I found this recent report interesting, if unsurprising — that today’s freshmen are more stressed than ever.
What I really found intriguing, though, was how important to women’s mental health it is for their professors to take them seriously.
From The New York Times:
Linda Sax, a professor of education at U.C.L.A. and former director of the freshman study who uses the data in research about college gender gaps, said the gap between men and women on emotional well-being was one of the largest in the survey.
“One aspect of it is how women and men spent their leisure time,” she said. “Men tend to find more time for leisure and activities that relieve stress, like exercise and sports, while women tend to take on more responsibilities, like volunteer work and helping out with their family, that don’t relieve stress.”
In addition, Professor Sax has explored the role of the faculty in college students’ emotional health, and found that interactions with faculty members were particularly salient for women. Negative interactions had a greater impact on their mental health.
“Women’s sense of emotional well-being was more closely tied to how they felt the faculty treated them,” she said. “It wasn’t so much the level of contact as whether they felt they were being taken seriously by the professor. If not, it was more detrimental to women than to men.”
She added: “And while men who challenged their professor’s ideas in class had a decline in stress, for women it was associated with a decline in well-being.”
For many young women, college is their first experience of being taken seriously by an adult teacher, and one whose personal and subjective ranking of them can affect their future career — certainly for anyone hoping to enter medicine, law or other professions.
Yet those professors aren’t subject to parental interference or suasion, sometimes thousands of miles distant from any intervening influence.
It’s then up to young women to stand up for their own ideas and opinions, fighting for them verbally and in writing. Alone.
If you’ve been raised, as many young women still are, to defer to authority and especially male authority, challenging it can feel terrifying or even impossible. But any woman with serious intellectual or political ambitions must acquire this essential skill.
One reason women still shy away from STEM work (science, technology, engineering and math) is the paucity of female professors whose own behavior, and intellectual confidence, serve as powerful models. I’ve had young w0men write to me personally in despair after having male classmates, or professors, scoff or sneer at them in these male-dominated classrooms. The easiest choice is to flee, a choice that only deprives us all of terrific talent and diversity down the road.
Look at a Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or Indra Nooyi or Carol Tome or Angela Merkel. Every woman who hopes to attain and exercise power and authority must become comfortable expressing her ideas publicly — which often includes hearing them torn to pieces — and figuring out the next step after that.
Bright, confident women scare the hell out of many people.
But staying silent and docile is not an option.
Ladies, speak up!