University Forums discusses issues


Faith Williams – Contributor

Generation Z makes up most of the student body on Southern’s campus. To continue to effectively serve the current Southern community and bridge the gap between generations, professors are now learning new ways to mend the divide.

This year’s University Forum theme was “Creating a Just and Responsive Learning Environment for Today’s Students.” Faculty and professors attended four one-hour sessions held in Engleman Hall, Thursday, Jan. 16.

During the keynote address, Vice President of Student Affairs Jermaine Wright, Ph.D, focused on main points that drive success in students including mentorship, belongingness, and creating an inclusive learning environment. Wright said that mentorship is the number one component in the success of students.

“Sometimes mentorship just happens, but how can we make it more apart of the university’s culture?” Helen Marx, Ph.D. said during the “Mentorship Techniques for our Diverse Student Population” session.

During the session, professors and faculty discussed how they would develop mentorship relationships including intentionally approaching students to build relationships and making themselves available in highly populated student locations on campus like the student center and library.

Mentoring students can create a sense of belongingness, which according to Wright, students crave and drives their success.

A session called “Facilitating Difficult Discussions in Comfortable Environments” helped professors know how to tackle tough topics in the classroom. Controversial topics including race and religion can come up and to have a successful discussion, it should be approached and executed correctly. Sarah Roe, Ph.D., Cheryl Green, Ph.D. and Amal Abdel Raouf, Ph.D. led the discussion and explained that as an instructor, it is important before bringing up the difficult topics, to create a safe and respectful environment.

According to the professors, students can be more susceptible to share their thoughts and ideas when they are comfortable. “Imagine if you just met someone in the grocery store and they want to talk to you about abortion,” Roe said.

The instructors are to thoroughly prepare for the discussion by getting to know their audience, taking into consideration age, time of class and how the class generally engages in discussion, according to Roe.

Another part of knowing one’s audience is understanding what they could be dealing with outside of the classroom. College students more than ever are experiencing mental health issues which in turn affects their education. According to the American College Health Association, from 2009-2018, there was a 29 percent increase in overwhelming anxiety, a 36 percent increase in significant depression, and a 102 percent increase in seriously considering suicide.

Steven Hoffer, Ph.D, and Mark Cameron, Ph.D., encourage professors and faculty in the “Building Empathy in the Classroom: Paying Attention to Mental Health” session to not only manage the different issues that students are suffering from but to also be empathetic to the various situations.

“I think empathy is hard,” Cameron said. “I don’t know that everyone feels like that’s their job.” Hoffer and Cameron said rather than react to students with irritation, professors should put themselves in their students’ shoes and show students a caring and compassionate adult.

Inclusion was discussed in the “Role of White Accountability Group Work” session. Wright noted that Generation Z is the most racially diverse generation. According to Data USA, 56.7 percent of students on Southern’s campus are white, while 15.3 percent are black or African American and 14.2 percent are Hispanic or Latino. Because of this large gap, the sessions taught that it is important for white students and professors to create a sense of belongingness for the minority students and to resist microaggressions.

“This idea of promoting equity resides within our student population,” Wright said. “There is indeed a correlation between promoting equity and academic success.”

“Building Empathy in the Classroom: Paying Attention to Mental Health” session was led by Steven Hoffer, Ph.D and Mark Cameron, Ph.D. They encouraged faculty to be empathetic to their students and their various situations in Engleman Hall at Southern on Jan 16.

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