Lionhearted Leaders: Wendy St. Jean
March 22, 2022
Wendy St. Jean’s lessons constantly evolve from student input and leadership
Wendy St. Jean, associate professor of History in the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences, constantly surveys her students to see what contemporary interests they have when it comes to learning about the past.
St. Jean gives students an active role in providing feedback on what is important to them, which she says develops a shared responsibility in their learning.
“Students might have the wrong impression about why history matters and not think it has any relevance,” says St. Jean. “I try to figure out what content would help them be more reflective about their own lives or the society they’re living in, and the conditions they’ll face when they graduate.”
St. Jean is forthcoming with what syllabi material she will present and surveys what her diverse students feel is important to them to learn about. Her course offerings reflect many backgrounds, such as Latinx history, Black history, women’s history, LGBTQ history, Native American history, and more.
St. Jean says she’s received positive feedback from students who are energized by inclusive topics that can reflect their own identities and ethnicities. They can also find new inspiration in learning or writing about historically significant events or figures that resonate with them.
“Students really appreciate it when they see topics that reflect their cultural backgrounds or family histories,” St. Jean says. “For introductory classes, sometimes they don’t expect someone to move these topics to the level of importance where they belong.”
Spirit of Engagement
St. Jean feels new generations of PNW history students are showing a high sense of civic engagement and responsibility with their participation in history beyond the classroom.
For example, following the death of George Floyd in 2020, St. Jean observed many of her Black students, both current and alumni, come together to promote educational programming during PNW’s 2021 Juneteenth event.
Student leaders donated their time and helped organize lessons about Black historical figures, food, music, and even two people in costume as Marvel’s “Black Panther” and Tiana from Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.”
“Students in the Black Student Union and History Club are very committed to keeping the conversation alive on campus about racial equality, social justice, civil rights, and equality,” St. Jean says. “They don’t want to just give presentations and show movies. They want to have open conversations.”
St. Jean says she tries to kickstart that interest and ownership in learning in her classroom.
“I like to be in the background providing information, material, and sources for students,” St. Jean says. “I want them to go out front and be the moderators. Tell me how you think, what you feel, and give me some stories.”