Semester Reflection

The readings, discussions, and projects during this semester of Intercultural Professional Writing really made me think about to the importance of intercultural communication in our society. Before this class, I honestly never really considered thinking about certain things that we talked about during the semester in regards to different cultures.

I grew up in New Jersey and I have lived there for my entire life. This is where my own form of “culture” has developed. In the past, I have not had much experience with other cultures, which is why I found this class so helpful. One reading that made me reflect upon my own culture was McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. I couldn’t help but think about the privileges I have had due to my family’s middle-class economic status. The article also made me think about the privileges I have had as a white, middle-class student in the classroom. I have never written out the “invisible privileges” that I have received; therefore, it made the experience that much more eye-opening.

 With that being said, I think it is vital to implement intercultural activities, discussions, and textbooks within the classroom. Currently, there are many people in the working world who are unable to adapt to other cultures. Also, textbooks dedicate so little space to intercultural issues, and the information tends to be vague or difficult to apply in workspace environments. If our society works together to become more accepting of different cultures, then there will be more of a sense of understanding in regards our workplaces, interactions, and communities.

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Technological Communities Becoming an Addiction

In class, we talked a lot about online communities and how they have the potential to completely consume people to the point where they lose touch with reality. An interesting example we brought up was the online gaming community called Second Life. Within this virtual world, participants are able to interact with each other by using avatars. Also, residents can explore the virtual world, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another.

I found a personal testimonial that described someone’s experience using Second Life (here’s the link: http://imthevilprincess.hubpages.com/hub/SecondLife-addiction). This person shares how she lost touch with her real life once she started playing Second Life:

“I stopped answering my phone, which, it doesn’t ring anymore. I rarely answered my text messages. I have friends I’ve not seen in I don’t know how long.  My best friend would complain to me non-stop about me living in my virtual world and I thought she didn’t know what she was talking about. She barely speaks to me now.”

If these things are true and happen often when using online communities, why are they still so popular? In her testimonial, the Second Life “player” says:

“I had landed myself in trouble in my real life and it was a nice escape into a world where no one knew my real life issues. I threw myself into the game, obsessed with making lindens, having a sexy avatar, dating the sexiest male avatar, which turned out was a girl!  I have beautiful homes in my inventory, I have animals in my inventory, you name it, Secondlife has it.”

It’s scary to think about how detrimental online communities can become for some people. Honestly, I feel like this can happen within various online communities as well. Maybe not as severe, but I think that online communities (now more than ever) have the potential to affect peoples’ face-to-face interactions and communication.

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Wampum as Hypertext

For the readings, I mainly focused on Haas’ Wampum as Hypertext, and I have to say that I had some trouble getting through the text. What I gathered from the article was that American Indians were the first skilled multimedia workers in in America. Haas brings up how wampum belts have been used as hypertextual technologies in Native American culture, and that this culture is significant for its rhetorical functioning.

I found it very interesting that wampum was first used by coastal Indians, but the resource “traveled to the interior and western regions of the continent.” It was even used as currency in Colonial America. This goes to show that wampum had the ability to travel to different cultures through trade, as did many other materials during the time period. Haas makes some important observations about the similarities of Wampum and Western hypertexts within the article. The examples she sets forth made me realize that hypertext is not necessarily unique to Western culture.

A feature of both Wampum and Western hypertexts is digital rhetoric. Here, Haas talks about how certain methods within these hypertexts are used to communicate information to “readers.” American Indians would string wampum shell beads as a form of a code. This type of technology could be represented as 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 (I’m a little confused what the zeroes signify). In Western hypertext, digital coding for computers is represented as 0|0|0|0|0|0|0|0|0|0| (again, not sure about the zeroes). The code signifies a “string,” which comes together to form information for readers. Also, I found that the visual rhetoric for these hypertexts was really interesting to read about. Haas talks about different wampum bead colors (dark purple and white) that inscribe a message through a certain pattern. In Western civilization, we are able to do this through digital coding. Digital coding can dictate features such as “font, layout, information design and display” to communicate a message.

Although the readings were a little difficult to get through, I found that I was very interested in reading about how similar Western hypertexts are to that of Wampum hypertexts. It really made me think about how Western communication gives little to no credit to the American Indians communication features.

