Campus Resources

I was thinking about how graduate students and faculty have a different relationship with campus than undergraduates, and how that might mean we have to do a little extra work if we want to be of most benefit possible to our students. I first came to Virginia Tech as a student in graduate school. My sister has been here since 2010, so I have visited and am vaguely familiar with aspects of campus and community life, but I, and I am sure many other graduate students, have a vastly different relationship to the university and town than undergraduate students. This is of concern to me when I think about preparing to teach my first course next year.

I want to be able to help my students not only succeed in my class but also college, overall, but I am concerned that I don’t know about the different resources available to them. If I don’t know what resources, services, etc. are available, I won’t be able to connect my students to the people, centers and services that might be of greatest help to them. I plan to spend some time this summer and over the fall semester visiting different buildings on campus to get a better sense of who and what is located where. I really want to incorporate campus resources into my classes (which will be comprised of primarily first-year students) so they can start off their college careers with a knowledge of where to turn when they need help.

Classroom Engagement

When I was in undergrad, I was a peer facilitator for a group of 10 students in a freshman year seminar  for the honors college. Each year, I had a variety of student personalities and strengths, including the exuberant and outgoing students and also the thoughtful and shy students.

I was fortunate to have such a small group because I was able to develop a system to gradually build shier students up to participating in group discussions without penalizing them for their personality and characteristics at the outset.

The first thing I did was set ground rules for our group. At the time, I had some quote or clip from The Daily Show or something similar, but now by rules are essentially “you are free to share a difference of opinion but will not be permitted to deny, denigrate or disrespect another individual’s identity or existence.” This helped to foster an open and inclusive conversation where everyone would feel comfortable sharing.

The purpose of grading class participation was as a means to gauge engagement with class topics and readings. So, for the first 3 weeks of class while everyone was still getting comfortable with one another, my shy students would have to take notes and email me their thoughts and places where they would have contributed in class. This way, I could ensure they were engaged, but they didn’t have to push themselves beyond their limits straightaway.

For the next 2-3 weeks, I would open class discussions by asking my shy students questions directly, so they were participating in group discussions but didn’t have to work themselves up right to find the breaks in conversation and courage to speak up or over other students.

After that sort of introductory period, I would have another face-to-face meeting with my students to check in and see how they were feeling and let them know that I would expect them to start actively participating in class. We would usually set a goal number of times per class that would increase over time.

I think this strategy works well with shy students, students with anxiety and could also work will for students who have a language barrier, with some adaptation. I know I will have to change some things to get this to work with the bigger classes at Tech, but I really want engaging all students to be a focus and area of success for me as an instructor.

More on Technology in the Classroom

I think technology in the classroom has come up a few times in our class discussions. I have had conversations about with faculty and peers within my department, as well, and in fact it was a topic I had considered for my scholarly essay in this class.

I think as we move forward and technology becomes more advanced, more affordable and more accessible, we, as future instructors, are going to need to give some serious thought to the role of technology in our classrooms and how to balance the line between informational aid and cognitive distraction. Some research has shown that one individual using Facebook in a classroom negatively impacts not only their engagement and performace but also the engagement and performance of other students around them.

I think we’ll see more and more research examining the role of technology in the classroom and hope that faculty moving forward will follow the research and create intentional technology policies for themselves and their students.

On Privilege

Every individual is an intersection of identities and just as many identities run along spectrums, each identity is also associated with a certain degree of privilege. Privilege is not inherently or necessarily a bad thing; it is just something that we must acknowledge and to which we can choose to respond. 

I think a lot of the resistance to the concept of privilege comes from an introduction to privilege that floated around the internet and within certain social justice communities that privilege was Bad and those who had it were inherently discriminatory, but that’s not the case. When someone says “check your privilege,” they’re not necessarily attacking you or accusing you of anything, but rather they are asking you to call into question the systems of power in place that might have led to your assumptions, behavior, choices, etc. 

A common argument against the concept of privilege, let’s take white privilege as an example, is “I didn’t ask to be born white,” which may be true, but it’s important to consider is that just as I did not ask for white privilege or class privilege, people of color and individuals from lower socioeconomic statuses didn’t ask for their position in society either.

Another response to privilege is a complaint about identity politics or an accusation of certain groups playing the victim. But minority groups aren’t Taylor Swift. Their perceptions of slights against them on a societal scale aren’t imagined. There are studies upon studies about the different ways that white and assumed non-white people are considered in this country. Simple things like the type of complimentary hair and skincare products provided in hotels and spas show preference for white bodies over bodies of color. Accessibility is not a priority for all newly constructed or renovated buildings. Feminine traits are still often considered weaker or less desirable. Though subjective, the life experiences if individuals at varying points on the spectrum of privileges will be different. 

A few weeks ago, I attended a webinar about challenges for women in the academic workplace and two things really stuck out to me. The first was that one woman from the medical science field repeatedly insisted that if you did the work, it would be recognized and you would get “a seat at the table,” but the thing about privileges, power and stereotypes is that hard work is often not acknowledged or respected the same way for people in different groups. Especially because the panel was about women being overlooked for certain positions, it was just such an odd thing for that particular scholar to repeat, even when presented with cases where hardworking women were particularly looked over. The other thing I noted was that while the panelists did discuss the intersections between race and gender and the additional challenges faced in “getting a seat at the table” or being recognized in those intersections, the three panelists were white women from Western cultures. So even in a conversation about how difficult it can be to get a seat at the table, seats weren’t offered to those whose experiences were being discussed. 

As a well-educated, middle class white woman, I have (what I consider to be) a responsibility to recognize the relation between the way the world views me and my experiences, as well as a duty to consider how I can combat systems of privilege or use my privilege to advocate for and create space for those whose identities aren’t granted the same privilege.

Frances McDormand mentioned inclusion riders at an award show recently and there were outpourings of both agreement and complaint. Many said that inclusion riders (a requirement that a certain percentage of cast and crew be diverse in an actor’s contract) were a great way to even the playing field, advocate for representation and combat existing systems of power. Others suggested that the idea of an inclusion rider was insulting and said things like “I want people hired for their skill not their skin color.” But a huge problem, as with women in academia, is that many people of color with skills are being overlooked because of their skin color, while many white people are being hired because of their skin color and not their skills but no one has a problem with that, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 

On Academic Freedom and Inclusive Education

I found this article on Inside Higher Ed the other day and thought there were interesting conversations going on in the comments section.

Someone pointed out that Sweden doesn’t have the same standards for academic freedom as the United States, so while Ringmar is perfectly entitled to his personal opinions about the role and power of the institution over his courses, he doesn’t necessarily have any rights regarding course construction that were violated in this case.

Others pointed out that if Ringmar was so hardpressed to find sources written by women, he might not be as expert in his field as he claims, highlighting that in cases where women were silenced or ignored in their time, their work might be of special import from an analytic sense.

Others, still, suggested that the issue was not that Ringmar removed one of few women from the course readings, but rather that he had an approved course syllabus and reading list and changed it after students had signed up for the course such that they were not getting the educational experiences for which they enrolled.

I just thought this case brought up the interesting balance between academic freedom and balanced and inclusive education. For example, is a professor simply advocating for their own academic freedom by ignoring a perspective in their course readings and teachings? Does that not negatively impact the students’ educational experience? Isn’t that kind of how we got to a point where a lot of public school students didn’t realize the misogyny and racism rampant in all of the American forefathers until university? I guess I am just wondering how we might balance a fair and inclusive educational experience while respecting faculty rights to academic freedom.