MARILYN HAGERTY: UND Prof. Frank White uses dab of humor, touch of action in teaching“Women,” says Professor Frank White, “like guys with clear cut goals. They like them to be ambitious — going somewhere.” White was saying all of that to a class with 240 enrolled. And there were only a handful of seats empty in the lecture room Thursday afternoon in Gamble Hall. I went to the class to see for myself the antics of this lively professor. I had been curious about him ever since his students turned him into a Bobblehead doll last year and sold the little statues to raise money for scholarships.
By: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald
Men tend to fall in love with their eyes. Women fall in love with their ears and their hearts.
That’s what I heard when I attended an introduction to sociology class Thursday at UND.
“Women,” says Professor Frank White, “like guys with clear cut goals. They like them to be ambitious — going somewhere.”
Passion, he says, is often the first stage to fade. It wears out — it always does — in six months to two years.
White was saying all of that to a class with 240 enrolled. And there were only a handful of seats empty in the lecture room Thursday afternoon in Gamble Hall. I went to the class to see for myself the antics of this lively professor. I had been curious about him ever since his students turned him into a Bobblehead doll last year and sold the little statues to raise money for scholarships.
White was talking about courtship and marriage in a lecture about modern families, the sexual revolution and the dating ritual. He approaches his classes on a basis of friendship and humor. He says humor has always been the shortest distance between two people.
He doesn’t pace. He glides back and forth in front of the class. He gestures with his arms to get the point across. He never sits down. He has an outline of his lecture on the screen for students to follow, but they couldn’t pass an examination without listening to lecture.
He has a teaching assistant, Ashley Leschyshyn.
After a few minutes, I could see why he relates to his students. He interacts with students during his lectures. He uses a variety of narratives or stories to deliver complex and often abstract sociological information.
And the humor he uses help launch his lectures or jump start them when a presentation goes stagnant.
Not much bugs White. But he takes a dim view of the increasing use by students of technology to text, talk, surf or Skype during a lecture.
He was holding their attention when he was talking about the family.
“Some people have a fear of marriage, but the institution simply means a practice or behavior based on tradition, he said.” And as he looked out over the large class, he told them that nine out of 10 of them will get married.
He talked of the times when parents chose mates for political of economical reasons. He described traditions of courtship that have developed only in the past 200 years.
He told UND freshmen they never in their lifetime will find themselves among so many single people and so many in group activities. “This is,” he commented, “a marriage market.”
Dating, he said, came into being with the Industrial Revolution of the 1920s. “Men asked women to go out on a date. Women didn’t ask men.”
The vast majority of the students were taking notes with pen and paper. A few used laptops. The professor kept pacing and talking. “Dating became spontaneous, more group oriented in the 1960s,” he said.
Today, he said, one of five relationships start online. “The Internet is changing everything.”
While passion fades, he said the sharing of innermost feelings — or intimacy — continues. And he said it takes longer to develop.
“Commitment,” he told the class, “is a sense a couple shares when they choose to stay together and continue their relationship in the good times and the bad.
“Sometimes, when people are interviewed on their 50th or 60th or 70th anniversaries, they will say they married their best friend.”
In his description of marriage customs, White noted, “Guys are notorious for fearing commitment. They marry when they are at a place in life.”
He demonstrated how a single man can be like a dog in the meadow chasing butterflies. And then he showed how a guy gets wrapped up by a lady.
The professor was imitating a dog in the meadow when the bell sounded. The students — most of the grinning — moved on to their next class.
About Frank White
“Like a good sociologist, Frank White understands that teaching and scholarship do not exist in a vacuum. They are instead practices embedded within social relationships, and are thus only effective and useful to the extent they strengthen and enrich those relationships. And I know of no one who does so better than Frank White.” — Clifford Staples, professor and chairperson of UND Department of Sociology.
Professor White grew up in Walhalla, N.D., and received his undergraduate degree from Mayville (N.D.) State University in 1979. After receiving his graduate degree in sociology from UND, he spent five years teaching at Lake Region Community College in Devils Lake. He has been a sociology professor at UND since 1988.
Reach Hagerty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 772-1055.