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Hi kind krafters,
The other day I had a weird visceral reaction. I was listening to a guest lecturer with a Bostonian accent and I realized that I felt completely at ease. It was that moment where you’re cuddled in blankets and the warmth starts to set in. It was an accent I had only heard of in movies, but it felt completely familiar to me. My thoughts were that, through all the movies I’d watched, I now associated that accent with the African American Venacular English (AAVE) and other dialects I had grown up with. Essentially, working-class dialects.
What got me thinking was that I had come to the realization that, yes, the studies were right: you are more likely to achieve in higher level learning if you identify with the person teaching you. There’s a consensus and a literature on the need to increase diversity in universities and colleges—although, unsurprisingly, not much action relative to the knowledge out there. But that moment during the lecture showed me how important it is that diversity is as intersectional as possible. In all this focus on skin color alone, diversity schemes miss out on factors that may be just as important.
This is a difficult subject to talk out because it is easy to veer into accusations of respectability. But my bone to pick is with diversity schemes. I term them that way because they’re well-intentioned, perhaps, but it’s one month from 2020 and universities still address the issue of diversity superficially. Race doesn’t just interact on the level of skin color alone. To be black and from Nova Scotia will mean something different to someone black and from Toronto. Yet, hearing that guest lecturer speak with that accent brought both me and my Torontonian friend together. It wasn’t just the accent, the lecturer joked or code-switched lightly after they answered questions.
When people switch between different dialects or varieties of language, they are code-switching. The lecturer was eloquent and clearly knowledgeable on their topic, and even better, they were not afraid to use that language in front of their older academic peers. Outside of a few black professors, my friend and I had never seen someone dip in and out of that kind of language in a formal setting. When our professors did use that language, it was often privately. In that sense, the lecturer’s whiteness gave them the privilege to use it in that context, but even as we acknowledged that, we felt like their presence was something like a promise.
How we talk is as important as what we talk. The lecturer not only used words that bridged this gap between us, but they also seemed to code-switch their body language. They used wide and welcoming gestures that seemed effortless. If how professors and other academics talk can bridge a certain gap to a marginalized group, imagine how it eases students to pick on these familiar cues– and how much more open the world might seem as a result of seeing someone like them fill a lecture hall. To me, that's the diversity scheme we need. My blackness is one of my primary facets, and the fact that I am or was working class is the other. The lecturer represented that side for me in an academic forum. As I go higher in academia, that lecturer, just like my other professors, will remind me that that I don’t have to let that side of me go.
Until next time,