Practice what you preach
Barfels promotes change and awareness in and out of her sociology classes
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Saturday, July 7, 2012 15:07
Sarah Barfels doesn’t just lecture to the students in her Kirkwood Community College sociology classes; she urges her students to make a change.
“I don’t care as much about memorization as much as the application,” she explained.
Barfels said her courses include Introduction to Sociology online, Introduction to LGBT studies, Social Problems and Sociology of the Environment. She said these classes, especially Social Problems and Sociology of the Environment, “allow us to question what we take for granted and how it affects us.”
Her classes are interactive, containing a “doing component,” she said. She wants her classes to provide a “sense of empowerment” and allow students to see that if a problem concerns them, “there’s something you can do about it,” she explained.
Projects that have been spawned by her classes include the implementation of water refill stations at Kirkwood that promote reusable water bottles and cut down on plastic waste, panels about LGBT issues, panels about multicultural diversity, documentary screenings and speakers, she said. One interesting project, she noted, included a group that roasted a donated hog. From the sale of pulled pork sandwiches on campus the group raised enough money to enable low-income students to take a field trip to the National Mississippi River Museum.
Barfels has taught at Kirkwood Community College for seven years. She grew up in Dubuque and attended Loras College and Oberlin College and went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate school. She said she has completed all her doctoral course work but never did the dissertation.
She said she moved to Cedar Rapids to be closer to a parent. As an only child, she said, “you make decisions” that benefit your family.
Seeing change and raising awareness is what Barfels is all about. She promotes “personal and community change” as well as “physical change of the campus,” she explained.
Barfels does more than just ask her students to make a change; she said she practices what she preaches in her own time, as well.
Barfels said she and her wife make the effort to participate in service learning projects on the trips they take together. She said she has helped to paint boundaries in a national park in West Virginia when they traveled to investigate mountaintop removal. They have cleaned beaches in California, cleaned fishing lines and other debris from shorelines in Hawaii and helped rebuild in New Orleans while researching racism and classism.
“I can’t just talk about (the subject); I have to ‘do’ something as well,” she explained. She uses her firsthand experience to bring a different insight to her courses. Her goal for the classes, such as Sociology of the Environment, she said, is to question “what’s being marketed to us and what’s best for us, our planet and our world.”