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Yergeau: Mental Disability and Rhetorical Displacement

Yergeau’s lecture talks about mental disability and rhetorical displacement. She refers to “mental disability” as any disability of the mind or brain, which includes anything having to do with psychiatric, developmental, learning, or attention. Yergeau’s main focus in the lecture is about “audience and what bodies we signal, center, and ignore in the construction of our professional and virtual spaces.” In the video, she mentions how frustrating it is to be a disabled person and to observe mental disability that connects to violence and lack of rhetoricity on the part of mentally disabled people.

After the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, Yergeau found news articles that related mental disability to violence. Over a three-day span, there were over 64 articles that connected the two. With these, she explains that the media made assumptions regarding audience, authorship, competence. Yergeau explained how they heard feedback from parents, siblings, psychologists, and politicians with theories to reconstruct the mental health system. However, she did not hear an opinion from anybody with a mental disability. Her findings send the message that “people with mental disabilities are incapable of functioning as rhetors, never mind audience members, and the only folks who are truly affected by mental disability are the ones who don’t actually have a mental disability.” The disability rights slogan is “nothing about us without us,” and it definitely brings to light the issue that there is not much disabled representation in matters that concern disabled people.

Yergeau discusses the “able-bodied default” and how it is not a practical audience for this type of content. She says that when disabled people make accomodations for their needs, they have to think about how it will affect others around them and how they are imposing on other people. This situation may identify mentally disabled people as “special.” Also, Yergeau uses a conference flyer from Nisonger Autism Institute as an example. The flyer’s theme related to accessibility, but no one listed on the document is disabled and there is no reference for people with autism to attend. These examples do not welcome disabled people, and as a writer for this type of content, it is vital to include that disabled people are most definitely welcomed and their accommodation requests are encouraged. Yergeau’s lecture made me realize the importance of direct referencing and welcoming a specific audience.

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Cottom’s “The Logic of Stupid Poor People”

Cottom’s article, “The Logic of Stupid Poor People,” starts with a tweet by Errol Louis that says:

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Errol’s tweet suggests that he does not understand why poor people feel the need to buy objects of “status” such as accessories, clothing, and cars. Why aren’t these people spending money on more important things in order to break out of their class? What many in this situation do not understand is that less fortunate people buy these expensive items to do just that—to break out of their class stereotype.

Not only are people in lower classes judged on the brands they do or don’t have, but they are also judged on their inability to receive respect. For example, Cottom tells her readers that “we could, as my grandfather would say, talk like white folks. We loaned that privilege out to folks a lot.” This is important to note because her family was able to effectively communicate with various classes and received respect for it. Cottom recalls a time where her mother helped a neighbor at the social service agency who was denied benefits for her granddaughter she was raising. She goes on to say that it took half a day but something about my mother’s performance of respectable black person — her Queen’s English, her Mahogany outfit, her straight bob and pearl earrings — got done what the elderly lady next door had not been able to get done in over a year.” Both communication and appearance are key: they act as powerful symbols of status that have the potential to break a person out of a “lower class.”

 Also, Cottom brings up the topic of job interviews. An interviewer is able to form an opinion on an interviewee solely on their outward appearance. This doesn’t seem fair considering people—poor or rich—are expected to splurge on an expensive interview outfit. In a way, it’s almost frowned upon to purchase an outfit at a discount store; brand names have the connotation of power, money, and status. Moreover, in some cases, people get hired because they bought an expensive outfit. A blog comment from Kristen Duvall says, “I’m not educated and managed to land a great job few years ago. I wore a Calvin Klein suit, had a French manicure (my first and only one) and I landed the job. Because of how I’ve been treated prior to dressing that way, I know the name brand helped me. I’ve had bosses tell me to dress for the job I want even if I can’t afford it. So much of this is true and until someone has been there, they won’t understand how hard it is to go from rags to riches. I’ve shmoozed and ended up getting a lot things I wouldn’t have gotten if I weren’t a pretty white girl wearing a nice outfit. I can tell countless stories of this being the case. I had to pretend I wasn’t poor to get these opportunities and to do that, I had to dress the part.”

It was really interesting to see what comments people added to Cottom’s post. Especially because a majority of the people attest to the fact that their brand name attire sealed the deal in an interview.

