Friday, February 25, 2011

Qualitative Methods!

The Qualitative Methods in Psychology course is required for all psychology majors at Clark University. Because it is required, it seems that there is a split in opinion about how much students enjoy this class, especially because it's definitely been taught differently than any other course I've taken at Clark. The semester is divided into two projects: the first is a participant observation project, and the second is an interview project. My professor has set up the course so that there are no midterm or final exams, but rather a quiz every class on the readings.

There seems to be little question about the value of this course: it's definitely important because it teaches students that there is more to psychological research than quantitative methods (like surveys & manipulated experiments). It has helped me to understand the importance of qualitative research, especially in regards to creating and developing theories. Spending time in the field (I chose to observe in the Clark bistro) has been frustrating yet beneficial; frustrating because it was time-consuming to observe, but beneficial because the readings functioned well as supplemental and explanatory materials, working hand-in-hand with the in-field work.

But it hasn't been quite so simple. Many students are disgruntled about the overall lack of direction (the observation assignment was very open to interpretation, especially in regards to what students desired to spend their time examining), and at the same time, many are pleased by the flexibility. Overall I enjoyed this project despite it not being quite compatible with what I imagine my ideal learning style to be. In addition to our class periods we had weekly discussions led by our PLAs (Peer Learning Assistants), and I found those to be very helpful; a comfortable place to discuss and gain clarifications.

This weekend I will begin work on my final observation report (ten pages or so), outlining my experiences with this project and tying in the course readings and discussions. And right after Spring Break we'll jump into the interview project! I am rather excited for this one; the elderly, as a group, are probably my favorite type of people.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I get Chai with a Little Help From My Friends

(Here's a wiki explanation of the Hebrew letter Chai, for those who are unfamiliar)

I've just returned to Clark today; I spent the weekend at home in lovely Portland, Maine, celebrating my Dad's birthday. We drove back early this morning, and then I had time for a quick nap before attending my three Monday classes in a row (Astronomy002 followed by Human Sexuality, then topped off with Intro to the Hebrew Bible II). My classes were interesting, but I feel a bit over-tired/too busy. The last verse of the "Monday, Monday" lyrics feel oh-too-applicable today.

I would like to spend some time writing about Hebrew Bible II for this entry, because it is an indication of the continuation of my growing interest in Judaism. But it wasn't always this way! Before taking any Jewish studies courses at Clark, I felt somewhat averse to the whole concept of religion, finding it absurd and unnecessary (plus, I was a teenager). I was raised Jewish, but rebelled against religion following my Bat Mitzvah and confirmation. At Clark I took my first Jewish studies courses since religious school, and I found the university courses all rather enjoyable. The topic matter was familiar, but I was instead seeing the aspects of religious study as a spring-board to help me understand certain concepts that are somewhat prevalent in religion: why is there evil, and why do people suffer (examined in JS130: Evil & Suffering in Jewish Tradition)? How are our identities shaped by our histories, and which histories do we choose to identify with (examined in JS174: The Jewish Experience & Hist175: Holocaust Agency & Action)? And, how can writing communicate ideas (examined in JS123: Midrashic Tradition & JS118: Hebrew Bible II)?

These questions are somewhat prevalent in my mind, considering my interests in both psychology and writing. I no longer see religion as simply an institution of sorts, but rather an accomplice to the human condition, and an important agent in maintaining hope, faith, and community. The nitty-gritty rules and regulations of organized religion interest me less than the way that biblical texts and interpretations (midrash) are easily applicable to modern situations, and relevant to most lives. During JS123: Midrashic Tradition, Everett Fox was fond of saying that "the bible is a tool". Religion itself is tool that can be used to find meaning and comfort in modern situations. And, being someone who maintains compassionate interest in people, I find it a necessary and enjoyable topic to study.

Though it is small, Clark has excellent Jewish Studies courses; I have so far enjoyed all of the classes I've taken in that department. And, I honestly do not think I would have found a suitable and comfortable major/concentration combination had I not decided to attend Clark.

Anyway, that's all for now! Happy Monday/Presidents Day everyone! More updates to come soon on my  Qualitative Methods in Psychology project.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let's talk about Sex (ed.), Baby

I first experienced Clark University's acceptance towards sex through a couple of activities: Vox (Voices for Planned Parenthood)'s annual "Sexfest", an event used to promote sexual health, TOPICS (Training, Outreach, Prevention, Intervention, Counseling, and Support) annual "Sex and Chocolate", an event to discuss dating violence and promote sexual health, and through an event that took place last year called "I Heart Female Orgasm", a sex education program hosted by Marshall Miller & Dorian Solot (link to their website here).

