I am an international student from Nepal and I have been living in the US for about 5 years now. Over the course of these 5 years, I have had several experiences of being stereotyped based on how I look. Recently, as I was working in my office, an IT support person showed up as a response to the help desk ticket that someone from my office had put in. I was the only person in the office when he came and the first thing he asked me was, “Hi, do you speak English?”
I was very shocked. Although I have been a many time victim of racial stereotyping, this one greatly frustrated me. How could someone make an assumption that I couldn’t speak English just by looking at my skin color? Firstly, he well knew that he was at a Graduate Student Office and any graduate student at VT should be able to speak English having met the English proficiency requirements for admission at VT. What furiated me even more was that, when I answered a “YES” to his question, he gave me a surprised look and said “Oh!”
Many other times many people have asked me where I was originally from, how I was able to speak English well despite being a foreigner and how I didn’t have much of an “accent.” Some people don’t even think that its important to ask and make a direct comment such as “You are from India, aren’t you?” I think that some people find great joy in making assumptions and creating stereotypes, or as Shankar Vedantam would say that our “Hidden Brains” would like to do so.
I agree with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that people create stereotypes from a single story and it may not always be their fault. I think children from very young age should be taught and told stories about different places, people, and their cultures and that all humans are equal despite some differences, so that they don’t create stereotypes with a single story. Specially, parents and teachers have a great role in this.
I keep thinking of what I could do, as a future faculty, to promote diversity and make the learning environment for students more inclusive. I might not be able to bring in a whole lot of changes but I think even trying to practice what is already on the papers will help foster a welcoming and affirming environment. Here are a few things that I would try to do to promote diversity and inclusion as a faculty:
- Make sure that I understand the needs and expectations of my students in the classroom.
- Maintain a respectful and safe environment and speak up or take actions against any misconducts. I would be careful about what I speak and would try to reflect diversity and inclusion in my words and actions.
- Create an environment where students feel free to share any issues (either in person or anonymously).
- Bring up conversations and share ideas related to diversity and inclusion with other colleagues in the department.
- Serve in committees that work in diversity related issues and try to promote their events.
I would like to hear from you as well. What would you do to create an inclusive learning environment in your classrooms?
PS: I saw this on the news recently (many of you might have already seen this) and thought it was interesting: https://nyti.ms/2y3M0fa
October 16, 2017 @ 3:38 pm
I love how you incorporate your experience in your post, and how you will us it to improve your class environment. What I may add to your list is give the students the opportunity to learn from each other and involved in group projects that are more student centered.
October 16, 2017 @ 3:48 pm
I am sorry for your experience with the IT guy. It’s very unprofessional and disrespectful. I am curious what do you plan to do to involve international students into your class? I think there are many international students (include myself) are too shy to involve into the discussions, maybe because of the language barrier or other reasons. If you notice students like this in your class, what would you do?
October 17, 2017 @ 9:44 am
That’s really frustrating about the IT guy. And like you mention later on, maybe he’s only been exposed to single stories, which is unfortunate. I agree with you that children should be learning about other cultures, stories, and places from a young age. Many people lack access to such information, either because they live in homogenous areas where it’s unlikely to know, or maybe even care about, different ways of life. Or they may not have the financial means to get the information (i.e., only having classic American children’s books that were donated).
I also like your list of action plans! It’s always helpful to have a plan. To add on to your ideas, I like to handle things with humor. Of course, always remain respectful with the humor, and there are certain times when it’s not appropriate. But I think it helps a lot to laugh at ourselves, especially when talking about awkward, uncomfortable things. It will lighten the mood of the room and hopefully help everyone open up more.
October 18, 2017 @ 3:47 pm
Sara makes a good point. Perhaps this is the IT person’s first one-on-one experience with someone (from his perspective) from a foreign country/culture? What better way to change his mind than to be met by a confident, well-spoken person as he enters your office to work on your computer trouble?
October 17, 2017 @ 2:38 pm
Thank you for your post Sneha, to say the least I’ve been there. I like how you are thinking about how to create a safe and brave space for students in your class. I will say one thing that I have learned from experience, is that sometimes when we have suffered through an injustice we find our power in advocating for others but we forget to check with these individuals whether they actually want/need our help…as an educator I think that advocacy should be a must and also that it is our responsibility to create opportunities for our students to get there. Making sure to facilitate but not do it for them, because that has its own complications…what do you think?!
October 18, 2017 @ 2:29 pm
When I was traveling, I always got confused on the question “where are you from?” Whenever I said, “I’m from Virginia (Tech),” I would get another question, “where are you originally from?” I guess those people were actually want to be nice and to verify their assumption before they make further comments.
October 18, 2017 @ 3:09 pm
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I am having similar experiences to yours all the time!
Your story reminds me of “What Kind of Asian Are You?” video from the previous GEDI additional resources list. There, even a third-generation Korean-American is being asked where she is originally from :0
October 18, 2017 @ 3:49 pm
I understand the feeling when someone surprised to hear the fluently English speaking as an international student. It is tough for the international student as teachers in the class through English. We need to spend probably 2-3 times time to prepare. So, the learning environmental creation is important in class, and the different perspective ways to understand is unique and special for the students.
October 18, 2017 @ 4:47 pm
There are a lot of micro-discrimination around us, and sometimes we have to forgive those people because they actually don’t know about it or do it unintentionally. I believe the best way to solve this is through education, and as future young professionals and professors, we can make a great example in our own classroom or working environment. Just like your several solutions listed above to promote inclusion. Let more students and co-workers know about these micro-discrimination, and we can build a healthy and comfortable living/learning environment for everyone.