When a sociologist’s dog eats her homework…
Thank you, genius artist Gemma Correll!
UPDATE: I may have been wrong about this one and, if so, I apologize. The Univ. of Alabama has released a statement saying that the image is not photoshopped, including a quote from the student saying “It’s kind of funny, but people are blowing it out of proportion a little bit.” If anyone has further information on this story, please email it to email@example.com.
In 2000, the University of Wisconsin – Madison was sued by a man named Diallo Shabazz. Because the college wanted to present itself as a diverse place, Shabazz, a black man, had been featured in university marketing materials for several years. That year, however, his face was photoshopped into a picture of a crowd at a football game. He complained, but was blown off. He’d had enough. In his lawsuit, he asked not for a settlement, but for a “budgetary apology”: money dedicated to increasing the actual diversity of the campus.
How about now?
Note the skin color of the African American man’s hands.
As I’d written in the post about Shabazz, this teaches us both that colleges believe that diversity is a useful commodity with which to market their institutions and that, “if real diversity isn’t possible, cosmetic diversity will do.”
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Recruitment of minorities to a mostly white campus: tricky. Addressing the systematic educational underinvestment in minorities prior to arriving: expensive. Retaining minorities in that environment: challenging. Photoshop: easy.
I got this email from a Yale student when I arrived to give a speech. She was responsible for making sure that I was delivered to my hotel and knew where to go the next day:
Omg you’re here! Ahh i need to get my shit together now lol. Jk. Give me a ring when u can/want, my cell is [redacted]. I have class until 1230 but then im free! i will let the teacher she u will be there, shes a darling. Perhaps ill come to the end of the talk and meet you there after. Between the faculty lunch and your talk, we can chat! ill take make sure the rooms are all ready for u. See ya!
To say the least, this did not make me feel confident that my visit would go smoothly.
I will use this poor student to kick off this year’s list of Professors’ Pet Peeves. I reached out to my network and collected some things that really get on instructors’ nerves. Here are the results: some of the “don’ts” for how to interact with your professor or teaching assistant. For what it’s worth, #2 was by far the most common complaint.
1. Don’t use unprofessional correspondence.
Your instructors are not your friends. Correspond with them as if you’re in a workplace, because you are. We’re not saying that you can’t ever write like this, but you do need to demonstrate that you know when such communication is and isn’t appropriate. You don’t wear pajamas to a job interview, right? Same thing.
2. Don’t ask the professor if you “missed anything important” during an absence.
No, you didn’t miss anything important. We spent the whole hour watching cats play the theremin on youtube!
Of course you missed something important! We’re college professors! Thinking everything we do is important is an occupational hazard. Here’s an alternative way to phrase it: “I’m so sorry I missed class. I’m sure it was awesome.”
If you’re concerned about what you missed, try this instead: Do the reading, get notes from a classmate (if you don’t have any friends in class, ask the professor if they’ll send an email to help you find a partner to swap notes with), read them over, and drop by office hours to discuss anything you didn’t understand.
3. Don’t pack up your things as the class is ending.
We get it. The minute hand is closing in on the end of class, there’s a shift in the instructor’s voice, and you hear something like “For next time…” That’s the cue for everyone to start putting their stuff away. Once one person does it, it’s like an avalanche of notebooks slapping closed, backpack zippers zipping, and cell phones coming out.
Don’t do it.
Just wait 10 more seconds until the class is actually over. If you don’t, it makes it seem like you are dying to get out of there and, hey, that hurts our feelings!
4. Don’t ask a question about the readings or assignments until checking the syllabus first.
It’s easy to send off an email asking your instructor a quick question, but that person put a lot of effort into the syllabus for a reason. Remember, each professor has dozens or hundreds of students. What seems like a small thing on your end can add up to death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts on our end. Make a good faith effort to figure out the answer before you ask the professor.
5. Don’t get mad if you receive critical feedback.
If an instructor takes a red pen and massacres your writing, that’s a sign that they care. Giving negative feedback is hard work, so the red ink means that we’re taking an interest in you and your future. Moreover, we know it’s going to make some students angry at us. We do it anyway because we care enough about you to try to help you become a stronger thinker and writer. It’s counterintuitive but lots of red ink is probably a sign that the instructor thinks you have a lot of potential.
