A bad experience, and some really useful reflections

I’ll let you go read about the bad experience yourself.  But here’s a taster of the useful reflections.

I think it might help if instructors/ and institutions in general (!) reflected (along with the students) on what to do when a student conveys that something is offensive. Offensiveness is something that should be taken seriously, and one should presume the feelings are legitimate, and try to identify and correct their source. Here it would have been effortless to change examples, or apologize for the literature. There may be cases where just one student is offended. There may even be cases where the instructor can[‘t] imagine why someone is offended or thinks they shouldn’t be. Even here, it is important to respond with an effort to take the student’s perspective seriously. A white heterosexual male teacher is not necessarily in the best position to see why the example of Sultans choosing women can make people feel uncomfortable. The teacher can, at that point, engage with the student to come up with a better example.

People who are charged with offensiveness get angry sometimes, and try to turn the tables and attack their accusers or claim they have been persecuted by “thought police.” It is helpful to anticipate that reply, and to make it explicitly clear that this is not about censorship; it is about effective and inclusive instruction. An islamic student hearing the sultan example will not be any more motivated to learn than a Jewish student hearing an example about a Jewish moneylender. This is not a matter of people being delicate, sensitive, or overly emotional. It is about creating a classroom that doesn’t promote bigotry and where people who ask for respect are heard. The examples are an unfortunate residue of a very sexist period in a field that remains male dominated. Efforts to remove sexist examples are no less important than efforts to diversify the university population. They are part of the same process. To speak out about this is not delicacy or weakness.

One thought on “A bad experience, and some really useful reflections

  1. I absolutely agree with that.

    But part of me also asks in the situations: what is the big deal about being offended?

    I think the most significant thing about being offended is that it shuts down discussion.

    When someone is offended no more communication takes place and so the most immediate concern when there is an offence is to restore the “peace”. And I think your little post here is really talking about how to restore the peace.

    What we are dealing with these days is an aggregate of population that’s been offended but also shamed in the silence by the powers, which basically if we’re honest is the white male powers.

    So eventually once everyone gets to air their offences and deal with the psychology is in the traumas that have come through generations of forest silence, we will actually be able to come and address the question of what actually is being offended.

    In other words once we get everyone to be able to join the discussion outside of reactionary offenses, which I’m not saying or illegitimate or invalid anyway, but once everybody feels comfortable then we will be able to discuss things openly.

    For example the white males that continually come up with these arguments that really have no basis in understanding the situation, we will be able to talk with them and they will be able to understand what it is about their ignorance that is informing their knowledge and activity.

    Likewise for all the other cultural groups including women, if we can put women as a cultural group I’m not sure.

    At some point, and it may not be while I’m alive, there will be opportunities for people to discuss things openly without worrying about being offended or offending someone else.

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