Queens College is a prestige CUNY college that I am fortunate to experience and attend to. It even more interesting to explore a different aspect of Queens College to gain a better understanding and see the dynamics of how certain things form or work here, as an anthropologist doing ethnographic fieldwork. An anthropologist is a person who studies anthropology, the full scope of human diversity, past and present, and the application of that knowledge to help people of different backgrounds better.
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A type of anthropology is ethnographic fieldwork, a primary research strategy in cultural anthropology typically involving living and interacting with a community of people over an extended period to better understand their lives. I will like to study a class on a college setting to examine social norms (e.g. Ideas or rules about how people should behave in particular situations or toward certain other people), structure, and its culture.
My ethnographic fieldwork needs a site; so I chose to do my study at Queens College. Founded in 1937, Queens College has not only become one of top CUNY colleges it is also the most diverse and affordable CUNY Colleges. Queens College has over 14 buildings filled with 19,866 students (16,680 undergraduates and 3,186 graduates). In addition, there are few well-known building such as Jefferson Hall (formally Jamaica Academy), Remsen Hall (a four-story laboratory and classroom building dedicated to Biochemistry and Chemistry department), Klapper Hal too (named after the first President of Queens College, Paul Klapper) and Powdermaker Hall (all technology-based classroom). It is also one out of three CUNY colleges (beside City College and Hunter) that has dormitories called the Summit apartments which opened in 2009. Today, Queens College has an 80-acre grass-covered campus located in Flushing, Queens. It offers academic programs for both day and evening courses like Arts and Humanities; Mathematics; Natural Sciences; as well the Social Sciences; and Education towards two degrees, the Bachelors and Master’s degree. As described Queens College was an ideal site to study due to its history, its good reputation, and my own current enrollment here. Nonetheless, Queens College is a fairly large campus so I needed to narrow it down to something smaller and stable. There were many buildings and activities to choose from but only one caught my eye, the Queens Hall building. Although not mentioned above, Queens Hall is vastly known but not by that name, Queens Hall was once CUNY School of Law, a law school located on Queens College’s property but was not a part of College it was an entity on its own. By 2012, CUNY School of Law moved to Long Island City, Queens to be closer to gain more space and be by an actual courthouse. Queens College, therefore, allotted the building and renamed the buildings, Queens Hall, where it now holds various elective courses especially for language.
Although, Queens Hall is smaller than studying the entire campus it is still broad. This building alone consists of at least ten classrooms in session daily. Still with a lot to observe and study I decided to narrow my choices down further to a place I spend most of my time, my classes specifically my Psychology of Sex Roles. I chose this class because not only is psychology my major, but I believe this class was interesting because living in the United States, in New York City sex roles and gender roles intersect and are at constant odds in a lot of places such as work, school, in the government, even church. There is an imbalance in gender roles, therefore, has to be defined and also sex roles that are deemed superior or simply different than the other due to social norms. So I thought it would be a great place to do my ethnographic fieldwork. This class takes place once a week every Thursdays from 9:10 am to 12:00 pm, once the material is taught the professor allows all students to leave the class (most of the time it is before 12:00 pm). The classroom is held in room 120 on the first floor of Queens Hall, in the middle of the hall on the right side of the building. In this classroom is a courthouse/ auditorium like style lecture hall. When you walk in the room the acoustics in the room are of high quality, your voice can be heard throughout the room. There are about two rows split in two in the back of the classroom facing forward when you walk in. The chairs are cushion chairs without a desk attachment, and then about a foot, ahead is another row with desk and bars separating that area from the rest of the room. Then there are three sections, the two sides left and right are adjacent with three rows and about two chairs to each desk. There faced slanted while the middle aisle faces straight ahead with five rows and they all have a desk but they are not attached to the chairs (cushion chair that is quite comfortable to sit in). Every desk has a skinny black microphone on each desk as well as the podium and except the chairs without a desk and the chairs separated by the bars in the back (but the microphones do not work except the one at the podium which the teacher does use during class sessions). They all have outlet ports aligned the front/top of the desk while the desk and the back have then under/front of their desk (they do work; students use to charge any of their electronic devices, such as phones, laptops, and or tablets). In this class, I wanted to study the culture, find the norms, and inhabit what it takes to be in a college class (the overall structure).
As a result, I observed the atmosphere, students were scattered no uniform way or assigned desk. The students got to choose every week was a different student, it seemed like whoever is the first to arrive will sit at their desired choice, while the latecomers would choose the closest seat they either saw or was the nearest to reframe attention or distracted the professor’s lecture. All the students typically will focus on the teacher (at the podium) or the PowerPoint slides the professor provided on the projector which contains notes about the course the students were taken. I chose to sit in the back the first day, so I can gain an overview of everyone in the classroom. I observed that the class can hold over sixty students but about thirty to forty students attended each class.
