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Southern Virginia University

Posts with the tag: Academics

  1. Why Dress Nice at Southern Virginia: An Open Letter to First Year Students

    August 30, 2016

    Dear First-Year Student,

    In the following weeks and perhaps months, you’re going to hear many messages about the dress and grooming standards at Southern Virginia University. If you just groaned in anticipation of that prospect, I understand. Most likely, you grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during which time your adult leaders regularly talked to you about the importance of dressing modestly. Given such a background, you might feel like we here at Southern Virginia are just doing more of the same—giving you that same message you’ve heard countless times before.

    That’s not what we’re doing.

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    Don’t get me wrong: we think that modesty is important. We value modesty. But we want to build on that message about your dress and grooming standards. To the modesty standard of your church upbringing we want to add a certain level of professionalism.  A professional standard. Not modest vs. immodest. Rather, formal vs. casual. Or perhaps, appropriate for the occasion vs. inappropriate for the occasion.   As a professor here at Southern Virginia, I really want you to understand this new standard. I want you to buy into it. Make it a part of who you are. Live it. If you do, it will make a difference for you, for your peers in the classroom we share, and for the Southern Virginia community as a whole.

    So let me share with you why dressing nice for class is a good idea. But before I do, I need to share two very basic ideas.

    Early in my high school career, the other kids started dressing in odd ways. Goth became a thing, along with Disco and other dress codes I’ve worked hard to forget. So all these kids started dressing differently, and they all gave the same reason.   “I’m just expressing who I am.”  In their minds, they were expressing their individuality by being different from the crowd. They were not sheep like the rest of us. They were individuals. They were unique.

    But developmental psychologists know better. They have shown that adolescents use dress to express their identity not by being different but by signaling their affiliation with (or desire to be affiliated with) a particular social group. For example, at my high school, I could tell who the jocks were by the clothes they wore—just like I could tell the preppies, the stoners, the surfers, the low-riders, and other groups. It wasn’t rocket science. Each group had their own dress code.   I’m guessing it was the same at your high school, right?  Consequently, scientific studies of the relationship between clothes and identity suggest that we dress to identify with a particular social group. Anyone who tells you different is probably still working out his or her identity issues—which is OK.

    Putting this into perspective, the Southern Virginia community is a social group with a particular dress code. You came here on purpose—knowing about that dress code. You electronically signed a document indicating that you were OK with our dress and grooming standards. And I trust you will hold to these standards with vigor. This doesn’t make you any less an individual. You’re not following the crowd. You’re not a mindless zombie. Instead, you’re someone who has intentionally chosen to adopt the identity of a Southern Virginia Knight, in the same way that you’ve chosen to be a Mormon, a Catholic, a soccer player, a thespian, a Marvel movies fanboy or whatever else makes you you.  To be a Knight and adopt the dress and grooming standards doesn’t mean you can’t be all those other things. We don’t want to take anything away from who you are, we want to add to who you are.

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    The second basic idea: the Southern Virginia dress and grooming standard includes the idea that context determines what is appropriate. So if you’re participating in 6:00 a.m. soccer practice, warmups would be appropriate clothing. No one is suggesting that you wear a button down dress shirt or blouse to play soccer. We all dress differently for different occasions: church, school, athletic competitions, dates, job interviews…. A typical wardrobe includes items specific to many different dress codes.  Putting this fact in context, the Southern Virginia standard isn’t, strictly speaking, one dress code as much as it is the idea that your dress is appropriate to the context and associated dress code (i.e. warm ups for soccer practice, nicer clothes for class).

    Now, why dress nice for class?  In a nutshell, what you wear affects you and the people around you in important ways. For example, cognitive psychologists have discovered that some cognitive processes are causally influenced by features of the physical body—including the clothes we wear. In one experiment[i], researchers had participants wear a white coat. Some participants were told the coat belonged to a doctor, while others were told the coat belonged to a painter. The participants were then given a tests of attention. Participants who thought they were wearing a doctor’s coat performed significantly better on the tests—they were better able to focus and maintain attention without being distracted by spurious details—compared to those who thought they were wearing a painter’s coat. In the study, wearing the coat seemed to be important. Simply seeing the coat hanging on the wall nearby didn’t impact that result. Weird, huh?

