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Classes and Contact and Bryn Mawr, Oh My!

Classes and Contact and Bryn Mawr, Oh My!

A Project Proposal

  1. Introduction

     In this proposal, we explain the purpose of the project and give all necessary definitions and history. We will then delineate our timeline and explain our plan of action. Afterwards, we include important questions we must consider for the purpose of our project, and finally, we summarize everything in our conclusion.

  1. Motivation

     For the purpose of our class discussions (and later, our research), we chose to define a contact zone as any environment in which various differing beliefs, ideas, morals, and identities meet and engage. Exposure to these differences can influence students and professors and serve to shape their personal behaviors or beliefs. It is important to note that the interactions between these differences are continuous and changing—as each person moves through the contact zone, they have the power to affect others around them.

     When researching, we realized that the definition leaves room not only for multiple interactions, but for multiple types of contact zones: zones in which ideas can conflict with, challenge, inform, or reexamine each other. For example, contact zones in academic settings obviously differ from those integrated throughout interest groups and extracurricular activities. The facilitated debate that occurs in a classroom is clearly distinguished from the spontaneous discussion that arises in a dorm room. With this in mind, we could not help but wonder how, exactly, our various contact zones functioned within the larger environment of Bryn Mawr, and we decided to investigate their impacts.

  1. Project Summary

     Over the course of the next six weeks, we will pursue a project centered around exploration of contact zones in different environments at Bryn Mawr. We intend to do this by visiting classes and clubs, interviewing professors and students, and discovering more about diversity in various groups. We will observe and chronicle the dynamics of and the story behind the contact zones in each. Hopefully, this will deepen our understanding of the contact zone and how it affects learning in general.

  1. Project Timeline

    • Proposal

      • Talk to Anne and Jody about ideas/reaching out/anything else we overlooked

      • Compile a list of classes/clubs to visit

    • Preparation

      • Reach out to professors and club presidents

      • Compile complete schedule (weeks and classes)

      • Write up a sheet with generic questions regarding contact zones

      • Possibly put together a survey*

    • Visiting

      • Visit the classes and clubs

      • Interview professors/students if necessary

      • Observe contact zone dynamics (benefits, drawbacks of each zone?)

    • Analysis

      • Research any pertinent topics/questions that arise

      • Look for supporting/opposing viewpoints on the contact zone

      • Summarize our research in a presentation

  2. Questions

    • Questions to consider:

      • Do professors make a conscious effort to create contact zones?

      • How much of it is professor-based vs. student-based contact zone activity?

      • In general, which grouping of classes seem to offer these contacts?

      • Are clubs or classes more likely to engage in contact zones?

      • Are lecture based classrooms able to offer contact zones to students?

      • If people express discomfort, does this add to the experience or does it shut down the level of contact?

    • Questions for further discussion:

      • What are the benefits/drawbacks of the contact zones in the classroom?

      • Where does this fit into the idea of “safe spaces”? Does it, or are the two mutually exclusive?

      • As far as diversity, can contact zones exclude/include diverse perspectives?

      • How are disagreements handled, and does conflict expand the discussion or polarize debate?


  1. Conclusion

     Contact zones help us to learn and build connections with people of different backgrounds and experiences. Especially in an environment like Bryn Mawr, where a high emphasis is placed on critical thinking, diversity of interaction, and community spaces, these zones are both influential and necessary. Ultimately, our project is designed to explore the qualities, benefits, and drawbacks of various different types of contact zones at BMC. Through data collection, research, and analysis, we hope to more fully comprehend the nature of contact zones.


jccohen's picture

Hannahgrace and Alexandra,

What an intriguing project idea.  As you suggest in your conclusion, your research will likely lead to some deeper investigation/definitions of what we mean by ‘contact zone’ in specific, actual spaces, featuring the range of experiences of this phenomenon by different people and in different kinds of spaces at the college. 

Right now the project is pretty large, as you’re reaching in multiple directions in terms of participants, methods, types of settings, and kinds of questions.  You might want to consider ways of narrowing/focusing, by targeting particular kinds of clubs and classes you want to look at, or seeking the perspectives of particular kinds of participants, for example.  Also, the Pennsby Center is a space on campus that seems to me specifically oriented toward these kinds of questions about how identities intersect in the “zone” of the college, so I’d suggest an interview with one of the folks who run Pennsby and also one or several of the Community Diversity Assistants who do this work on campus.  In that latter category, you might reach out to Tong Tong, who’s an Education student I know and very thoughtful as a CDA.  I’m excited to hear what you learn with this project!