Despite my previous exposure to sexual topics, I was still a bit hesitant going into PSYC143: Human Sexuality for reasons that I presume to be fairly understandable and common; sex is quite a taboo in American society and to have a course devoted to the subject feels equally appealing and terrifying. We jumped into the topic matter right away (we watched some video clips, talked about sexual practices in different societies and historical times), but I recall that I didn't truly feel discomfort until our second discussion section. After a brief discussion about a male sex survey in a magazine and its general lack of integrity (found here if anyone is interested), the TA prefaced a video clip by saying "okay, this is a documentary called Breasts. The video will contain images of topless women speaking about their experiences and feelings towards their own breasts". And as soon as she said that, I remember feeling an aching sort of resistance to the whole idea, like "whyyyy? Why must I view these topless women in a class where men are present? And anyway, isn't this stuff private and inappropriate, for each individual woman's eyes only?"

Instantly my natural reaction made me somewhat infuriated with myself. I have always considered myself a feminist, so to be feeling uncomfortable viewing a natural part of the female body made me more upset than anything else. And for me to instantly (though not continuously) assume that men wouldn't take it seriously, was equally as oppressive. Luckily I shook off my negative feelings and throughout watching the video my discomfort waned and I learned a bit about these women's experiences.

My professor, Abbie Goldberg, kindly insisted on meeting all of the students in our 41-person class so as to put faces to our names. I was able to speak with her briefly about my discomfort and she suggested that I try to determine why exactly I maintain this feeling of discomfort while viewing these images. I recall she said something along the lines of "you probably wouldn't feel uncomfortable viewing noses, so why do you while viewing breasts?"

I am now seeing this class as, of course, an informative class that delves into the psychology and anatomy of human sexuality. In addition to this, however, I am beginning to see this class as an opportunity to push out of my comfort zone and reclaim ideals that have always been easier to maintain in theory rather than practice, e.g. viewing a nude body as something that is beautiful rather than bizarre or sexualized. I aspire, through this class, to learn much and feel more comfortable with the topic of sexuality, hopefully lessening the burdensome sort of reservations that have been placed on otherwise common and healthy human actions.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snowy Jewish Groundhogs

Today is a snow day of sorts! By that I mean: it's definitely been snowing...

A bunch of people have had their classes canceled, but I suppose some of my professors are just especially hardy. Human Sexuality was canceled today, but I still had to trudge through the snow/ice to Astronomy for a quiz. My day was brightened when I saw a Jewish groundhog dancing to techno music in the University Center; sources in Hillel tell me that they made up a word for Groundhog Day in Hebrew, and they're celebrating by having a person in a groundhog suit (and yarmulke) hand out hot chocolate to students. If you google "Yom HaMarmitah" Clark Hillel is the first result to show up! Check out an article about it here.

My observation project for Qualitative Methods has been going well so far; I've been spending about an hour outside of class observing people per week. It's been somewhat frustrating to schedule around all the snow, but overall it's an interesting project. I seem to be on the right track (at least, so far my check-ins have been going well) so I still feel rather indifferent about the overall lack of direction. The class seems to be set up to focus mostly on the projects, with the readings acting as supplemental materials to help explain issues we might come across out in the field; differentiation between qualitative/quantitative methods, perception of those we view (this is a really interesting article that deals with the perception of the Nacirema Tribe, if anyone is interested - try to figure out what they're really talking about). The professor uses a lot of media in order to facilitate our discussion, which has been enjoyable so far.

In fact, my Human Sexuality professor has been using a lot of media in lectures, as well. Recently we watched a clip from the movie Kinsey, which was interesting/more humorous than I expected. I think I will watch the remainder of the film on my own time, if I can spare some.

Much of my time has been spent doing things, co-president things (whee! I'm a co-president), with/for the Film Society (CUFS): we've been planning a lot of co-sponsorships and events for the Spring semester! We will be co-sponsoring with Black Student Union, Open, Vox, Clark Musical Theater, and others. And we're planning a James Bond night! With mock-tails and cards.

I have few updates from Hebrew Bible II at this point, but I'm certain that I'll have more to say about it once we delve deeper into the material. So far we've examined a bit of Amos, with particular focus on the pattern of poetry in the bible: a line that states something, followed directly by a second line that either repeats the concept previously stated, or contrasts it. In this way the lines reinforce the concept; "like an idea opening up like a flower", said my professor.

Today is a good day to drink tea and catch up on homework! Happy Groundhog Day, everyone! Just remember, if you get caught re-living the same day over and over again just like Bill Murray's character in the movie Groundhog Day, be sure to do something useful with your extra time, like learn to play the piano.