Ethnography: Duke’s Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) Program

June 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

One thing I have been looking into in my study of the sophomore year experience is the university response to increased scholarship on how to help sophomores succeed. For most institutions, the “transition initiatives” predicated on studies of student development, are driven by the desire to increase retention rates (Hunter et al., 4). Scholars and student affairs staff at universities have increasingly recognized that second year issues such as decreased administrative support, and selection of an academic major,  are significant to retention efforts because of their impact on student success and persistence to graduation (Tobolowsky and Cox, v). As a result, the number of colleges with initiatives dedicated to second year issues more than tripled between 2000 and 2007 (Tobolowsky and Cox v).

Duke University has had a programming initiative called Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) for the past five years. However, according to Jenni Davidson, the SYE Coordinator at Duke whom I have mentioned in a previous post, the University has high retention rates meaning that retention is not the priority of Duke’s second year initiative. However, good retention does not mean that there are not similar second year issues faced by Duke sophomores and I was interested to hear how Jenni identified the goal of SYE.

Jenni responded that “each year in college is a different transition,” and she went on to outline the “typical” four-year time line of a Duke student’s career and the university organizations that typically offers support during each year’s transition. First year students are making the adjustment to college—First-year Advisory Counselors (FACs), First Year Experience (FYE), Devil’s After Dark, and academic resources provide a highly specified support system for freshmen. Juniors are most likely to study abroad and therefore have a smaller presence on campus. Additionally, juniors who are applying for summer internships are often getting support from the career office. The career office also offers support for seniors who are looking for post-graduation employment. But the alumni association also starts planning events for the seniors throughout the year. That left the sophomores. And the purpose of SYE Jenni said, was to provide a university presence for the sophomores, and be a service for students looking for something different.

The program funds events exclusively for sophomores to help reinforce a sense of class unity. Events include major panels and faculty lunches, but also tickets to see plays at the Durham Performing Arts Center, or Full Frame Film Festival. One thing I noticed was that while SYE works towards connecting sophomores with other sophomores, and connecting sophomores to faculty, it does not currently make an effort to forge connections with students in the other classes, though Jenni did mention hopes of expanding SYE to better facilitate peer mentoring between upperclassmen and sophomores. In other aspects of my research, I have found that upperclassmen prove to be valuable resources for sophomores whether it’s during their major considerations, or simply drawing them into greater involvement in campus organizations.


Works Cited:

Hunter, Mary Stuart, Barbara F. Tobolowsky, John N. Gardner and Associates. Helping Sophomores Succeed: Understanding the Second-Year Experience. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010).

Tobolowsky, Barbara F. and Bradley E. Cox. Shedding Light on Sophomores: An Exploration of the Second College Year. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition., 2007).


Project: What some men think

June 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is one of the last minute discoveries that I have found. I was doing my last round of hunting for something useful on the internet, mainly the bloggers who were posting something about marriage and women’s position in the society. This blog post was written by a male writer. I was unable to find out much about the writer, but the content itself was so obvious without the writer’s background. This is what some people think about Korean women marrying:

“First, if you are twenty seven, acknowledge that this is the last year you ‘can be sold compared to your objective worth’ and hurry up and hold on to a nice guy. … Let’s say you are twenty eight. Accept that all the premiums of being young have expired. Collect yourself, and realize that sex is the only thing that you can sell. Kind this in mind, and don’t act so promiscuous, but don’t act too reserved either. Go for the ones that have a well-rounded personality and a stable job. If they are not spendthrifts or lunatics, you should be happy. Choose the one with the most money. … Twenty-nine and thirty are when you should be shit-scared. If you have a boyfriend now, just go with him unless he is too big a bitch. A Benz won’t be coming for you when you break up with him. After that, trust your mother. Now you won’t get the love-at-first-sight and no matter how open you become to your choices, all you are going to get are middle-aged men with fat necks and big stomachs. If you meet someone with an acceptable personality and enough money to rent a house, you hit the jackpot, so be thankful. If your mother doesn’t go to church, at least you should go. Don’t even try to find someone at work. Go to church.”

What I found more surprising than the post itself was that none of the comments criticized or stood up against such insult, and there were female commenters! Considering that it is a personal blog and most people who visit it are close acquaintances of the writer, it is understandable, but I still found it hard to grasp the male chauvinism. No, I do not think that this is what men generally think. I do think that a lot of men have grown to accept women in some parts of the society or at least not feel repulsive. However, I have also realized that there are men who cannot help but say hurtful things. Not limited to this blog post but it playing a crucial role, the research I have done made me realize how little women’s effort in trying to improve their status have actually worked in people’s minds. A lot of visible differences have been present. A big part would be the rising presence of women in the working environment and their social success. However, changes cannot happen as easily in people’s heart as it can be with laws and technical changes in the institution.

