Growing Up in Gaza: A Class on Gender Roles and Middle Eastern Relations

Dr. Sara Raley, an expert on topics like gender and sexuality, is passionate about what is going on in the Middle East, particularly around Israel and Palestine. This inspired her to teach a spring 2016 class called Growing Up in Gaza.

At the beginning of the semester, Raley has students watch a documentary about the history of what has happened in the Middle East.

“It’s important for the students to get historical context,” said Raley. “Then, we mostly focus on the lived experiences of people living and growing up in Gaza.”

She believes it is important to know what is going on in the Middle East because the United States has been highly involved in the area, especially since 9/11, though the U.S. had a presence in the area before then.

Students in the class agree with her perception of the importance of these topics.

“I am really excited to be a part of this class, because I think it’s really important in modern times to be aware of what’s happening in the world, especially with issues as controversial as what Gaza is going through,” says junior Grace Cooper.

Raley spent three weeks in Jordan, which sparked her interest in this area of the world. She has not had the chance to visit Gaza.

“Travel restrictions make it difficult to visit,” she explained.

Sophomore Rachel King also has a close connection with the subject matter.

“I have personal input because I went to Israel, so I am looking forward to learning Gaza’s point of view on things since I’ve heard Israel’s side,” she says.

A topic the class will be exploring is gender and feminism in the Middle East and the Gaza Strip.  As an expert on these topics, Raley loves integrating them into her Gaza class.

Raley admits she sometimes finds the class difficult to teach because students do not usually have much prior knowledge about Gaza. Some, however, come in with strong opinions.

“I work very hard to present a multitude of perspectives and am very careful with the material I present,” Raley said. “The goal of the course is to reach a better understanding of the lives of people growing up in Gaza, not to adjudicate the rights and wrongs of Palestinians and Israelis and align oneself with one ‘side’ or the other.”

“I have also emphasized to my class that the idea that there is a Palestinian ‘side’ and an Israeli ‘side’ is a false dichotomy because there is so much diversity in the perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians,” she added.

All students at McDaniel can take this class, even those without a sociology major or minor.  It satisfies the International Non-Western requirement for the McDaniel Plan. For sociology majors and minors, this course satisfies the Society and Individual requirement of the major and minor.