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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Yes, you should raise your hand


Addressing the stigma around female class participation

“Am I 100% sure this is the right answer?”

“Does this really relate to the class discussion?”

“Am I raising my hand too much?”

These are all questions that run through students’ heads before they participate in class. Unfortunately due to social conventions, they tend to run through women’s heads more often.

Research has shown that from preschool to college, male students receive more attention from their teachers than female students. According to the American Association of University Women, this is because little boys demand more attention than little girls, acting rowdy in class and attending school with a “boys will be boys” mentality. Meanwhile, girls are expected to be more quiet and modest in class.

After growing up with this mentality, it’s no wonder college women think twice before raising their hand, even if their professor creates the most welcoming and equal classroom environment possible.

Sometimes professors cannot oversee class discussions when a class splits into groups to brainstorm ideas. When a woman ends up in a group with all men, her ideas are often not heard or asked for. When the professor comes over to talk to the group or sees the group from a distance, it can seem as if the woman is lazy or bored, and does not want to participate.

ILLUSTRATION: Kaitlyn Patterson ’20

This feeling of being the only woman in a group is especially common for male-dominated majors, like those in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Speaking from personal experience, there are times when I have felt uncomfortable participating in class, especially when making a comment about feminism. There is always an eye roll from at least one guy in class who thinks I am being too sensitive or that feminism and women do not relate to the current discussion. I’m even a little nervous to write this piece knowing it could get the same reaction from some readers.

As a white woman, my experience in class discussions is far different from the experiences of women of color. Even when class discussions are not about feminism, women of color can be viewed as being overly sensitive and their ideas can be viewed to have even less value. Women and people of color do not even have to participate to feel singled out, as some of my friends have complained about being singled out by their professor to add to class discussion relating to their race. My friend who is of Asian descent complained to me about a class discussion about communism in China, a professor had their eyes locked on her and urged her to participate.

So, what can be done to improve confidence in class participation among women?

On almost every syllabus I have received, there is a note under the participation section encouraging students to see the professor in office hours if they feel uncomfortable participating in class.

Utilizing this can allow students to have productive conversations with their professors about what was being discussed in class without the reactions of classmates.

Better yet, office hours are a perfect opportunity for students to express their concerns about classroom discussions, and how the professor can better address them, thus improving the overall environment of classrooms.

I am in no way suggesting that men should agree with women on issues just to make them feel comfortable; classrooms should be an environment promoting productive conversations or even arguments.

However, classrooms should also be respectful environments, leaving jokes and rude remarks at the door. No one should assume that the person speaking cannot see your eye roll or hear your scoff. You should not underestimate the impact your behavior has on a person’s confidence.

Ladies, participate for the sake of your participation grade, but also participate to enhance your education. Course material is better retained when applied through class discussion, and participating will be more memorable than just observing.

Class participation is also a preparation for participation in future careers and will better your background for when it comes time to speak up in meetings and conferences. It’s time we put our education before our classmates’ opinions.

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