I am 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 and 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: