Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Racial privilege and disadvantage permeates our society in concrete ways

On Changing Raced and Racist Habits
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

As a graduate student and an adjunct at a local college, I have the opportunity both to observe how other professors discuss race and gender, and I have the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and indirectly with my students. For example, as a female student, I find it extremely helpful and affirming when a professor uses secondary literature by female authors-particularly in my field, which has traditionally been dominated by (white) males. (Don’t worry, I’m not a white-male-hater; I happen to be married to a wonderful white male).

As a teacher, I purpose to use inclusive language, reference the works of people of color, and in so far as the constraints of what I have to teach (in terms of texts) allow, I try to assign readings or projects that encourage dialogue with different ethnic groups and help expose students to new hermeneutical approaches. What I have found on the whole is that my students appreciate the inclusive language and having to wrestle with different ways of thinking. In private conversations with female, African American, Latino/a, Asian American and others, students have time and again commented on how much they appreciate the ways I have tried to bring traditional subjects and authors in dialogue with contemporary hermeneutical approaches and “non-standard” topics (feminist literature, African American studies, liberation theology, jazz discussions etc.)

There are of course always a few students who spend the whole semester sending me emails about why it is simply ridiculous to use inclusive language when anyone who is educated knows that “man” is a generic term. Thus, by way of principle, the student boldly declares that he is not budging and refuses to use inclusive language in his papers. Interestingly, I never demand that inclusive language be used. I simply use it myself in the classroom.

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