Classroom gender dynamics improving

Kathryn Long, Staff Writer

March 4, 2016

In the past 200 years, a lot has changed with respect to gender dynamics in the classroom. Years ago, hardly any women attended college. In 2014, according to the American Community Survey, 55.2 percent of students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate school were women.

This data alone shows that a lot has been done to improve the disparate treatment of women in the classroom. Now that women make up the majority of students in college classrooms, there are fewer chances for them to be overlooked or disadvantaged than there were before when women were the minority.

“I think that in the classroom it’s been fairly even … at least in my experiences,” said sophomore Danika Gottbrecht.

I agree with Gottbrecht. Looking at my own experience here at Guilford College, I have difficulty recalling an instance of gender bias in the classroom.

“It really comes down to … specific classrooms or specific universities or specific companies that … are rooted in perhaps these sexist cultures,” said Richard Schilhavy, assistant professor of business computing technology and information systems.

Guilford seems to be one college moving in the right direction. There’s something to be said about Guilford’s Quaker influence in which students and professors address each other on a first-name basis. This simple dynamic fosters a sense of equality and closeness that leaves little room for gender bias.

But this is not to say that gender bias still does not exist at all in the classroom.

“I think students often unintentionally give more credence to things that people who are men, or that they perceive to be men, say,” said Maria Rosales, assistant professor of political science who also teaches women’s, gender and sexuality studies classes.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to gender bias in the classroom. In some instances, a female student may be reluctant to speak up in a male-dominated class. In other situations, gender bias can be attributed to the instructor.

“Growing up, I would see … male teachers … discount female students in the sciences,” said Ben Marlin, associate professor of mathematics.

Gender bias in the classroom may even cause some students to change their course of study.

Sophomore Juliana Avery, a business and international studies major, said she felt discouraged while in high school from pursuing a career in science or math.

Recent initiatives have been taken to counter gender bias in the classroom. Initiatives introducing technology to younger students now open the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields to women.

“I think those (initiatives) are going to have a … long-standing impact on the future (of) gender dynamics,” said Schilhavy.

Julie Burke, assistant professor of education studies, said that there is also greater awareness of gender bias. Awareness of gender bias is a necessary first step towards reducing or eliminating it.

While gender bias in the classroom cannot be denied, gender dynamics have improved significantly. The degree to which gender bias existed in years past is certainly not as prevalent in today’s classroom.

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