While I am an economics major and can usually be seen in Mudd studying for my next macro or calc exam, I still make sure to take lots of courses outside my major, and I love the fact that Oberlin encourages me to do so. One such class on my schedule this semester is Social Psychology. This course is absolutely fascinating, and I look forward to Professor Cindy Frantz's lectures every Tuesday and Thursday to see what interesting facts I'll learn about how humans behave in social situations.
Earlier this month, we were tasked with performing a "field project" to apply what we learned in class to everyday life by experimentally testing for and analyzing a social psychology concept. I opted to join the "helping behavior" group, and we decided to test whether the likelihood of receiving help from a stranger is associated with the gender of the person who needs help.
To test this, we planned to have one group member "casually" drop ten pieces of paper on the ground in the science center atrium, and see if the number of bystanders who helped differed depending on the group member's gender. Embarassingly, the results were rather inconclusive: no one helped any of the group members pick up papers, regardless of whether they were men or women.
We explored possible reasons for this bleak conclusion: Do Obies not care about their peers? Are people at Oberlin too cold and self-involved to help someone in need? Was Ben too dramatic when he dropped his papers on the ground?
A picture of me dropping papers in the science center atrium (courtesy of clipart).
Ultimately, we decided the first few extrapolations were absolute hogwash, and there were clearly just some issues with the experiment itself (i.e my acting abilities). Still, when discussing the results with my friend, she asked, "Do you think people at Oberlin are just less willing to help than people at other schools?"
For some reason, that line really got me thinking about an entirely different type of helping behavior--the support we receive as Obies from so many different people across campus, that extends far beyond simply picking up a couple papers (but don't worry, we do that too!).
At Oberlin, TA's are not your only line of support in a difficult class--which is probably a good thing, since most classes don't even have TA's! However, at Oberlin we have a really cool program where you can get a peer tutor for just about any class, enabling you to meet one on one with someone who has taken the course previously and received a good grade. The best part? It's free! And the tutors get paid by the college, so it's a win-win for everyone.
This brings me to perhaps the most important form of support we receive as Obies: our Professors. At Oberlin, professors are totally willing--indeed, they want--to help students when they need it. I have taken a sociology course with the same professor for the past two semesters, and every single time we have a paper due, I go to his office hours to talk over my draft and get his feedback. Likewise, in the Finance and Investment club, a macroeconomics professor recently agreed to critique an investment pitch we formulated and to offer his thoughts on the stock. This certainly extends beyond the classroom as well. I always feel that I can go to my advisor (who happens to be the chair of the Econ department) with any questions I have--whether it pertains to my current academic trajectory, my post-Oberlin plan, or just about anything else.
You simply don't see such an eagerness to help individual students at larger schools, where professors are preoccupied with their graduate students' work. In fact, this was one of the primary reasons I decided to come to Oberlin in the first place. I never feel that there is some sort of glass wall standing between me and a faculty member I want to contact; I can always just email them directly and set up a time to meet.
The accessibility of our faculty is something I definitely take for granted on a daily basis. Still, I'm often reminded how special this is when talking to my friends who go to large state schools; with hundreds of people in each class, I think it's safe to say that meeting one-on-one with a professor for an extended time is pretty much out of the question.