This semester I enrolled in a peer tutoring class at FSU’s Reading and Writing Center. Going into it, I felt as if I had a good grasp of what it meant to be a tutor and communicate with other students about their academic needs. However, there was so much more to learn beyond that. My passion for a better understanding of how students’ identities play a role in their learning started when I was assigned the research topic of gender in writing centers. Normally I would let the power of procrastination take over my ability to do homework, but I was genuinely looking forward to working on this project.
In the reading and writing center, one of the most important goals tutors are expected to achieve is making everyone feel comfortable and accepted when asking for help. As I began to read through a lot of scholarly articles, I felt like the people around me were missing out on the opportunity to talk to each other about how identity shapes their day-to-day experiences.
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For some, gender is a very conscious identity. There are parts of the student population who come into writing centers and are actively making decisions about who to speak to, what tutor they want to schedule an appointment with and how they will respond in conversations because of it.
I wanted to call attention to this process that many people go through. This constant, internal addressing of questions and concerns when simply existing in a space. As a tutor, this research allowed me to challenge myself to better understand how my gender plays a role in the way I interact with others and how they respond accordingly.
As a young adult woman on a college campus, I feel that I have encountered situations where gender visibly plays a role in shaping what occurs. I interviewed two of my friends to better understand how their educational experience compares or differs.
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My roommate Carmen is a Sophomore transfer student at Florida State. I have always admired how Carmen shows up to spaces being their authentic self. When asked if they feel aware of their gender in a classroom setting, they said, “I am usually more aware of gender in the classroom than the educational content itself, especially the first couple of weeks.” Carmen addressed the fact that their gender expression often feels like it’s part of an educational experience for other people.
My classmate Sam is a junior with a major in Editing, Writing and Media. He carries a strong voice and presence inside a classroom. His response to this question was noticeably different from Carmen’s. Sam admitted that he did not feel like he was constantly consciously aware of gender identity when in a classroom setting. “I am aware there are clear differences in which people are treated but I have not been in those situations myself. If there would be a blatant case of misogyny or sexism occurring, I would notice, but by in large, it isn’t something that I come across daily,” Sam said.
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When asked about how they feel when speaking up in class to offer their thoughts and opinions, Carmen and Sam similarly addressed the question. They both asserted that a certain level of confidence is necessary to hold space for yourself in a classroom. “I do my best to create a presence that is both relaxing and influential from the first day,” Carmen said. Likewise, Sam said, “Personally, I have no problem speaking up and talking with a professor. Whether that is answering questions or discussing the content, I really enjoy making that connection with teachers.”
Conversations like these allow me to further understand how gender identity forms our individual educational experiences. Creating an academic community where everyone feels invited to a discussion about ways we can relate or grow together is such an important way to learn.