Rural Gentrification

June 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week, in Hines’ “Rural Gentrification,” we discussed the colonization of rural communities and small-tows by members of the ex-urban middle class.  Hines states, “Rural gentrification is best understood as the product of both continuity and change relative to the ideas/practices of Modernity and current postindustrialization.”  Hines discussed his research with four men from around the country that came from urban areas to a quieter place in Colorado.  Bringing their ideals together, Hines claims, “Members of modern middle class have aspirations to distinguish themselves as members of an emerging class faction through their emphasis upon the production and consumption of experiences.”

I found this article particularly interesting because it related to me in several ways. Growing up in a rural area for the majority of my life, I met a lot of people who would always talk about “getting out of here.”  Usually referring to a major city, these people had expectations to leave the small postindustrialization community that exists in small farmers factions.  This was contrary to Hines’ point, but in a way, it connects completely.  As Hines describes the members’ needs for the production and consumption of experiences, his point correlated to the people I knew from my hometown.  While completely the opposite, this was their own search for experiences as it was contrary to their original nature.  This addresses the specificity of human nature and plays against the subconscious’ want for a taking back to a simpler time. However, what might be chaos to one might be a paradise for the other.

Final Thoughts

June 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

This last week I finished my research by examining the statistics of homelessness in Durham as well as the demographics of the homeless crime throughout the city of Durham.  Observing the percentages of the overall homeless rate in Durham versus the average of the United States, it was useful to compare and the see the large difference homelessness in Durham compared to the national average.  Looking at the statistics found in the 2010 census, Durham experiences homeless rates that are almost seven times higher than the national average.  While the “chronic” homeless rate is approximately the same as other cities throughout the country, Durham has about seven times more people that experience homelessness at least once a year comparatively.  Furthermore, I researched the correlation between crime and homelessness in Durham and found a strong correlation between the two.  While the numbers have dropped significantly over the past few years, the correlation is still apparent and hints to one of the macroscopic problems of Durham’s crime scene.

Perhaps the most in depth research I conducted this week was on Durham’s Ten Year Plan Against Homelessness.  This plan, conducted by the Durham City Council, was not only used as a demographic study, but primarily as a solution to Durham’s high homeless rate.  While I conducted all my research for this topic online, I was enthralled to find the plethora of statistics that applied to my study.  This research provided a “new hope” aspect that I plan on incorporating into my paper.  Discussing the entire ten-year process of providing permanent housing to the “chronically” homeless in Durham, this plan showed the federal government’s conscientious response to the large problem in Durham.  Furthermore, I found out this plan is being conducted in accordance to Urban Ministries of Durham as well as a few other homeless organizations.  Surprisingly, it is also working to solve the social discrimination problem of Durham and is moving to eliminate the criminal record check boxes on the preliminary job application.  Establish this would provide the chance for an applicant to explain himself and make an impression before a prejudice forms from the man’s past.  Other approaches to stop social discrimination are being taken as well to eliminate public alienation in the community.

From this entire semester, I was able to take an introspective look at myself and reflect on many of the issues of the general public that I faced myself.  Conducting this study on the homeless, I was able to see what it is like on the other side of the sign and how it makes me feel to be alienated.  This study helped me recognize with the homeless men I talked to and open an empathetic heart to their needs.  It also refuted the common misconceptions of laziness among homeless people.  In closing, I was happy and thankful that I studied this topic because it really helped me take a closer look at myself by observing the daily lives of those less fortunate than me.

Review: “Retail Gentrification and Race”

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

In “Retail Gentrification and Race: the Case of Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon,” authors Sullivan and Shaw analyze the reactions of longtime residents of Portland’s Alberta Street to the gentrification of their neighborhood to understand the influence of race and social class over perception of the gentrification changes. According to Sullivan and Shaw’s findings, while some black longtime residents embraced the gentrification solely for reasons of improved shopping convenience and aesthetics, many other black residents resent the new white business that they perceive as excluding and displacing them, confirming that race is a factor in attitudes towards gentrification. The influence of race is further exemplified by the mainstream white residents, who show undifferentiated support for all new white businesses. They believe that all white businesses will bring cultural improvement, including bohemian ones, likely due to the perception that they are “whitening” the neighborhood. On the other hand, social class is the most important factor in the opinions of white bohemian residents. While they greatly support new businesses that reflect their own lifestyle, such as coffee shops, they disdain the more expensive ones that cater to mainstream white residents.

Because gentrification of neighborhoods often evokes feelings of displacement amongst the racial minority and offers services that are not desired, it is often viewed unfavorably by many longtime residents. Sullivan and Shaw use this information to argue against the “creative city” image used by cities such as Portland to attract the bohemian “creative class” to “increase diversity.” In truth, while “creative gentrification” appeals to both mainstream and bohemian whites, it thwarts the goal of increased diversity by excluding the neighborhoods’ longtime black residents.

