Does Gender Affect Classroom Dynamics?

The classroom is where we develop and broaden our understanding of the world, but do gender dynamics affect how students -and staff- are interacting?

On a campus with more females than males, one of our own staff members noticed something strange as she helped facilitate an event in a class:

Jesse: Recently, you went to a classroom where you helped lead an event that was focused on women negotiating their salaries. In reflecting upon this event, how would you say that gender roles and dynamics played out in that classroom?

Leanne: I am always conscious of the layout of a classroom and where individuals decide to sit. We had arranged chairs in a half circle facing the front of the room, and the two seats that were dead center facing the projector were filled by the two most vocal men in the class (this was a class of 16 students, 4 males and 12 females). By vocal, I mean always raising their hands to ask questions or add commentary and ensuring that their own voices were heard and dominant. These two men were eager to question the content of our presentation and contrast it with their own experiences. That is not to say the women in the room did not speak up, but they did so in a way that was more conversational and inquisitive; they never implied that they knew better than we did. It was fascinating to see the way the female professor of this class pandered to the males in the room, even though this workshop is intended for women, to work on a challenge that women overwhelmingly face more than men. She explicitly stated that her reason for wanting this presentation in her classroom was because the expanded StartSmart workshop we offer is exclusively for women, and she wanted the men in the room to “make that extra million dollars too.” After one of these men was making loud, comedic comments during a budgeting exercise, the professor fondly rolled her eyes and laughed, explaining that this type of behavior was “so him.” While I cannot make a judgment on whether this is the typical classroom dynamic since this was the only session I attended, it seemed as though there were concrete roles that the men in the classroom filled, while the women sort of watched it unfold. I found myself having to make purposeful eye contact with the other people in the room and request that they share their inputs so that this did not become a session only about this student and his needs.

Although there are many factors at play, this is a conversation that the Women’s Center is often engaged in. Do certain people feel more comfortable asserting themselves and speaking up? And How does this play out in other classrooms?

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