SOC 281: Adolescence Under the Microscope
This sociology course combined developmental psychology, anthropology and sociology in the study of adolescence, taught by David Novack and his wife, Lesley Novack. "I call it academic surround-sound," said David. "These are different disciplinary perspectives that are very complementary within the same course."
The students observed adolescents in different venues such as the prom, church, restaurants and middle school. They produced three reports on their observations, wrote essays, hashed things out in class, and then collaborated on a final project, a creative analysis of the consequences of the computer age on interaction and identity.
Pauline Marting '16, an English and art history double major, belonged to the team that examined an app called Yik Yak, which enables anyone within a 1.5-mile radius of W&L to anonymously post anything they want about anyone. "People are ridiculed and stigmatized by it, and we believe it's a truly dangerous phone app and extremely detrimental to any adolescent's emerging identity as an adult," said Marting. "It negatively affects the Washington and Lee community and the transition from adolescence to adulthood overall."
As people have begun communicating more and more in little snippets of self through various media, there is a real concern about what that does to a sense of a coherent, unitary self and its effect on interactions. "We know that in face-to-face interaction, as much as 75 percent of what we convey to one another is non- verbal," said David. "So what happens to the nature of interaction, what happens to self-identification?"
Randl Dent '15 and her teammates investigated how Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest influence adolescent identity development. "We learned that peers, through social media, can help support one another, which allows for adolescents to have positive views of each other and themselves," said Dent, a psychology and sociology/anthropology double major. "The one particular thing I will take from this course and never forget is that social media and technology should be used with moderation. No technology will be able to fully satisfy our need for human connection and intimacy."
The course also focused on the impact of the new extended period of adolescence, referred to as emerging adulthood, which can last until one's late 20s. The so-called nurture paradox is partly responsible for this phenomenon, according to the Novacks. "A lot of these children are so coddled that they don't learn to do things on their own," said Lesley.
At the other end of the scale, she noted, many teenagers are socialized and supervised by their peers, not adults. The trend is evident in college fraternities, said David. "The people training first-year students about how to become adult men are their fraternity brothers, and I'm not sure those peers are the best models for moving toward adulthood," he said.
The answer lies in the middle, said the Novacks, in what they call "scaffolding." They think W&L provides scaffolding with the Honor System, which "basically treats students like adults-we trust them to be responsible and honest and have a certain sense of personal integrity," said David. "Students constantly say that they like the trust, and that faculty treat them with respect and dignity."
In Action People and Programs
Washington and Lee fosters an atmosphere of self-discovery and an environment where anything is possible. From research theses to fully student-led theater productions, the University makes it easy for students to follow their dreams. Every year, students present research proposals to faculty and pursue hypotheses in both the sciences and the arts. Student research can occur both on campus and off, with research grants specifically designated for both areas.
With an average class size of 16, it's easy to find faculty advisors for both major projects and new clubs. Many students propose self-guided majors or pursue a double-or even triple-major, given the inclusive nature of a liberal arts education. This provides students with the opportunity to discover their passions, and also with the support to pursue them.
The University's four-week Spring Term is designed to be transformative. The courses offered during the term are set up with the dream-class concept in mind, remarkable examples of creative and expansive teaching: studying painting in Italy; the Freedom Rides throughout the South; the physics of music; code-breaking in mathematics and history; aerial dance; and many, many more. Rigorous internships and co-curricular programs like Mock Convention, the Venture Club and the Williams Investment Society immerse students in real-world learning situations that bring the concepts they've studied in the classroom to life.
At a Glance Facts and Figures
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