Ethnography Project: Sophomore Experience Survey

June 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

In the last week I have been collecting the answers to an electronic survey I sent out to a number of Duke students ranging from the class of 2010 (graduated a year ago) to the class of 2013 (just completed their sophomore year) about their experience sophomore year. I sent out the survey last Saturday after receiving the suggestion while presenting my progress on my project, and I closed it yesterday, after a week.

Part of the survey was adapted from a large-scale 2007 Sophomore Experiences Survey discussed by Laurie Schreiner in “Factors That Contribute to Sophomore Success and Satisfaction.” This survey collected responses from 2,856 sophomores at twenty-six four-year institutions. While Schreiner addresses the reasons limitations for generalizing the findings to all sophomores across all institutions, I thought that this would be a good starting point for describing the Duke sophomore experience.

However I did not use the entire survey, nor did I use only this survey. I selected the questions I thought were most relevant, added some Duke specific questions, and added some text box follow up questions which I thought was appropriate given my smaller sample size.

While I recognize that a survey is less than ideal, and personal interaction and observation is preferable, I think that it will have been helpful to me in expanding my subject pool and increasing my access to the thoughts of a variety of people. In addition, I asked respondents who were willing to provide me with contact information—email—to meet me for follow up questions individually or in focus groups. I did not get as many volunteers as I may have hoped for this week, but I also recognize that those who were unwilling to meet may have been deterred by the lack of anonymity.

When constructing my survey, I considered asking subjects to email me outside of the survey so that I could speak to them in person, and also be able to promise anonymity for their survey responses. Instead, I chose to request people who were willing to meet to provide their email address in the electronic form, because I thought this had two advantages—it allowed me to tailor follow up questions to interesting survey responses in individual follow up meetings, and it left me with the responsibility of contacting them rather than waiting for emails, which in my experience, can drastically decrease volunteers.

There were a few questions, which I chose to keep exactly word for word as they were listed in survey Shreiner analyzes because they had qualitative answer styles, which I am interested to compare to the national averages according to the 2007 survey. I don’t intend to perform any sort of critical comparison of the responses to the two surveys, but I still thought it would be interesting to see how my respondents compared to the respondents to the national survey on a few questions which ask you to place yourself on a numbered scale signifying your level of satisfaction, or sense of achievement.

Ethnography: The Role of Community in the Inclusion of Chinese-Americans

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Although my research clearly exemplifies that Chinese-Americans are largely excluded in racially and culturally homogenous communities, there is no clear indication as to whether they faced rejection on account of their ethnic difference or their cultural differences. Were they outcasts because their Chinese culture deviated from the community norm, or simply because they were minority faces in a white community? To answer this question, I conducted an informal interview with Blanca*, a Venezuelan immigrant who attended school and lived in the same neighborhood as Derek.

Despite being a Hispanic minority in a predominately white community, Blanca was able to achieve a fairly high degree of acceptance. “Sure, I was teased a bit when I was really little,” she recalls. “I mean, I was a Hispanic face in an elementary school that, believe me, didn’t have a whole lot of Hispanics. But it was all immature childish stuff. But I think I fit into the community for the most part. I was able to find a group of people I really liked and felt like I belonged to.”

Though she considered herself to be an included member of the community, she also readily agreed with Derek’s idea that, due to the homogeny, there existed a narrow set a standards, or what he called a “mold,” that the people were expected to adhere to. “Yes, I would say there was a sort of ‘mold’ everyone was supposed to fit into,” she acknowledges, “and I guess I kind of fit that ‘mold.’ I am Christian, which is pretty important in a Bible belt community. I’m also a political conservative in a community that was much more conservative than [the Chinese-Americans] would have liked it to be. And Hispanic culture in general is more similar to the local American culture than Chinese culture is. So I probably did fit in better.”

Blanca’s testimony supports the idea that the exclusion Chinese-Americans faced within the community was the result of cultural differences, not ethnic differences. She was readily accepted by the predominately white community regardless of her minority status. Blanca’s native Venezuelan culture was also accepted due to perceived similarities to the local culture, such as common Western origins and, most importantly, shared emphasis on Christian faith and principles.  On the other hand, Chinese culture, with its Eastern and non-Christian origins, were regarded as too exotic and divergent from the community norms to be embraced.  In order to gain acceptance into the community, the Chinese-American would have to embrace the local culture.

Derek’s family later left the community where he grew up with Blanca and relocated to an upper-middle class community in North Carolina. While the North Carolina community was still predominately white, Derek recalls there a much wider range of cultural diversity. “It wasn’t like where I used to live, where families had lived in the same town for generations. A lot of people I knew in [North Carolina] had parents who were European immigrants. Or they had recently moved in from other parts of the country.” His new community had a much greater influx of people of varying cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs, creating an environment that Derek blended into with much more ease.

*Name has been changed