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Knowing Fear: Affective dimensions of fear/phobias in Higher Educational Institutions.

Justyna Okrucińska, Hoda Zekavat, E. J. Vignale, Karina Alexandra Volkwein

Research Question:  Do students experience fear in academic settings? If so, which form does fear take and how does it play a role in their lives?   Relevance of the topic: Both fear and anxiety can lead to stress, silence, difficulties in processing information or participating in a group, and ultimately a drop in performance. To determine whether there is fear at university, its impact, and its sources, can help to reduce the fear and/or find strategies to overcome it. It can also be a great help to create a safe space in academia — both for students and teachers.   Process of the research: We started working on our project by reviewing the literature on fear and anxiety before focusing on fear in academic spaces — concerning researchers, lecturers, and students. We also got better acquainted with one another, aiming to create a safe space in order to discuss our own positionality in the research field; we reflected on our own experiences with fear at the university as well. After discussing the methodological, ethical, and pedagogical considerations around the project, we prepared questionnaires and conducted fieldwork, which we then analyzed and presented to other groups. Analysis and discussion allowed us to think about safe spaces and to question the possibility of creating them at university.   Methodology: As a group, we conducted twenty-three semi-structured interviews, with the goal of three interviews per person. Interviewees were found via different methods in each case (in most cases, they were reached through a process called ‘convenience sampling’). Interviews were not recorded — everyone instead wrote field notes during and after the interviews, which were then analyzed and coded.   Follow-up questions: How do fear and anxiety influence the academic environment? Can a university be a safe space? How can it be created? What part of the academic population is affected by fear and to what extent? How do disciplines differ in terms of the presence and manifestations of fear? How do migration backgrounds correlate with fear in academia?