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Discussion highlights cultural differences in Ohio State classrooms

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Dynamics in the classroom aren’t always what they seem.
With finals week approaching, uneasiness between some students and their instructors is likely. But in some classrooms, personal differences between students and professors can create semester-long uneasiness that impacts the learning environment.
Ohio State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion addressed how diversity affects classroom expectations and experience with its Dialogue and Discussion Series on Diversity, held in the Student Academic Services Building Wednesday afternoon. About 30 students attended.
David Stetson, associate professor of evolution, ecology and organic biology, and Michael Madry, a field coordinator in the College of Social Work, facilitated the discussion and used personal experiences to explain how factors such as race, culture and gender can build a gap between students and faculty.
“Students come (to college) with their own experiences,” Stetson said. “If they come from a rigid Catholic school, they are going to act differently than if they come from an inner city, predominantly black school.”
Stetson and Madry said some students enter a course with a preconceived notion of how a classroom should operate, and when those expectations aren’t met it creates an adverse learning experience.
“If you came from a predominantly black school, you might be expecting certain ways of behavior and communicating from your instructor,” Madry said.
The two spoke for about an hour and also opened up the room for discussion. Students and teachers alike shared experiences they’ve had in classrooms and suggestions on how to improve diverse learning environments.
For some people, it’s as simple as acknowledging what they perceive to be a problem.
“I think there are a lot of faculty that don’t even consider these types of things,” said Vicki Pitstick, a program manager at the Honors and Scholars Center. “They don’t even consider how their race, ethnicity, gender or culture affects their students. They don’t even make that part of their teaching process, so that’s a problem.”
Chinonso Ogojiaku, a first-year in biology, said that he came to the discussion for course credit but found the conversation to be a relevant and important one.
“I feel that race and gender really does affect the classroom,” Ogojiaku said. “It’s kind of something that no one talks about, but it does play a role.”
Stetson said he believes many incoming freshmen suffer from a culture shock during their first year at OSU, mostly because attending college is a big change from high school. But since incoming students come from a wide range of backgrounds, he’s not sure if there is a solution.
“I have often felt that there needs to be a better mechanism for transitioning students from whatever high school experience they had to whatever college experience they’re having,” Stetson said. “And it can’t be a universal transitional plan, so I don’t know how we do that.”
Stetson and Madry conceded that there are bound to be gaps between students and teachers, but by simply providing feedback, students can help close them. Madry said it all starts with something many students often overlook – Student Evaluations of Instruction, or SEIs.  
“Usually whenever I see my SEI, I see someone that really liked me or that really didn’t,” Madry said. “What about the people in between? I would like to hear about that as well.”

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