 

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Dr. V’s Magical Putter

The articles that were assigned for this week are powerful pieces to read. For me, Caleb Hannan’s Dr. V’s Magical Putter was a very interesting read, but I definitely did not expect Hannan’s findings, which closely correlated with Dr. V’s suicide. Once the story was published, many twitter users had a lot to say as well. At first Hannan’s story was praised by the public, but trans activists and writers coined this piece as “transphobic.” To be honest, I didn’t see that at first—Hannan was a journalist and it was his job to find a story—but my mind was completely changed after reading about Kye Allums, the first openly transgender Division I athlete. Kye’s personal story and past was put on full blast in the media after asking ESPN to respect any personal privacy. This obviously was emotionally detrimental to Allums, which made me think about transgender ignorance that is still present in society and especially in the media. I honestly can’t believe how ignorant I was at first about it. Once Dr. V and Allums were “exposed,” they felt as if they would not be accepted by others. This made me realize that Hannan was overacting on his role as a journalist. He was digging for things about others that were none of his business. Hannan could have easily written about the amazing scientific thoughts and ideas that were put into the Yar putter. Instead, he meddled in somebody’s past that never should have been exposed due to the subject’s (Dr. V’s) emotional distress.

These articles made me think about writing in general, going back to the fact that it’s important to do your research and write in a non-offensive manner.

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Butler’s Excerpt from Gender Trouble

Butler’s excerpt from her article “Gender Trouble” was a pretty difficult read for me. I’m not sure that I fully understood some of the points that Butler made. Through the reading, it was easy to tell that Butler has a formal writing style, mainly because she is addressing an academic audience. With that being said, it left me a little confused with Butler’s argument. However, I had an easier time understanding Butler’s main points through Judith Butler Explained with Cats. For me, it was still a bit wordy and technical, but I feel that it was easier for me to focus in on the key points of “gender performativity,” especially because since it put into a humorous dialogue form.

Butler explains how gender is a doing and not a being and there is no doer behind the deed. With that, she says that gender is “performative,” meaning no identity exists behind the acts that supposedly express gender. If gender is identified as “the cultural meanings that the sexed body assumes, then a gender cannot be said to follow from a sex in any one way.” Also, she explains that sex is different than gender, in that it acts as a label to identify women and men. Butler makes the argument that gender and sex shouldn’t be associated with one another, and I honestly haven’t made up my mind whether I agree with that or not.

I found it interesting when Butler mentions that “gender is a result of repeated ‘styles of the flesh’ that ‘congeal over time.’ This process makes us think that there is a natural inner truth—“the construction ‘compels’ our belief in its necessity and naturalness.” This really puts into perspective how society has a major impact on an individual’s behaviors as a male or female. In society, men are expected to act a certain way and women are expected to do so as well. I really liked that Butler uses the word compelled here because it is almost as if society’s construction of gender is considered as norm for most males and females.

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Stereotypes in the Workplace

In Rethinking Women’s Biology, Hubbard talks about how women’s biology is a “social construct and political concept.” This statement is broken down into three points:

·      The idea that “one isn’t born a woman, one becomes a woman”

·      The fact that men in the medical/scientific field have described women in ways that make it appear “natural” for them to fulfill roles that are important for their well-being. (Women being characterized as weak, over emotional, pushy, etc.).

·      The concept of ourselves as women is socially constructed because of society’s interpretation of what is and is not normal and/or natural affects what we do.

Overall, the article touches on a lot of great points that stereotype women to be the “weaker” sex; however, I would like to focus on the working world aspect of Hubbard’s article. For one, a lot of women are automatically disqualified from well-paid, heavy labor jobs because they are seen as less physically fit than men. This is quite controversial in society, especially considering that plenty of “women prominent” jobs require some type of strenuous labor. Hubbard uses nurses as an example of this; they may have to lift up patients or immobilized people, which is not a simple task. Also, even housework requires some heavy lifting and carrying. Although there are cases where women are capable of larger physical demands in the workplace, they are still disregarded for these jobs today.

Not only are women seen to be physically weaker than men, but people also get the notion that women allow their emotions to control themselves. For example, if a woman CEO is trying to push her company for success, she may be seen as bossy, annoying, or a bitch. If a male CEO were to do the same, people are more inclined to think that the male is ambitious, confident, and motivated. Most of the time, social stereotypes hinder women from higher positions.

To go along with this, I found a profound commercial titled “Labels Against Women” that was created by Pantene. This commercial illustrates gender biases in the workplace. As I said before, a woman who takes charge in the workplace may be seen as a bitch, while a man doing the same thing would be respected because he’s doing his job:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOjNcZvwjxI

The background song in the commercial is a cover on the song “Mad World” by Gary Jules. The song sets the tone and illustrates how “mad” or senseless society can be. However, at the end, the video presents a “ShineStrong” hashtag, which encourages women to defy these working stereotypes in today’s society. Pantene’s commercial definitely sheds light on some of the issues that Hubbard brings up in the “Working” section of Rethinking Women’s Biology.

