The Birds, The Bees, And Evolution: Behind The Scenes Of Anthro 216
When your friend tells you they are taking Anthropology 216, Sex and Evolution, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a snicker worthy of a seventh grader in health class. Though Dr. David Puts teaches more intellectual and scientifically proven lessons than “don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and you will die.”
Beginning his career at Kenyon College for his undergraduate studies, Dr. Puts soon realized his fascination with questions about life and being able to find the answers through science. “I like anthropology because of the empirical focus,” he said.
The Sex and Evolution course can fulfill social or natural science credits, while teaching topics regarding sexual selection and the evolution of humans. Dr. Puts questions the limited open conversations regarding taboo topics the class covers. “We should change that..I guess it’s our puritanical background in this country because not all industrial countries are like that,” he said. “We all got here because of sex so why does nobody talk about it? Plus, people are so interested in it.”
Since the course falls under the anthropology department, it addresses these hot topics with evidence from studies done by scientists all over the world. Therefore the awkward giggles shared between you and the kid you’re sitting next to, are eventually replaced by pensive “hmmms” and “huhs.”
“That’s part off the goal of the course, is to make this stuff okay to talk about and normalize things,” Dr. Puts said. The semester starts off with basic information on evolution and the biology behind it. But after just a few weeks comes the good stuff and Dr. Puts makes sure to deliver the information with flare.
“Its a little bit ‘infotainment’,” he said, “I try to do a good job and part of it is getting important, accurate information across, and just doing that you’re gonna have a lot of people falling asleep. The other part of it is making it engaging and getting people interested in it.”
After teaching the class for a couple years, Puts noticed a few lessons universally piqued the students’ interest. “For some reason students really like hermaphroditism… I don’t know why… maybe it’s just the diversity of forms that exist in nature that is fascinating to people.”
Maybe some of the lessons are popular because of college students’ desire to gain a little insight. “I’d say women’s orgasm is a fun [lesson] but honestly that one ends up being a bit of a disappointment because people think it’s going to be titillating and sexual and then we start talking about hormones and the brain,” Dr. Puts said.
Some of the topics are even able to debunk a few fallacies that society perpetuates. His lectures range from the science behind sexual orientation, sexual selection, mating competition and aggression, and even the complexities of the woman’s mind and how she will strategically battle for her mate.
Most of the lessons create good conversation and evoke engagement from the students. Some lectures are more serious than others, specifically the lesson that explores sexual coercion.
“Every semester I think ‘I’m never gonna teach that again’, it’s hard to talk about. I can see in some of the students faces that its hard for them, but I also think that it’s just so important to talk about, and that understanding it and come to a true understanding of why it happens,” Dr. Puts said. “One of the most important things in that [lesson] is to be sensitive.”
Though the lecture plans remains consistent, Dr. Puts aims to better the course as the semesters pass. “Every time I teach the course, I try to improve it in some ways.”
His approachable and conversational delivery is masterfully done. The inclusion of small stories or funny side notes add humor to the class, ignite questions from the audiences, and help students remember information in relatable terms. “When we are talking about sequential hermaphrodism and I show a picture of Nemo and people are like, ‘No way, really?’”
He often includes pictures of bugs being caught in the act, or two male deer fighting for their lady can spice up any note-taking slide during a lecture. Some of the pictures he took himself, and a funny story usually follows the explanation of two creepy crawlers mid coitus.
Dr. Puts’s spontaneous teaching style shows his confidence and passion for the material as well as the commitment to his students to remain on topic and strive for more information. Though being in front of a lecture hall with a class of around 180 students, you are bound to notice absences. But Puts has a positive outlook, “the students who do show up are the most interested and dedicated.”
Being a highly educated professor at Penn State comes with its benefits, but being a student in the classes where your teachers are passionate experts in their field is a luxury. “I think its true with any discipline, the teachers that are the most effective are the most excited about the material themselves… that’s the cool thing about being in college too.”
Anthropology 216 may be on the back burner for some of those who don’t delve into the science world very often. But this Sex and Evolution course expands past science and shows the layered society that humans interact with, even on a college campuses like Penn State’s.
This class and Dr. David Puts have broadened horizons, shared new and exciting information, and may have even inspired a few students to start looking under logs and leaves to find some mating Soapberry bugs.