CLAS Acts January 2015

Newsletter for Tenure Track CLAS Faculty January 2015
Vol. 8, issue 6

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.


Frederick J. Antczak, Dean  

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.  

 As our faculty battled flu and worked to bring the Fall 2014 semester to a successful close for the largest student population in the history of the university, world events served up a strange dialogue of seemingly intractable issues of larger and larger scale, and individual acts of heroism and compassion that quietly invited us to keep the faith and do our work.  At year's beginning, it's nice to look back and see how lucky we are to do work that builds a better future. Before the year was out, a French linguistics major was awarded a Gilman Scholarship, CLAS students in the Ford competition (with the help of our campus community and alumni) took top honors for their video on the relationship of tree species to climate change, Erik Nordman of Biology snagged a grant to support high-res satellite imagery to enhance learning in NRM, AWRI researchers tracked an invasive species in the Great Lakes, GrandPR (student-run public relations firm) earned national affiliation recognition by the Public Relations Student Society of America for the second time, and six CLAS graduate students received citations from the graduate dean.   CLAS held a meeting of its Student Advisory Committee which never ceases to renew our faith in the students as they wax rather eloquent about the strength of the faculty here.  And as always, we had a great crowd at the faculty and staff holiday open house.  It's wonderful to take a moment to celebrate with you. The Fall 2014 grades came in on time with only a few exceptions-which prompts me to thank everyone (faculty and PSS) who helped to remind new TT colleagues and adjuncts of the deadline and explained why it is important to students. So we march into the new year on firm (if occasionally ice-covered) footing.  We have some January engaging events to look forward to including Three scheduled fora for Inclusion and Equity VP candidates in the first week of classes. An art exhibit, Veracity, Distortion, Reduction: Recent Works by Ed Wong-Ligda CLAS Faculty Research Colloquium The Artist Faculty Series and Arts at Noon have several offerings this month Sok Kean Koo of Cell and Molecular Biology will be featured in Shelley Irwin's WGVU Radio Third Thursday of the month interview Starting on January 30, GVSU Opera Theatre presents Company We probably ought to accomplish some work, too.  My particular thanks to those who have agreed to serve the college by drafting our new strategic plan, to those who have volunteered to interview for Awards of Distinction,  and to those who have just served on task forces for the benefit of their colleagues.  Some new projects for the New Year include: CAAC has created a door flyer for advising for faculty doors. A college poster will help advertise your summer course offerings (Feb. 15 deadline for submissions). Building on promising successes last summer, we will continue the expansion of some new techniques to smooth the new student enrollment next summer.  A guidance document for unit heads to help those faced with the death of a departmental colleague is under review and will be provided to unit heads as soon as it is ready. The beginning of implementation of task force recommendations from the ATF and PEAT will take place this semester. That's my forecast-that, and maybe a tad bit of snow before the weather gets warmer and we careen toward the end of another semester again.  But you made it through this one, in exemplary fashion.  You have my best New Year's wishes-and since whatever affects one of us directly affects all of us indirectly, that includes wishes for great participation in faculty governance (be alert for earlier elections this year!), successful searches, classes full of talented and motivated students, and a winter that cooperates with all of your semester plans.   New Advising Repository created by the Advising Task Force

Announcing the Digital Measures Fortnight  January 12-23, Gary Stark will be available and happy to help, individually, anyone who needs assistance with Digital Measures. "I'll come to their office, they can come to mine, or we'll consult over the phone. All they have to do is contact me," Gary explains.    

Ruining Katy Perry in a Good Way:  Talking Pedagogy with Laurel Westbrook

One suspects that Assistant Professor Laurel Westbrook does not have to spend much time in her courses selling her students on the relevance of Social Problems, Sociology of Gender, or Sociology of Sexuality classes  to news headlines or the societal controversies that are trending in social media on a given day.  In fact, her work on gender, sexuality, social movements, violence, and media puts her in a good position to push her students' understanding beyond the discourse that streams into their phones and toward what she calls her bigger goal, "to teach Sociology by creating active learners-for a lifetime-who can gather information, think critically and share with others." To accomplish this, she finds it useful to assign reading coupled with a small assignment about it.  Grappling on their own with a short quiz or a 300 word answer to a question the students are necessarily working in a read/think/write mode that is key to Laurel's pedagogy.  She finds that this approach frees class time to be more productive.  In the first half of a class period, students learn to ask for what they need clarified; it becomes their job to discern what it is they want to know about.  The second half of a class time can then be spent on real life application. Laurel notes that soon, "They start to think sociologically at movies, parties, and elsewhere.  They come up with neat interpretations and start to take control of their own learning." Conscious of the need to make these lessons accessible to all learning styles, Laurel often begins class with a video of a popular song.  "This opens an 8:30am class well-they come in guessing what song I might pick to illustrate the concept of that day's class."  Will it be Lady Gaga's "Born this way" to talk about essentialism?  In addition to providing the students with a ready handle to use to tease ideas apart, Laurel finds that when they hear the song later, it reinforces the critiques they made in class that day.  One student complained that she had "ruined" Katy Perry music for him "in a good way." In upper division courses, Laurel liked to pair students on a video project.  She finds this initially terrifies them-flying in the face of our assumptions about tech-savvy contemporary students.  A big handout on how to accomplish the assignment helps to level any skill gaps so that the end product looks quite professional.  This assignment proves a very good way to help her students accomplish the "share with others" goal because these video messages convey thoughts in a manner that people will listen to-some receive many hits on YouTube. Students choose as topics social problems of real importance to them-often ones that really bother them-motivating very active learning as they seek to fix them. As a culmination of the semester's analyses, Laurel invites proposals for social change.  Students find themselves recommending structural change rather than changes in individuals.  For instance, they might recommend more public transport to reduce drunk driving rather than jailing offenders. Hired to develop sexuality and gender courses (and not collapse the two as is sometimes done), Laurel knows she is working in an area that is central to her discipline, noting that the American Sociological Association has a large group on gender.  In her courses on these subjects she helps students to see how gender norms tend to constrain and oppress everyone.  This can help men to talk about their experience of violence (from the playground forward).  It allows discussion of the constraints of socially constructed ideas of heterosexuality and homosexuality that are at odds with our current economic system.  These and other discussions help to problematize the idea of vulnerability.  Instead of defaulting to a traditional alignment of women with vulnerability, the reality of the high level of violent crime experienced by men can be more readily examined by the students.  They can come to question the notion of women's bodies as inherently weak.  The "opposite" sex becomes a more obvious construct which has led to good/bad binaries. These discussions even spill over into closed groups on Facebook.  As students develop their understanding, they can share the answers they are developing.  They can work the skills the build in class to seek their own answers. Laurel finds that the students' writing skills develop rapidly and she is happy to provide a significant amount of feedback to facilitate this process.  As they use their 300 word responses to hone a style that is clearer, pithier, and therefore more readable online, they discover that they are better able to share their insights. "If you set the bar high, they meet it.  I came with high expectations and I still have them.  My job is to give them the tools," Laurel explains.  "They say I give them heavy reading, but I find that before long 'have to' becomes 'get to'.  Education as privilege."