    There are many more studies addressing the way in which clothes affect us, and I’d love to share all the details of those studies—because I’m obsessed with social science research—but you’d probably get bored, so let me just cut to the chase. The more formal you dress, the more perceived social distance you create between yourself and others[ii]. Remember how I said we’re striving for a professional standard?  Well, such a standard necessarily involves a certain degree of social distance. But with that social distance comes: increased attention (the white lab coat study), an increased propensity to process information abstractly instead of concretely (which has implications for critical thinking and learning)[iii], and a greater perception of yourself as competent, productive, trustworthy, and authoritative[iv]. Alternatively, dressing more casually creates less social distance which has been associated with less attention, an increased propensity to process information in concrete terms, and a decreased perception of yourself as competent, productive, trustworthy, and authoritative. There’s more research documenting the connection between clothes and learning (i.e. students learn more and behave better when graduate student instructors dress more formally[v]), but you get the idea.

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    The big picture: good things will happen as you dress and groom yourself just a little more professionally in the classroom this semester. You’ll have more confidence, you’ll be able to focus better, and you’ll favor an abstract cognitive processing style which will predispose you to critical thinking.

    You don’t have to dress for a job interview every day. But “dressing for class” is a thing. Or at least it should be. And it should mean more to you than rolling out of bed and coming to class in the sweats you slept in. A little effort is all it takes. Modest. Clean. No extremes in style. Appropriate for the occasion. By small and simple things, great things are brought to pass, right?  And as the research shows, a little more effort beyond the minimum standard will lead to even greater gains.

    I hope you can understand and accept the invitation we’re offering here at Southern Virginia. We’re not simply restating the moral standards of your adolescence. We’re hoping to draw you into a more professional standard of dress and grooming that will enhance your classroom experience and prepare you for future work in professional settings. Here at Southern Virginia, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue your practice of casual dress in many appropriate settings, but don’t miss out on this new opportunity to expand your collegiate and professional identity via the adoption of a more professional dress and grooming standard.

    Respectfully,
    Dr. Rodriguez
    Associate Professor of Family and Child Development


    [i] Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 918–925.

    [ii] Michael L. Slepian, Simon N. Ferber, Joshua M. Gold, and Abraham M. Rutchick (2015) The cognitive consequences of formal clothing, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(6) 661-668.

    [iii] Ibid

    [iv] Peluchette, J. V. E., & Karl, K. (2007). The impact of workplace attire on employee self-perceptions. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 18, 345–360.

    [v] Roach, K. D. (1997). Effects of graduate teaching assistant attire on student learning, misbehaviors, and ratings of instruction, Communication Quarterly, 45,(3), 125-141

  2. The Constitution, Madison & Montpelier

    May 25, 2016
    Portrait of James Madison by Gilbert Stuart

    Portrait of James Madison by Gilbert Stuart

    This past semester I took a course called “The Legal and Intellectual History of the Constitution.” This course was engaging and powerful, and I learned not only about the Constitution as a document of history, but also about its absolute relevance in today’s political climate. Conversations in this course about constitutional interpretations and how those interpretations should be implemented in modern America were often fierce, and more than once — as should happen in a great course — my confidence in my own ideas slipped away long enough for me to appreciate, learn from, and even adopt some of the clever points of view of my classmates.

    I also gained a greater respect and admiration for the sacrifice and scholarship of America’s Founding Fathers (especially James Madison), who, in my mind, serve as history’s high points in political thought. Learning about these men and their lives inspired my own opinions and beliefs, and I often found myself, when deciding my position on an in-class conversation about the constitutionality of modern laws surrounding religious freedom, gay marriage, healthcare, or economic regulation, asking the question, “What would James Madison think about this?”

