Dartmouth Researchers Finds a Persistent “Chilly Climate” for Women in College Classrooms

Many studies over the past decades have shown that women students in college classrooms tend to speak less often than their male counterparts. A new study shows that despite women’s gains in higher education, women still do not speak in class as much as men.

Jennifer J. Lee

The study involved 95 hours of observations in nine classrooms across multiple disciplines at Dartmouth College. Five of the nine classes had a majority of women students. The research was conducted by Jennifer J. Lee for her senior thesis in sociology. The co-author of the article is Janice McCabe, an associate professor of sociology and Lee’s thesis adviser. Lee is now a graduate student at Indiana University

The researchers found that men students speak 1.6 times as often as women in college classrooms. When students didn’t have to raise their hands to participate in class, men spoke three times more often than women.

The authors found that men also are more likely than women to speak out without raising their hands, interrupt, and engage in prolonged conversations during class. They also noticed that men’s language tended to be assertive, whereas women’s was hesitant and apologetic.

The authors contend that “these gendered classroom participation patterns perpetuate gender status hierarchies.” They argue that “the chilly climate is an underexplored mechanism for the stalled gender revolution.”

Janice McCabe

Dr. McCabe notes that “our results demonstrate that women’s voices still may not be heard, and that gender hierarchies continue to persist. Once students and professors are cognizant of these gender dynamics in the classroom, it is easier to change them.”

The full study, “Who Speaks and Who Listens: Revisiting the Chilly Climate in College Classrooms,” was published on the website of the journal Gender & Society. It may be accessed here.

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