6. Don’t grade grub.
Definitely go into office hours to find out how to study better or improve your performance, but don’t go in expecting to change your instructor’s mind about the grade. Put your energy into studying harder on the next exam, bringing your paper idea to the professor or teaching assistant in office hours, doing the reading, and raising your hand in class. That will have more of a pay-off in the long run.
7. Don’t futz with paper formatting.
Paper isn’t long enough? Think you can make the font a teensy bit bigger or the margins a tad bit wider? Think we won’t notice if you use a 12-point font that’s just a little more widely spaced? Don’t do it. We’ve been staring at the printed page for thousands of hours. We have an eagle eye for these kinds of things. Whatever your motivation, here’s what they say to us: “Hi Prof!, I’m trying to trick you into thinking that I’m fulfilling the assignment requirements. I’m lazy and you’re stupid!” Work on the assignment, not the document settings.
8. Don’t pad your introductions and conclusions with fluff.
Never start off a paper with the phrase, “Since the beginning of time…” “Since the beginning of time, men have engaged in war.” Wait, what? Like, the big bang? And, anyway, how the heck do you know? You better have a damn strong citation for that! “Historically,” “Traditionally,” and “Throughout history” are equally bad offenders. Strike them from your vocabulary now.
In your conclusion, say something smart. Or, barring that, just say what you said. But never say: “Hopefully someday there will be no war.” Duh. We’d all like that, but unless you’ve got ideas as to how to make it that way, such statements are simple hopefulness and inappropriate in an academic paper.
9. Don’t misrepresent facts as opinions and opinions as facts.
Figure out the difference. Here’s an example of how not to represent a fact, via CNN:
Considering that Clinton’s departure will leave only 16 women in the Senate out of 100 senators, many feminists believe women are underrepresented on Capitol Hill.
Wait. Feminists “believe”? Given that women are 51% of the population, 16 out of 100 means that women are underrepresented on Capitol Hill. This is a social fact, yeah? Now, you can agree or disagree with feminists that this is a problem, but don’t suggest, as CNN does, that the fact itself is an opinion.
This is a common mistake and it’s frustrating for both instructors and students to get past. Life will be much easier if you know the difference.
10. Don’t be too cool for school.
You know those students that sit at the back of the class, hunch down in their chair, and make an art of looking bored? Don’t be that person. Professors and teaching assistants are the top 3% of students. They likely spent more than a decade in college. For better or worse, they value education. To stay on their good side, you should show them that you care too. And, if you don’t, pretend like you do.
Thanks to @triciasryan, @hormiga, @wadewitz, @ameenaGK, @holdsher, @joanneminaker, @k_lseyrisman, @jessmetcalf87, @deeshaphilyaw, @currerbell, and @hist_enthusiast, and @gwensharpnv for their ideas!Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Congratulations to everyone starting college this semester! College can be a bewildering new challenge, but a bit of advice can go a long way. Below are some of the secrets of college success from us: two sociologists — one teaching at an open-access four-year school and one teaching from a private liberal arts school — with over 15 years of college teaching combined.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to get straight As from the get-go.
College is a unique institution with its own rules and skills. You will not simply get an A because you are smart. Getting an A in a course is a combination of effort, prior knowledge, and experience, so being smart at college means learning a specific skill set. If you are in your first year, you may find that you must work harder to get the same grade as a senior who has much more experience at excelling in college classrooms and, thus, knows better how to do it. Be patient with yourself. Acknowledge that there will be a learning curve and give yourself some time to climb it. In the meantime, look forward to when you will be the one who knows exactly what to do.
Sometimes studying hurts and that’s a good thing.
The mind is like a muscle. If you use it, it becomes stronger. You can improve your emotional intelligence, your reasoning skills, your mathematical ability, how quickly and effectively you absorb new information, and more. But it isn’t necessarily fun. Like working out your body, working out your mind can be uncomfortable, even painful. You’re not really challenging and improving your mind until it hurts a little. So you may find that learning can sometimes feel kind of like suffering. This is normal. It doesn’t mean that you’re not smart, it means that you’re getting even smarter.
