Biology professor aims to better educate students on sex and gender

From the Collegiate Times

By Mike Liu  |  February 12, 2019

Sex and gender are two different concepts. The distinction is that sex is purely based on an individual’s reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics while gender is a person’s social role or personal identification of one’s own sex based on an internal awareness.

The differences between sex and gender has sparked many discussions in today’s society. Prominent news agencies such as The New York Times and BBC often publish articles to discuss and introduce new ideas about sex, sexuality and gender. In a society that is looking at the differences between these terms, it is critical that one should educate oneself about the basics of sex and gender.

Biology of Sex is a course at Virginia Tech intended for non biology majors. It is taught by Ignacio Moore, who is a professor in the department of biological sciences. The course has no prerequisites and can be used to fulfill one of the Area 4 courses for the Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE) requirements, which a student needs to complete in order to graduate.

“There’s a lot of discussions nowadays with things like transgender individuals and who gets to compete in athletics as a female versus a male. We address all these types of questions. But again, I’m trying to understand the biological basis of these questions so the students are better informed, so when they become voting members of society, they can make informed decisions,” Moore said.

The course discusses sex both as a noun and as a verb. In addition to studying the biological differences between males and females, the course also examines the difference between sex and gender.

According to Moore, he believes that one of the problems in society is a general lack of scientific interest and understanding when it comes to sex and gender. That’s why he believes teaching a course like this could better educate people so that they can understand the concepts in a more scientific way.

“Genetics, hormones, differences in morphology or body type, and differences in behavior. We look at all these things and a lot of these questions are interesting political and social questions, but we try to address them from a pretty strict biological basis,” Moore said.

Moore often used discussions as a way to promote active learning among his students. In many lectures, Moore breaks students up into different groups and presents a series of questions for different groups to answer. Then the class reconvenes at the end to review each group’s answer.

“Basically, I just play devil’s advocate,” Moore said. “In a lot of these questions there aren’t right answers and that’s fine. The point is that they sit there and think about it and try to come up with some sort of coherent ideas.”

Moore hopes his course can help students become better thinkers when it comes to questions about sex and gender.

“When people consider these questions that they try (to understand), don’t be afraid of the science behind these questions. Instead of just having a knee jerk reaction, try to think about it,” Moore said. “You are students at Virginia Tech, you’re going to have college degrees here, supposedly educated, right? Use your education and think about what these questions mean because they’re really important questions.”

Moore also encourages students to ask questions if they have trouble understanding some concepts of sex and gender.

“There is no such thing as a dumb question, only dumb people because they don’t ask questions,” Moore said.

Although the course is not available in spring semester, it will likely be offered in the fall semester of 2019.