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The Classroom: A Female Perspective

If you know me, you know that I am confidently loud. I grew up in a family of lawyers, or soon-to-be lawyers in the case of my sister. We are a family of strong personalities, and I learned quickly how to have a constructive argument with my family. If I read an interesting article or had a controversial opinion, I better have the evidence to back it up. Unfortunately for my family, I learned this the hard way; there are many a funny story of me and my dad arguing for hours on end in circles because neither of us wanted to back down.

I don’t mind arguing or debating, rather I enjoy it. However, with the help of a family that has no qualms in shutting me down, I learned when to use my voice. If I wanted to bring up something that I read in the news, or an opinion that I knew would cause controversy, I had to prepare what I wanted to say.

 

Now, I don’t want to make it seem like my family is constantly arguing; in fact, I see it as a blessing. I grew up learning how to use my words carefully and intentionally in a way that makes me confident in my loudness. For the longest time, however, I was nervous to speak up in class. If I’m having a debate with friends or talking about an article with my parents I’m comfortable; however, in the classroom, stating my opinion seems more like a performance. The participation grade almost seems daunting if I’m not comfortable enough with the strength of an argument.

This semester I’m in an upper-level class outside of my academic comfort zone; with most of the credits for my major finished, I chose to delve into a topic outside of psychology. I chose an interdisciplinary class that was an upper-level sociology class that would give me credit for my religious studies minor. And, while I definitely feel comfortable reading about theology, I’ve only ever taken two other sociology classes; consequently, for many in-class discussions, I feel like a fish out of water.

 

For a lot of people, it can be a scary thing to be proven wrong or confronted with another opinion. The fear of looking stupid and the idea of being vulnerable in front of your academic peers is nerve-wracking. I love this class. The readings are interesting, the lectures are inspiring, and engaging in the class truly makes me feel like I’m growing academically. However, I can still feel shaky participating at times.

 

Perhaps it’s the awareness that I’m not the expert in the room when it comes to most topics that make me hesitant to raise my hand. It’s not my major, so we’re not discussing topics I know extensively. It’s also a male-dominated class with only a tiny handful of girls, an even smaller portion of whom actually talk in class. I choose to participate because I do the reading; therefore, I feel accurately prepared. If I’m going to be discussing something, I better know what I’m talking about. But then I realized something interesting—not everyone who participates in class plays the same game. In trying to talk to people in my class about the readings, especially the ones I find more difficult, I find that not everyone does the reading.

Shocking, I know. You’re probably saying, Ari, this isn’t new information. And I get that, but you can now understand why I feel so silly being nervous about class participation; while I feel confident because I’ve accurately prepared myself, others feel confident just because they are themselves. And, you can understand even more about how I’m feeling when you realize that I’m having class discussions with mostly male students, a lot of whom actually haven’t done the reading. So, when they disagree with my point, they’re not disagreeing with me based on the reading, they just truly think that their opinion is better than mine.

 

A lot of my female identifying friends hesitate to participate in class. When I ask them why, they say that they’re scared of saying something wrong or looking stupid. I don’t want to speak for all female students, but being in this class has certainly opened my eyes. In leading class discussions, I’ve felt talked over or not taken as seriously; perhaps this is the tone of my voice, the way that I can’t help but frame things as a question, add fluff like “kind of” and “maybe” and “I think.” Even in writing this article, I was nervous that someone in my class may read it.

 

I’ve talked to my mom and she’s told me that I better get used to arguing with guys as I enter the workforce; as I get older, I have more experiences working with different people, and I certainly understand what she’s saying. It’s frankly quite tricky to participate in class because of the fear of being told that I’m wrong. A few times I’ve been told that I’m loud, or engage “too much” when I push back on a topic or hold my ground. But aren’t debates what classrooms are for?

 

Perhaps, as I’ve feared, the classroom doesn’t welcome every perspective. I don’t blame the professors, in fact, I’m thankful that they provide so many opportunities for discussion and diversity of thought. However, with that freedom comes the inevitable clash of opinion. And in engaging with that clash of opinion, I’ve found more than one instance of discussions running in circles due to people not actually listening to each other.

 

I guess, with this article, I want to push the reader to engage in the conversation. Push back when you disagree with someone in class; this is the opportunity to find your voice. It’s scary to be a strong woman in the classroom, especially one dominated by male voices. But, don’t let the feeling of being an outsider deter you from feeling comfortable in a place you belong. Not only do women belong in the classroom, we belong in the conversation. If I have something to say, I anticipate that my classmates will take my argument as seriously as they would their own. That is the classroom that I want to be a part of.

Image Credit: Feature, 1,2,3,4

 

 
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