November 23, 2013

Correcting grammar, spelling = racial "micro-aggression"

Nothing of this sort surprises me anymore:

In a letter sent to colleagues in the department after the sit-in, [professor emeritus Val] Rust said students in the demonstration described grammar and spelling corrections he made on their dissertation proposals as a form of "micro-aggression."

Student demonstrators alleged that there is a “toxic” racial climate in the graduate school, including in Rust’s classroom. Organizers told the Daily Bruin last week that they decided to host the demonstration after a recent report examining racial discrimination among the university’s faculty stated that UCLA’s policies and procedures do not sufficiently address racially motivated instances of discrimination.

Yes, you understood that correctly -- minority graduate students are claiming racism because their professor emeritus had the gall to correct them.

The hilarious thing is, such departments are staffed and headed by some of the most "progressive" individuals you will ever encounter -- people who would be eternally cognizant of such "micro-aggressions" in and out of the classroom -- but they still get eaten alive by the very "philosophies" they guard and/or espouse.

(Via Fausta's Blog.)

Posted by Hube at November 23, 2013 05:28 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I've actually experienced this phenomenon when correcting papers. I have been told by angry students who just discovered that they don't know how to write to "get over" the fact that "Black people write differently than White people." When I explain that what I am teaching is the "standard English" they will need to succeed in today's business world, I have been bluntly told that adherence to such standards is just another form of racial discrimination.

And, unfortunately, these are college students.

(As an aside, however, I have to admit that most of my students, regardless of ethnicity, are pleased that I take the time to correct their work, and young Black men appear especially so--particularly athletes.)

Posted by: Steve Newton at November 24, 2013 09:51 AM

Wow Steve. That's absolutely ridiculous. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Hube at November 26, 2013 07:30 AM

Yeesh. Thanks for sharing, Steve. This kind of nonsense seems to be becoming more prevalent.

Posted by: Carl at November 26, 2013 05:32 PM

Upon reading Steve Newton's comment on teaching "standard English" to Black students, with the argument that to succeed in business depends on their proficiency to write standard English, makes me question some social myths and stereotypes prevalent in our society.

Is this argument actually true? I can think of a number of immigrants in my city who spoke very little English when coming to this county, but still managed to have successful businesses, so this may not be true. I know for myself, if I hire a mechanic, I am more concerned with his/her ability to fix my car, than I am with his/her ability to string together a couple of sentences to form a properly constructed paragraph.

So, what is really being said in Steve's argument? Could the message behind his argument be: your success is dependant on your ability to conform; and your proficiency and proper use of the English language will be evaluated by those who place more importance on your degree of conformity or level of status than what you are selling (by the way more people in the world speak Cantonese/Mandarin than English).

So, who might these people be, who place more importance on a person's ability to write English properly, than the attributes of the product you are selling? People who speak and write English perfectly. People who associate a person's worth or economic status with English proficiency? So essentially, prejudice people of a upper middle class status who would rather do business or buy from some most like themselves, who scrutinize grammar and syntax as a way of "weeding" out people they don't want to do business with because of their social class, which unfortunately also means race. This is a micro aggression.

The message that these Black students are probably getting from you, Steve , with this assumption is that people will discriminate against them, through their grammar, to avoid doing business with a Black business man/woman. I'm not sure who should be more offended: the black student or the upper middle class bloke who just wants his car fixed!

Posted by: Van at July 26, 2014 11:19 AM

Van manages to make quite a few erroneous assumptions in his response to my comment.

I specifically said I was teaching college students (at an HBCU, actually), not students preparing for a career in repairing my car.

The students in my classes have majors like Business, Biology, Psychology, Elementary Education, Nursing, or Mass Communications. They intend to go out and land jobs in the corporate world or to be admitted into graduate school upon completion of their degrees.

All of those careers have specific requirements in terms of skills and education, and virtually all of them require the ability to communicate--both orally and in writing--in "standard" English. Perhaps it should not be so (your argument), but for young adults between 18-22 in my classes what it mostly comes down to is that

(a) they never learned (or were never taught) fundamentals of grammar and composition;

(b) they resent having to do the work to meet a specific standard (and that's across ALL ethnicities); and

(c) they have the expectation paying tuition and attending classes regularly should guarantee them good grades, regardless of the quality of the work they produce.

Your presumption that there is a racial basis to my practice of insisting that students meet the curriculum requirements of the school they have chosen to attend (and which requirements are aligned with the entry-level standards of the careers to which they aspire) is as ironic as your presumption of psychic powers to tell me what they are thinking (as a group) when you don't even know who they are, or what their objectives are.

But at least you didn't overtly call me a racist, so I guess that's something.

Posted by: Steve Newton at July 26, 2014 11:56 AM

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