Last semester, I sat in one of my political science classes and counted. Many of my classmates would give me awkward, puzzled looks as I swivelled my head around, though in retrospect I probably would have drawn far less attention had I been smarter and sat in the back row. Nevertheless, as many people sat and discussed and listened, I took a few minutes in every class and decided to do a simple observation: I counted the number of times female-appearing students spoke, versus the number of times male-appearing students spoke.
I was slowly seeing the practice of a regressive tradition in my own classroom.
As I started to learn more and more about better ways to count – how not to double count if the same student spoke twice or three times (you always have that one person, I’m guilty sometimes myself), how to differentiate between students who were asserting an opinion during discussion time as opposed to students who were asking questions to clarify something, and so on – I found that, regardless of the constant improvements and adjustments to my data collection, one thing stayed sure: men spoke significantly more times than women. Even though that particular class had more men than women, I found that it couldn’t account for the lower rate of women who spoke. Fortunately, as I took more political science courses, I found classes that didn’t follow this trend and that only made me enjoy those classes more.
No one was directly preventing women in the class from speaking. But why weren’t women speaking?
It’s funny, all I did was count but somehow I stepped into a small realization of great discomfort: I was slowly seeing the practice of a regressive tradition in my own classroom. The very place of engaging discussion and development of ideas was somehow also tainted with the emergence of underlying relational politics of its own.
No one was directly preventing women in the class from speaking. But why weren’t women speaking? Why was it that this trend emerged? Or was it that I just wasn’t paying attention before and this is the way classes are run? The answer remains clear, despite any varying opinions: we need to create spaces and environments where not only women, but people of colour, non-conforming genders and so on have the opportunity to speak out.
This doesn’t mean taking speaking time away from men, but adding other voices to the classroom discourse. It starts by the efforts of students and instructors alike – people being aware of power dynamics in classrooms and encouraging others to speak, while taking a step back if need be. Small actions can make a big impact, and hopefully, we’ll be able to shift things one classroom at a time.
Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present glimpses into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.