Similar to Plato, Dr. Austin Reece believes that “knowledge is the food of the soul.” Reece and the other male professors at Mount Mary University recognize that while they are the minority in the classroom, they have a great responsibility to educate the female students and prepare them to take on the world as leaders and scholars.
Dr. Austin Reece, Dr. Steve Levsen, Dr. Don Rappe and Dr. Paul Gagliardi shared the benefits and challenges of teaching at an all-female collegiate institution.
Dr. Paul Gagliardi, English Professor
Dr. Paul Gagliardi taught at Carroll University, as well as co-ed colleges in Pennsylvania, before working at Mount Mary. Even though the ratio of men to women is typically 1:15, Gagliardi does not think teaching a classroom of women is that different.
“It depends on the group. There are always issues with group dynamics, even if it is men and women versus just women,” Gagliardi said. “It doesn’t seem too unusual to me. I think that on the lines of how men and women operate, there are a lot of similarities and some differences too.”
Gagliardi said that men and women have different reactions during class.
“I try to get to know the person no matter the gender,” Gagliardi said. “I try to get to know their background, how they are approaching the class, and any issues they might be bringing.”
Gagliardi believes that there are some differences between men and women that affect performance in the classroom.
“Women are more honest about what they are bringing to the individual dynamic or the group dynamic than men tend to be,” Gagliardi said.
While he knows there are differences, he believes that women are needed in education to bring a diverse aspect to the group. “I feel like when people say [that women should stay home], they’re not really taking into account how unstable those definitions are,” Gagliardi said.
Gagliardi is always nervous to teach his students, no matter their gender.
“I can feel it when I drop a Simpsons reference and they give me a blank look,” Gagliardi said. “My experiences as a liberal man are going to be different than other people’s. I feel that with my male students and female students. I try to be conscious of those differences, and I try to find ways to connect with people.”
Gagliardi tries to combat gender differences in his classroom.
“I am aware that I have privileges, and I bear that in mind when I’m interacting with people,” Gagliardi said. “In my 14 years of teaching, I’ve seen it all at this point.”
Dr. Steve Levsen, Science Professor
Dr. Steve Levsen has taught in both co-education as well as all-women colleges. His co-education teaching experience was at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University, where he continues to teach in addition to teaching at Mount Mary. Even though Marquette is a co-education school, Levsen said that most of his classes this year are made up of about 80 percent women.
“The culture of the institution is the most notable difference. Each institution has its own way of doing things,” Levsen said.
Levsen mentioned that he has not noticed much about how men and women learn during their college education, except their conception about what they should know.
“As far as gender differentiation, the only thing I’ve really made anything of is that a lot of female students have a math anxiety, which is very unwarranted,” Levsen said. “Somebody told them they can’t do it, even though I think they are just as capable or maybe more than men.”
After teaching at Mount Mary for 21 years, Levsen has learned that there are some teaching concepts that work better for women.
“I have discovered some things through the course of time … the selection of textbooks, I think some are more effective for one gender or another,” Levsen said. “At the end of the semester, I would say, ‘Here is the book that you had, and here are three others. Looking back at it, did you have the best book?’ They would move toward authors who were women.”
Levsen also has seen a change in his attitude as he continues to teach at Mount Mary.
“[I learned to have] sensitivity and thoughtfulness,” Levsen said. “My wife will tell me ‘your Mount Mary is showing.’ ‘My Mount Mary showing’ is the idea of social justice and gender equality issues, and I’ll start to present that to people,” Levsen said.
Dr. Donald Rappé, Theology Professor
Dr. Donald Rappé has taught at at all-male, all-female, and co-education institutions. Rappé has gained knowledge and insight from being exposed to all three types of University settings.
Rappé thought that women benefit from a classroom that does not focus on meeting potential life partners.
“(For) students in a single-gender environment, there is a sense of focus on the material, on the project of educating oneself, and finding strengths in growing without throwing in the dynamics of dating,” Rappé said.
Rappe also mentioned that he wants to teach his students as students, not as women who want to learn.
“I think that it’s not just being a male in a predominantly female environment, but it is learning how to be a better teacher and realizing that ultimately, you want to challenge students and feel like they have success,” Rappé said. “On the other hand, it is about the students and their ability to be transformed.”
Rappé identifies himself as a feminist, which he defines as “the radical notion that women are people, too.”
“We have always been humans together, but sometimes we forget that,” Rappé said. “I do believe that women have institutional best interest and society’s best interest in front of them.”
Dr. Austin Reece, Philosophy Professor
Before teaching at Mount Mary, Dr. Austin Reece has taught at co-ed institutions, including his first college-level class at Marquette University. Mount Mary is the only all-female college where he has taught.
“I try to think conceptually about gender and then practically,” Reece said. “Conceptually, I have come to understand gender as a performance art. On one hand, I think it’s arbitrary, and I also think it’s contingent. It’s not set in stone.”
In addition to thinking conceptually about gender, Reece understands his role as a male professor in a female institution.
“I think it’s an honor because of the trust that’s placed in me to be a good educator who can create safe learning environments,” Reece said.
Reece said that he sees his students as diverse learners who have different perspectives to teaching styles.
“I see students who have great potential but also have different preferences, so I try to find different teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles,” Reece said. “A really good classroom has that diversity.”
As one of the professors who teaches Search for Meaning, a collaborative introduction to philosophy and theology course, Reece has had to interact with male and female theology professors on campus.
While Reece has had many positive experiences with his students, he mentioned that there are challenges being a minority in the classroom.
“I have had some instances where there was an issue with a student,” Reece said. “A student may be in a state of trauma or pain, and they may not feel entirely comfortable opening up to me. The first thing I’ll always do is rely on the collaborative nature of the school, and I reach out to my colleagues who are willing to help and be good listeners.”
While Reece has worked at Mount Mary for about nine years, he admitted that he still can be a better professor.
“I am growing and learning every semester,” Reece said. “Students here are doing incredible work. They are serious, they are skillful, and every class has been another experience that reinforces my sense that there is so much potential.”
Reece understands that he has a responsibility to see his students as human beings, in addition to capable women.
“If we pay more attention to what people are really like, the real-world violence against women always begins in conceptual violence,” Reece said. “If I can do my small part to help people reconceive and get more clarity what it means to be a human being, then I think philosophy will always have a role to play in combating fallacies.”