    As fantastic as the course was, however, the class meetings and conversations themselves were only one part — and perhaps even a lesser part — of the influence this course had in my life and education. What really moved the course to the forefront of my academic experience here at Southern Virginia were the extracurricular opportunities I had the privilege of participating in.

    One of those opportunities was to join an optional field trip to James Madison’s home at Montpelier (thanks to Professor Rachel Wilcox for organizing such an amazing event), only a short drive from Southern Virginia. While there, our class toured the very room in which Madison wrote the Virginia Plan, the document that served as the basis for the heated debates around congressional representation, among other things. In the classroom we often discussed the Virginia Plan at length, and even put on an imitative Constitutional Convention. We debated the same issues the Founding Fathers had, and argued over the achievements and shortcomings of Madison’s Virginia Plan. But I feel comfortable in saying that no one in the class truly understood the Virginia Plan’s importance or brilliance until we were able to put ourselves in the atmosphere of Madison’s home.

    MontpelierPic

    Another opportunity, after the semester was over, and this time just with my family, was to see the Constitution in the National Archives in Washington D.C. Because of my course with Professor Wilcox, I had analyzed the Constitution, debated over its place in modern society, written papers about my interpretations of certain sections of it — but I hardly realized its gravity and import until I took advantage of the opportunity to see it, a deceptively simple piece of parchment by looks, but by content one of the world’s most profound documents.

    Charters of Freedom Hall, National Archives, Washington

    Both of these trips, only short distances away from Southern Virginia, allowed me to to turn abstract education into tangible life experience. The classroom knowledge I received from Professor Wilcox, as is usual at our university, was incredible — coupled with the ability to enrich my studies through access to some of the amazing opportunities located near our university, it was life-changing.

    (Post by Braxton Boyer ’16. Photos courtesy of Philippa Hawker ’16 and Library of Congress.)

     

  3. Dance History, Humanities Professor Exemplifies Scholarship at Symposium

    May 23, 2016

    Debra-Sowell-Symposium-2One of the great things about Southern Virginia University is the opportunity to take interesting topics courses in a close-knit environment with professors who are experts in their fields. This past semester, Dr. Debra Sowell taught her special topics class in dance history again and also served as visiting scholar at the San Francisco Ballet.

    Last fall, representatives of the San Francisco Ballet contacted Dr. Sowell and invited her to come be a guest resident scholar at their two-day symposium.

    “It was fabulous,” Dr. Sowell said of the experience. “It was very exciting because as a visiting scholar, I was taken inside the company; I got to tour their … state-of-the-art facility for ballet — one of the best in America. And the day of the opening night I got to watch a company class. The company takes their daily class on the stage of the San Francisco Opera House. [Being] backstage that [close to] the dancers was so cool.”

    She also said that watching the company rehearse and perform was “nostalgic” for her because “it brought back memories of growing up and taking ballet for many years.” While she was there, she spoke to staff at the San Francisco Ballet and to students of the San Francisco Ballet School, as well as to parents, donors and members of the Christensen society. She discussed the history of the first full-length “Swan Lake” in America and the role of the Christensen brothers, about whom Dr. Sowell wrote the book “Christensen Brothers: An American Dance Epic.”

    “[The Christensen brothers] were interesting because they were descendants of Mormon pioneers who became impressive pioneers themselves in the history of American ballet,” she said. “One of the pioneering projections on which they collaborated was the first full-length ‘Swan Lake’ in America. Before that, only excerpts from the ballet had been performed. When the Christensens took this production on tour from San Francisco to the Northwest, a critic in Seattle referred to it as Tchaikovsky’s ‘practically never-seen four-act toe tragedy.’”

    Lew and Janet Reed in 1940, B, Lude

    After one of her speeches at the San Francisco Ballet School, she had a very meaningful experience with a member of the audience.

