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Kristen Myers: The Questioning Mentor

April 17, 2014
Kristen Myers

Kristen Myers

Enrolling in a sociology course taught by Kristen Myers?

Prepare to ask questions – and be questioned. Prepare to slip up. Prepare to learn, and to change.

“Taken together, my teaching and mentorship embodies my feminist philosophies about equity and human potential. I promote the growth of all of my students, both in and out of the classroom,” Myers says. “Through teaching, I have touched hundreds of people … and they in turn touch countless others.”

Myers buoys her teaching on four foundational blocks, including critical thinking, transformative experience and mentorship, but believes that it’s hands-on learning through which students learn best.

In her Sociology of Gender course, for example, students review gender-related social problems and build public awareness websites. Students have researched fashion items to learn how they were made, marketed and sold, what labor was used in their manufacture, how they were gendered and how they contributed to global inequality.

Students in her research methods courses work in collaborative learning groups during class to develop and hone scholarly skills.

“It is important for them to get their hands dirty, make mistakes and reflect upon those mistakes so that they improve in the future,” Myers says. “Collaborative learning workshops are effective because students practice one skill at a time, like writing interview questions or coding field notes. I expect students to make errors, and I expect them to learn from them.”

When they transcribe notes from research interviews, “they can’t help but notice mistakes they made – like asking leading or double-barreled questions,” she adds. “Afterward, they write reports describing their errors and how to avoid them.”

“Racetalk” book coverThe questions students hear from Myers are direct – and didactic.

“When students think critically, they evaluate evidence, question social processes and power relations, and make logical, evidence-based arguments,” she says. “I encourage them to reject prima facie truth claims and to dig deeper, asking questions like, ‘According to whom?’ ‘Based on what evidence?’ I supply them the tools to answer these questions on their own.”

Among those empowered students are some invited to partner with Myers on research; some become co-authors on her journal articles and books.

Myers, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology from North Carolina State University, joined the NIU Department of Sociology in 1996 as an assistant professor. She’s also served her department as director of undergraduate studies and director of graduate studies; from 2009 to 2012, she was coordinator of LGBT Studies at NIU.

Diane Rodgers, an NIU associate professor of sociology, says students are stimulated by the “creative and energetic” Myers.

“She is constantly engaged in revising her courses to reach students better, to ensure the content is relevant to them and to challenge them to move beyond their comfort zones and to do better work than they might have expected of themselves,” Rodgers says. “Her ambition extends to her interest and willingness to try new ways of teaching, and to experiment with different media and technology, and in so doing to empower students to become active learners in a variety of ways.”

Alumna Sarah A. Hanson – she worked as a TA for Myers, who chaired here master’s thesis committee – says the professor “is beyond lecturing.”

“Kristen constantly encourages her students to contribute to the conversation. I personally have never seen undergraduates so interested in discussions and so eager to engage,” Hanson says.

“She incorporates how discrimination is embedded in all of our institutions into every lecture, how to look for it and what we could possibly do to eradicate this marginalization,” she adds. “She never fails to change one student’s mind about sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism and homophobia.”