Exploring College Men's Perceptions about Interacting with Faculty beyond the Classroom

Article excerpt

This article documents the results of a qualitative study of the perceptions of 14 first-semester college men about interacting with faculty outside of class. The research site was a large, public doctoral extensive institution in the Midwest. Each of the men participated in three depth interviews (Miller & Crabtree, 2004) that sought to explore the students' in-class experiences they had with faculty members, and their decisions about potential out-of-class interactions with professors. The findings present observations about perceived gains from interacting with faculty, identify key factors that help or hinder interactions, and shed light on decisions men made about interacting with faculty during the first semester. The results suggest that men are uncertain about the resource faculty members provide and that they display complex help-seeking behaviors. Implications and recommendations for college educators are discussed.

Introduction

For decades, American research institutions have been criticized for delivering an undergraduate experience that appears to be in dire need of improvement (Kuh, 1999). Substantive interactions between faculty and students, which seem particularly challenging at large research universities, have been one of the largest targets of such disparagement (Kuh, 2001). The quality of studentfaculty relationships significantly impacts a myriad of student outcomes, including satisfaction with the college experience, academic achievement, personal and intellectual development, and persistence (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

Most of the interactions between students and faculty are reserved for the classroom; however, the opportunities for faculty to have an impact on students do not end when they part ways after class. To the contrary, research asserts that many meaningful interactions between faculty and students take place beyond the classroom, such as during faculty office hours, advising sessions, or chance encounters on campus (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt, & Associates, 2005).

Interactions with faculty beyond the classroom may be particularly problematic for male undergraduates. Some suggest men may be a new at-risk student population in higher education (Kellom, 2004). Reasons for this include lower male college enrollment (Manzo, 2004) and a slower time to degree completion than women (Crissman Ishler, 2005). Men were found to interact less frequendy and less positively with faculty (Sax, Bryant, & Harper, 2005). Men seek help from student and academic affairs services less often than women (Kellom). Continued research about men and their experiences in college is needed to more thoroughly understand the apparent plight of men and its potential causes.

Relevant Literature

Two categories of the literature are specifically relevant to research on male student interactions with faculty outside of class. The first category encompasses a large body of literature that deals specifically with the nature, frequency, and quality of student- faculty interaction as well as interpersonal factors that determine student-faculty interaction. The second category consists of literature that discusses male identity development as it relates to having contact with faculty members outside of class. This body of literature is smaller than the first, especially in terms of college men's development and experiences; however, in recent years research on college men has become more widespread. To guide this literature review I consulted Cotten and Wilson's (2006) study because of its similarity in topic, methodology, and results.

Student-Faculty Interaction

Research on student-faculty interaction beyond the classroom has often discussed the nature, frequency, quality, and overall outcomes of such interactions. Jaasma and Koper (1999) found that interactions were typically very brief: an average visit to a faculty office only lasted 2.4 minutes, while the average informal interaction was even shorter (1. …