    “A couple approached me, and the husband said that his grandmother had been in the San Francisco Ballet under Willam Christensen,” she said. “This man had been in a bookstore years earlier and had found my book on the Christensens. Opening to the index, he found his grandmother’s name and turned to her picture. Reading about that era in the company and the significant role his grandmother had played had brought her memory closer to him. It was a touching moment for both of us.”

    In addition to speaking at the symposium, Dr. Sowell also stays active in her field in many other ways. Recently, she served as an adjudicator of the Founding Editors’ Award of Dance Chronicle, the leading journal in dance history. Dr. Sowell is also a member of the journal’s editorial board and regularly reviews manuscript submissions. Through her work with Dance Chronicle, she stays current on the latest research in her field, which in turn benefits her students by exposing them to a wealth of knowledge.

    She also provides her dance history students with direct learning experiences outside of the classroom. When I took the class several years ago, she led us on a course excursion to see a professional production of “Swan Lake” in Richmond. This past semester, she not only took her students to a dance performance in Lexington, but also had a special guest dance instructor, Marin Leggat Roper, visit campus to conduct a three-day workshop on dance, movement, and theatre choreography.

    Dr. Sowell truly exemplifies the university’s core value of scholarship. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such a knowledgeable, passionate scholar during my time at Southern Virginia. I encourage all current and incoming students to find elective courses that interest you and expose you to new disciplines and new professors.

    (Post by Hannah King ’13. Photos courtesy of Dr. Debra Sowell.)

  4. Students Present Papers & Earn Awards at VMI Symposium

    April 26, 2016

    Four Southern Virginia University students presented Spanish papers at the Annual Spring Symposium of the Virginia Military Institute Center for Undergraduate Research last week. Three of Southern Virginia’s students received awards within the liberal arts category at the symposium. Victoria Krites won first place in liberal arts for her paper, titled “Sancho Panza un Símbolo Literario”; Desiree Gentry received second place for her paper, titled “La Importancia de la Música y la Poesía en Don Quijote”; and Sarah Edwards earned third place for her paper, “Don Quijote y la Violencia.” The title of Chelsea Snyder’s paper was “Un Aspirante Caballero: Don Quijote.”

    All four of the students’ papers focused on the classic work “Don Quijote” by the Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes. The students wrote their papers in a class taught by Dr. Iana Konstantinova, associate professor of Spanish.

    It’s always inspiring to see students presenting at academic conferences and representing our university so well. Congratulations to all of the students who participated and to their wonderful mentor!

    (Post by Hannah King ’13. Photos courtesy of Iana Konstantinova.)

  5. 2016 Elton Lecture: Art and the Core Values

    April 19, 2016

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    Every year, a Southern Virginia professor receives the Michael and Kay Elton Lectureship for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship, and every year the university has the privilege of hearing from the Elton Scholar. This semester, we heard from Barbara Crawford, professor of art.

    Professor Crawford came to Southern Virginia over 35 years ago. Throughout her time teaching here, she has become very well-acquainted with the university’s mission and core values. In her speech, she showed us how much we can learn of the core values through classic pieces of art.

    Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_editI found most touching her remarks on Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” She explained that “[the] artist has not focused on suffering and death, but the focus is on the serene expression on the face of Christ and a youthful Mary at peace” and examined the way the statue looks from an aerial view, pointing out the way the circling design unifies the mother and son from a Heavenly Father’s perspective.

    And though much more of consequence was said throughout her speech, as she considered each of the five core values (scholarship, discipleship, accountability, enthusiasm and refinement), it’s her comments on perspective and refinement that struck me most.

    “Don’t always look at things the same way,” she said. “Change your perspective. Look at things from a different point of view. Try someone else’s point of view, or refine your understanding of something by changing — refining  your point of view. Most often, students think refinement is going to a concert or a museum. It’s not the going to the concert or the museum that is refinement, but the results, the change that takes place in us because of that experience that is at the heart of understanding refinement. We can come away with a deeper understanding of ourselves and of our world.”

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Sarah Foster ’19 and Stanislav Traykov. Video by Rex Winslow ’16.)