I attended a high school that was very diverse in population and I had many friends of color. The differences between us never bothered me, and in fact, I enjoyed learning about the various cultural aspects that made us different. This gave me the false allusion that I had zero racist tendencies. While I strive not to make choices based on a person’s racial or gender identity, sometimes I am surprised by a reaction or response to something a student says or does that is contrary to how I strive to live. As a white cis female, I recognize that I have not faced most challenges that affect people of color or those with differing sexual identities. There are many things I have yet to learn, but I am trying.
This first semester teaching English 180 has raised a couple of issues that I had not expected. First, in grading papers written by a student whose native language was something other than English, I unconsciously viewed her writer’s voice as one who struggled with the English language. After hearing her state that she knew she still had difficulty with writing and speaking English, I began to read her papers looking for differences in writing that reflected this specific struggle. When I brought a paper to my instructor to review it, he did not read her writing in the same way. He did not notice any technical or mechanical issues with the writing related to anything other than what might occur in a student’s general range of learning. This experience taught me to be more open when grading, to ensure that I see any problems as they are without allowing preconceived notions to cloud my judgement of the work I am reading.
A second issue was one brought to my attention through a proposal paper written by one of my black male students. His topic was related to school suspensions and the potential link to adulthood crimes. In his paper, he talked about how students of color often attend schools where teachers and principals are primarily white, and how that results in these students of color feeling as if they don’t have a mentor they can directly relate to or who cares about them and their struggles. In all my years of school, this situation never occurred to me as something that could affect students of color in this way. When I first read his statement, I felt like he was exaggerating the situation, but as I read it again, I realized I shouldn’t be so quick to assume how he or anyone else should or should not feel about any given situation.
I haven’t been a black student surrounded by mostly white people; even though the high school I attended was very diverse student-wise, that institution’s instructors were not as diverse. I’ve also never attended school in a different country where the language spoken around me was very different from the language that I grew up speaking. I strive to treat others without allowing the differences between us to affect my opinion or how I choose to interact with them. But I recognize there are students who will have had experiences I know nothing about. As an individual who desires to be inclusive of all individuals, I will do whatever it takes to remain unbiased and inclusive.