Next, I decided on the second day of observation to ask students to become an explicit subject of my study. I got two willing participants, T.M. and J.G. permission to observe and ask a question about their time/ experience in this class. They granted me their permission and I proceeded to make them, my focal point of the study. In the first day observing my participants they seem conscious of me observing their actions, they both seem more attentive than usual on the professor. I say this because before I asked them to specifically observe them, in the class prior they were both at different times of the class on their phones. This time T.M. never touched their phone and J.G. only touched it to check the time. They both took lots of notes and J.G. even participated by asking the professor a question. All and all, T.M. takes notes on a laptop, while J.G. takes notes in a notebook, and they both periodically look at their phones I did not want to distract them with questions from their note taking or overall focus of the class, so I asked question after the class ended. I asked questions like why you picked this class; what’s their major; what year of college are they in, what they hated about the class and what did they love or like about the class. T.M. said it is their junior year and they enjoyed the class overall. What they liked the most so far was that the professor explains sex roles through studies and history and explain why gender roles exist and are prevalent, what T.M. hates is that not everyone gets to see these facts and ideas so the stereotypes and social norms can end and we as people can actually be equal. T.M. is a business management major and minor in psychology. For J.G., it is their senior year and they took the class because their major is Psychology. What J.G. likes the most is that it’s a course that they attend once a week because I work I work full time it takes one day out of the week, not two and it seems like easy A. As far as the content in the class J.G. believes all things happen for a reason, so when it comes to gender roles just let it be, we all belong to different-sex due to biology and that’s for a reason it is how social norms form . J.G. hates that there is inequality between sex roles (male and female), my life would be easy in and out of the class if I was not always told that I’m giving certain privileges because of my gender or the sex roles I’ve been biologically given. They both seem to take this class internally and externally.
Moreover, the class has a structured “controlled culture. In this setting, the students must be seated and the teacher talks in front of the room at the podium on the microphone. In order to ask or discuss a question, a student must raise their hand (either hand is fine). Their hand is a symbol that represents them when they have something to say, it gives the teacher a signal as well as a sign of respect by not interrupted while the professor taught. Once called upon the class transitions their attention to the student. Overall, the room remains quiet as the professor talks throughout the class session, signifying that this is not an informal setting. This setting is formal and controlled by the professor. The professor has the power to determine how the class will conduct. The professor is firm but stern, occasionally smiling but asserting their point with neutral facial expression to even no expression at all. The professor is willing to repeat and given many examples if the context is not understood. Also, the room feels cold; hence why everyone wears something to cover the top half of their body, such as a sweater or jacket. Drinks and snacks are also permitted, as three hours seating may cause thirst or hunger in one spot. The students can go to the bathroom by simply getting up and leaving no need to raise their hand or inform the teacher as well as they The room doesn’t have a smell but it looks rather dull and dim since there are no lights on just window where that is the light let in. It gives the room a serious tone which shows there is not much to look at but the vivid colors coming from the PowerPoint slides on the big projector screen. Analytically, it shows me why Queens College is one of the top CUNY schools, from the classroom alone it shows the professionalism and encouragement that this is a place for students to learn. The professor has always come on time which shows the professionalism in their staff. It continues to highlight the great experience I’m having at QC they have great professors, excess to more help, other interest and extracurricular activities and big elaborate campus. I discover that life on QC is full of different social norms that I did not take notice to until this study we follow many social norms and are apart many cultures, simply in things we participate in or are a part of.
Theoretically, the social structure of the class relates to the Behaviorism, specifically radical behaviorism by B. F. Skinner. It is the concept known as operant conditioning from Thorndike’s “Law of Effect.” Operants are components of an organism behavior, in this case, it would be the students of this class in which sporadically emits suddenly before in order to condition. When operant conditioning, Operants who are given reinforcements, for instance, grades (by obtaining a C grade or above is the minimum to complete the course and for their major can also help them obtain credits to graduate where they can obtain a degree to attain better job or career). This reinforcement increases in the rate of recurrence and then becomes less control by the discriminative stimuli like noises from outside or latecomers walking in, prior to the response. If the reinforcement declines, the response will disappear. This is similar to my study because it shows natural evolutionary selection: in each case, apparently forward-looking or goal-directed developments are explained (away) by a preceding course of environmental “selection” among randomly varying evolutionary traits or, in the psychological case, behavioral tricks. So, colleges are psychologically using behavioral tricks to inhibit people’s behavior and goals. It makes people more civil and shows them how to conduct depending on the subject because the reinforcement is if you learn it here you will get paid for it one day and can be expert to at it. It shows that behavior plays a vital role in the class culture as we are geared by some reinforcement to learn and when it’s taken away we deter away from our goals all though it not physical it still is relevant and exist.
At last, this study of the classroom culture as college level was somewhat challenging but yet fulfilling. It was challenging due to the subject. Psychology is learning about the mind and throughout the day even a class period people change their behavior, demeanor, even their focus, but they still conducted in a certain way that they do not outside of that room, that is civilized, disciplined, and formal. Psychology class has layers from the classroom it is into the professor teaching to the students seating there to the context taught. It gave and well round view that Queens College is more than a college it’s a society filled with many groups that cultivate culture all around them. It was studied I perceive as undervalued but necessary to study.
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