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Translation of Safety Communication for Latino Construction Workers

Evia and Patriarca’s article, Beyond Compliance: Participatory Translation of Safety Communication for Latino Construction Workers, discusses challenges that Latino construction workers face with workplace safety communication materials. The article explains the construction industry’s standard hierarchy—contractors, subcontractors, and labor specialists. Even with this hierarchy, each specific job title requires unique “communication styles and needs, even with native speakers of the same language” (341).

When one considers how many different ethnicities are represented in the construction industry, it makes the communication process that much more difficult. The article states that “the most tangible product of these communication problems involving Latino construction workers is the high incidence of workplace injuries and fatalities” (341). Also, Latino’s workplace death risks are “40% to 80% higher than it is for their non-Latino peers” (341). These findings provide enough information to show that technical communicators have difficulty in developing effective workplace safety and risk communication materials for a universal audience. Especially since most of the available materials have “an intended audience of English-speaking natives” (343). Technical Writers are faced with a difficult communication barrier. Thus, it is important for Technical Writers to gather suggestions from Latino workers in order to improve communication in the construction industry.

Most technical materials and manuals are filled with wordy paragraphs; the content is there, but it is not put into plain terms. In technical writing, simplicity is key; especially when dealing with valuable workplace information. Also, technical writers need to shape their writing style for an intended audience in order for information to be well-received. A key recommendation to improve communication in the construction industry is to include visuals within the accessible materials. Not only are visuals simple, they do not have to be translated for different cultures. As seen in Figure 2 in Evia and Patriarca’s article, Latino workers drew different work hazards that are present in the workplace. These images support the importance of simplicity that is so relevant in technical writing.

Overall, this article made me think a lot about Project 2. For this project, we are working with the Cranwell International Center to help the office revise forms and handouts for international students at Virginia Tech. As the revisers of these documents, it is important to make sure that natives from over 100 different countries can easily understand each document. Also, we must focus on a large-scale audience; and our audience does not have the same primary language. Keeping Evia and Patriarca’s ideas in mind, it could be very beneficial to add visuals to our revised documents. As a group, we must keep our main audience in mind while we conduct interviews with international students, perform content editing, and test the documents’ usability.

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White, Middle-Class Student Identity Privileges

As I read McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, I couldn’t help but think about the privileges I have had due to my family’s middle-class economic status. The article also made me think about the privileges I have had as a white, middle-class student in the classroom.

1.     Each school you attended had up-to-date educational materials (textbooks, computers, chalkboards, etc.) as well as a well-respected faculty.

2.     Your parents enrolled you into countless sports and/or extra-curricular activities as a child to expand upon your abilities (athletic, artistic, etc.).

3.     You were encouraged to learn outside of school through reading books at home or even going to local museums/plays with your family.

4.     Your parents may have paid for a tutor to enhance your academic abilities (SAT/ACT prep tutor).

5.     After you graduated high school, you were expected to go to college.

6.     You were expected to attend an academically competitive college (mainly Ivy League).

7.     If you made the choice to not attend college, your parents would allow you to stay with them (AND continue to pay for your living expenses).

8.     It is assumed that you will attend graduate school after acquiring an undergraduate degree.

9.     You may not have student loans to pay off when you graduate.

10.Your academic ability is never questioned because of your physical appearance/qualities.

11.You have the ability to walk into a 500-person lecture hall  (or any classroom, for that matter) and “blend in” due to your physical appearance.

12.You are expected to have a life plan that goes something like this: graduate college, have a successful career, get married, and start a family (especially if you’re a female student).

The list of privileges as a white, middle-class student that I have compiled has made me realize a key factor in my success as a student: My parents have always had a huge presence in my educational endeavors. My parents have always gone above and beyond to help me succeed in both academics and extra-curricular activities so that I had the opportunity to attend college. Their financial support is something that I have taken for granted, but parental support (financially) is pretty customary in the area where I grew up.

Not only do these privileges provide overall success to build a life of equal or better economical status as your parents, but these privileges also create pressure to be perfect. In severe instances, you are expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA while balancing three seasonal sports, countless school clubs, and community service activities. There is an automatic pressure to impress your community, your family, and your peers. In my community, this unspoken pressure has lead to many heartbreaking instances of self-harm (drugs, alcohol, suicide). So although the white, middle-class student may seem to have a “charmed life” from the outside, in certain instances it is usually much more complicated than it seems.

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