Memorize the phrase “pluralistic ignorance.”
Research shows that most college students misperceive their peers’ behaviors and attitudes. They think drug and alcohol use is higher than it is and that their peers are less concerned about it than they are. They also tend to think that everyone else might be having more fun. We suspect this is even worse now that everyone stalks each other on social networks. Keep in mind the possibility that studying a lot, having other responsibilities, and not partying all the time is normal. Because it is.
If you don’t like the parties, there may be something you can do.
Some schools have a much more dominant party culture than others. If you start to feel like your campus isn’t a good fit for you, there may be solutions—different dorms can have dramatically different atmospheres, for instance. A simple move across campus might help you find a community that you’re more comfortable in. But sometimes transferring to a school that isn’t dominated by a distracting status-based party culture — even if it’s a less prestigious school — can be a more successful route.
Collect as many mentors as you can.
Often new students will be assigned an advisor when they arrive on campus. That’s great. Definitely go talk to them. But don’t think that you only get to have one. Collect lots. Turn to older students, professors you like, counselors and coaches, and members of the staff or administration. Build a range of relationships with people who understand this college thing pretty well and lean on them all. You will be glad to have their advice and, later, they’ll all be lining up to write you letters of recommendation for jobs and graduate programs.
On tests, change your answers if you second-guess yourself.
Somewhere along the line, you’ve probably heard the standard advice for taking multiple-choice or true/false tests: stick with your first answer. Instructors often reinforce this adage before each exam, and students encounter it everywhere from SAT prep books to the study skills lecture in their Intro to College course. Just one problem: decades of research show it isn’t true. There’s overwhelming evidence that when students change their answers, they do better on the test. In one study of 1,561 students, 51% of the changes were from wrong answers to right ones; only 25% were from right to wrong ones (the others were from one wrong answer to another wrong one).
So why are we still so convinced we should stick with our first answer? Because we feel more regret when a bad outcome is due to an action we took than when it’s due to our inaction, and that regret makes us more likely to remember it. You shouldn’t change answers just for the sake of it, of course, but if you’re taking an exam and begin to doubt an answer, don’t be afraid to change it. You’ll be wrong sometimes, but mounds of data strongly suggest you’ll be right quite a bit more often—even though it might not feel that way.
Think hard about whether online classes are the best choice for you.
Online classes—and even entirely online degrees—are increasingly common at most campuses. They offer flexibility that can help you fit classes in around work, family life, or conflicting class schedules. But before you sign up, think honestly about your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself:
It’s not that face-to-face classes are always or inherently better than online courses. But the flexibility that online courses offer may make them particularly tempting, even when they’re unlikely to be your best choice for success. Online classes aren’t always the smartest way to go, even if they’re convenient.
When picking a major, get the facts.
Research shows that many students choose a major somewhat randomly. In the process of fulfilling their required range of classes, they encounter a particularly inspiring or effective instructor in an intro-level course and the rest is history.
Inspiration can help narrow down your choices, but most students have to be at least a little bit practical, too. Here are some questions to ask:
Don’t get us wrong—being passionate about a topic or discovering you have a particular knack for a field should be important factors as you pick a major! But it’s a good idea to turn to older students, professors, and advisers with these questions so that you know what you’re getting into. Whatever you decide, you’ll likely be more satisfied long-term if you go into it with a clear understanding of the implications of your decision.
Finally, take the time to make true friends.
Not Facebook friends, but real, solid, good, we-can-count-on-each-other besties. We know, we know. College is supposedly about freedom and parties and drinking and hooking up! There’s plenty of time for that. Also make friends a big priority. There’s a very strong correlation between happiness and being surrounded by friends you can really talk to. In fact, both psychological and physical well-being are more strongly related to friendship than they are to romance. So, hook up and form relationships if you want, but don’t prioritize sex and romance over friendship. The latter is equally important to a happy, fulfilling life.
Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.