ago, I tweeted a recommendation to the hosts of a favorite podcast that they should read the book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas. The hosts were talking about how our country is dealing with the Covid-19 crisis and in the midst of the discussion, one of them expressed a hope that companies and corporations would come to the rescue in some way. That sentiment is at the heart of what Giridharadas critiques in his brilliant text. In the tweet, I mentioned that my senior sociology majors have been reading the book for our capstone seminar course. To my surprise, Anand replied that he would be willing to join our final discussion of the book via Zoom. This offer was a bright spot in what has been a strange and sad end to the semester. It has been difficult to be away from my students, particularly this amazing group of seniors (Laura Cifuentes-Almanza (’20), Hope Jacobson (’20), Jake Jansen (’20), Mason Pieczynski (’20), and Erin Sellberg (’20).

Author Anand Giridharadas

On Friday, April 3rd, Anand joined our first Zoom session since moving our classes online. It was overwhelming (in a good way) to be back in contact with my students but also a thrill anticipating our discussion. We spent a little time thinking about questions we’d want to ask and just geeking out about this opportunity. The conversation itself was everything we could have hoped for. The students shared a little about themselves and then transitioned into asking Anand questions about his work but also about their paths forward as they anticipate graduation and transitioning to the world outside of Loras. We were able to think through the ways that the book connects to their sociological training, which of course was a learning outcome I was hoping for as the professor. But more than that, we all benefited from the connection itself. In this time of crisis and isolation, connections with those who are familiar and those who are new are more important than ever. As we navigate a semester apart, it is clear to me that my role is to provide support and opportunities to stay linked, as well as helping students use their sociological knowledge to understand what is happening in the world around them.

Cultivating these moments, even if they seem small, has a big impact. That is clear from the students’ reflections on this experience.

Hope Jacobson (’20)

One of the reasons why having to abruptly leave campus during my final semester of college was devastating was the sudden cancellation of chances to reflect on my growth over these past four years and failing to get a sense of closure. Our conversation with Anand gave me some of this closure, in the sense that it proved to me I have the transferable skills needed to keep having the engaging, complex, and nuanced discussions I enjoyed having during my classes. My peers and I were able to prove to ourselves that we are equipped with the curiosity, communication skills, and knowledge needed to have engaging discussions regardless of what forms that has to take for us in the future. It was a priceless opportunity to gain confidence having intellectual discussions and to show one another how our sociological studies have molded us into better students and overall better people.Hope Jacobson

Laura Cifuentes-Almanza (’20)

Anand visiting our class was more than just another lecture. It showed me the dedication of the sociology department to make my last semester education as amazing as it would be if the classes were in person. It reminded me why the Loras sociology community is so special and influential. Anand reminding us that our major can change the world was something I will hold on to forever!Laura Cifuentes-Almanza

Erin Sellberg (’20)

I will always remember the feeling of family and community that I have been lucky enough to experience throughout my time as a sociology major. When Anand visited our class – I was reminded of how far we have all come throughout these last four years – and was filled with such a sense of pride that I have been able to be a part of such a special group of people. Our meeting with Anand was inspiring and candid, and I was reminded that what we are working towards is truly worth something. I was given hope in the midst of a tumultuous time in the history of our world – as well as a clearer sense of purpose and intentionality. Anand reminded me that working towards justice starts with us, and I am so appreciative of him taking the time out of his day to share some hope and wisdom.Erin Sellberg

I hope that as Anand joins Zoom sessions at other colleges and universities across the country that students reap the same benefit that mine did. And I also hope that he will join my students in the future, hopefully in a better global context than we are in now. In the meantime, this conversation gave us all a little hope in a time when we all needed it and I’m grateful to Anand for sharing his time and his words with us.

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).