When students follow their own interests, their learning deepens and expands, sometimes in ways that I could not predict. I get to then see the material from their perspective, which informs how I teach it the next time around.
When Bill Flack came to Bucknell in 2000, he planned to continue his research along the path he'd already forged: laboratory work on emotion, and clinical work on combat-related trauma. Instead, his seminar students' interest in studying sexual assault on campus led the professor of psychology in a new direction.
"Students in my trauma seminar became interested in how the literature on campus sexual assault related to Bucknell. We decided to do a survey, and that was the start of more than 15 years of research," Flack explains.
His students' interest has been a major factor in keeping the sexual assault research going. "Without their expertise, I would not know which factors to focus on to try to improve our understanding" of sexual assault on campus, he says.
That's not to say his and the students' research has been without controversy. Flack tries to teach students in class and on his research team that "disagreement is part of the research process, especially in social justice topics." He explains that to produce a more socially just world, the status quo must change. "Those happy with the status quo won't be happy with the changes."
In addition to his work as a faculty member and his annual research through the Sexual Assault Survey, Flack, through a Fulbright scholarship in Northern Ireland, became a part of an international research group on sexual violence. He helped to found a cross-border group in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the RESPECT Network, which focuses on prevalence, prevention and policy related to sexual assault among university students.
Back in the United States, he was asked to take part in the Administrator-Researcher Campus Climate Consortium (ARC3), which developed a new, modular survey on campus sexual assault. Flack has used a modified form of the survey in his annual research survey.
"Although in class I provide the basic structure and much of the reading, I also give students leeway to focus on what they find most interesting," he says. "When they follow their own interests, their learning deepens and expands, sometimes in ways that I could not predict. I get to then see the material from their perspective, which informs how I teach it the next time around. So perhaps rather than a two-way street, it's more like a roundabout."
Updated Sept. 22, 2017