By Diogo Fortes – 1st year Undeclared Major
The transition to college is an awkward period in every first year’s life. You’re put in an environment that is utterly foreign to you, and that is in many ways the polar opposite to high school. You bid farewell not only to the familiarity of the subjects but also to the close relationships between students and teachers in high school. College professors often do not have the opportunity to get to know all of their students, and it’s easy to blend into the crowd and become another name in a sheet of paper. Faculty relations is an important concern for prospective students, as it should be. After all, how approachable and responsive are faculty here at UVa?
Hoping to provide an answer I set out to contact a professor in a department I hadn’t taken classes in, to get their opinion on the matter and get them to provide an overview of what their department might offer to prospective students. I found the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGS) program particularly suitable since it is a field of study very rarely (if at all) offered in high schools, and one many of the readers may be interested or curious about (after all, college is the time to expand your mind). I hence decided to contact Dr. Charlotte Patterson, chair of the WGS department here at UVa; Dr. Patterson is also a professor in the Psychology department, and was kind enough to accept being interview for Hoos Talking.
Dr. Patterson has been involved with the WGS program for many years now, and we got to talk briefly about the department’s history here at the University. The WGS program got started 30 years ago under the name of Women’s Studies, as an interdisciplinary program counting with only one half-time faculty member. In the early 90’s it became known as Studies in Women and Gender and more recently, in recognition of a growing work for diversity, adopted its current name.
Women, Gender and Sexuality is a growing program here at UVa. Since its infancy, Dr. Patterson points out, interest for the major has continually grown. The program enrolled over 1000 students in its classes last year and offers a plethora of extracurricular events both for WGS majors and non-majors. There has been a clear increase in demand, with classes offered often being full and with long wait lists (fret not; classes are offered many times and in ample amount throughout the year). There are now about 75 students majoring in WGS.
You don’t have to be a WGS major to take full advantage of the program, Dr. Patterson adds. One of the programs most outstanding features is its array of events offered to students. The department often organizes movie screenings, panels and speaker events. It department invites eminent social philosophers, feminist writers, awarded filmmakers and celebrities like transgender activist Janet Mock, who attracted more than 200 students to hear her speak last Spring. It organizes events that students express an interest in and ultimately exposes our community here at UVa to new and challenging ideas. As Dr. Patterson concludes, “gathering these viewpoints and integrating them into a solidified, substantiated perspective”, an important part of the college experience for many students. (If you’re still not convinced by that, I forgot to mention that the events offer free food – a commodity no college student in their right mind ever refuses).
Finally, I asked Dr. Patterson how she would describe student-faculty relationships, given her experience teaching at two separate departments. She responded that, in her experience, faculty make a sustained effort to know students, especially those who go to Office Hours. At WGS, the small class sizes offered make it easy for students and faculty to bounce off ideas and really get to know each other both in class and at the multiple events hosted. But while class size is helpful in building that familiarity, that attitude is prevalent amongst most faculty at UVa. When planning the University, Dr. Patterson adds, Thomas Jefferson pictured it as an “academical village”, where students would “live near and run into their professors” regularly. Ultimately, these real relationships would make the learning process easier and classes more interesting.
In my five-week long experience, I can attest that going to Office Hours, asking questions at the end of lecture and being proactive in your relationship to faculty is the way to go. Despite their best effort, faculty will not get to know you if you don’t make a significant effort to get to know them. And that includes not only asking about material covered I class. Ask them about their research, their time at UVa, their professional path; professors are people too (I know, shocking) and most of them enjoy seeing their students succeed and be interested in their area of study. Want to be appreciated as a learner and a human being by faculty? Then learn to appreciate faculty as teachers and people. You’ll be surprised by what you might find.