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Jul 27, 2013 04:52 AM EDT

GMU Students to Examine Trayvon Martin's Case in a Sociology Course This Fall

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George Mason University's (GMU) Sociology and Anthropology department is offering a three-credit course called 'Plessy to Martin: Race and Politics, starting this fall semester that will focus on 'issues, individuals, and group's central to the intersectionality of race, culture, and politics in American life.'

The students will be part of an in-depth analyses of controversial events and topics including the Plessy v. Ferguson case; Martin Luther King; Rosa Parks, O.J. Simpson and Rodney King. The course will also focus on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case to 'how racial and cultural politics were driving forces in the public debates and controversies,' including the recent Trayvon Martin case.

The course will be taught by Professor Rutledge M. Dennis, who currently teaches in the African-American Studies, Sociology and Anthropology departments. The focus of the course changes every semester to include current social issues.

Trayvon Martin was the 17-year-old unarmed black teen who was killed by neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. On July 13, Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted in the fatal shooting of the high school student during the murder trial. Zimmerman claimed that he acted in self-defense.

"The Trayvon Martin case is important academically because race and issues around race are academic issues," Dennis said, adding that the humanities often study gender and class; so why not race? "While this case did not begin as a racial case, it ended as one."

The university's decision to offer a course on Trayvon Martin was not well-received.

"I have received a lot of nasty, hateful emails about this course because people assume it's a course [only] about Trayvon Martin," Dennis said. "Trayvon Martin is just one case."

"The course is not about Trayvon Martin," Dennis said. "It is a course looking at issues, racial issues in American society from Homer Plessy to Trayvon Martin."

Dennis said that the contents in the course about the Zimmerman case have yet to be decided. He will be teaching the GMU course in a lecture/seminar style on Wednesdays in two and half hour blocks from 4:30-7:10 in Krug Hall on GMU's main campus.

"I think it got attention for many people because we have an unarmed teenager who was shot by someone of another ethnic group. Young black men have been taken advantage of by the system. ... And this becomes, for many, another example of a young black man being taken advantage of by the system. I hope our students will get out of it a sense of how racial, political and cultural issues impact how we interact," Dennis said.

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