Thursday, 24 March 2016

A Polite Notice to My Seminar Leader

I am a student. I am one of many students, but I am a student in your seminar group. As a student I am generally meant to complete the work required and engage in discussion. As a teacher, you are meant to respond to such hard work with either points for improvement or encouraging gold stars.

I have been in the education system for a long time. I know how it works, even if I am quite disappointed they don’t give out stickers for hard work anymore.

In order for this relationship to be successful, we have to fulfil both of our roles. After that, I can go out on a bender and you can complain about me to your wife in front of Coronation Street, whatever, who cares.
But this relationship is crumbling like my much thumbed Dickens, who I don’t even like, by the way. 

Recently, I’ve noticed certain behaviours and body language, subtle things that are perhaps less noticeable than a pin dropping. It may just be an eye roll, or a shaking of the head, it is by no means obvious. But then again, I suppose institutional racism never is.

Yes, I said the R word; which I know we don’t talk about in our seminars unless in discussion of slavery obviously because that’s the only thing black people are worth going down in history for.

Institutional racism is not a criticism of you as an individual or anyone else for that matter, it is purely a collective societal issue, so I’d like to clear that up before the university union jumps on me about playing the “race card.”  I try and avoid using the terms “racism” or “prejudice” in my everyday life where their usage is not warranted. I genuinely believe that the society in which we share is overall a liberal and accepting one, so it’s taking an awful lot for me to say this.

For a long while, I thought I was the problem; maybe the points I made in seminars were redundant, or perhaps I didn’t articulate them very well. I had started writing down my points before I said them aloud them, so they were word perfect when I did. At best, you always challenge or ridicule my points. I am used to this as a lot of people disagree with me. In fact, I’d prefer it if you did disagree with me. Better that than the usual, when what I say is not even deserving of a response from you. I’m sure you can understand how discouraging this is for someone who is just trying to learn.

This would be fine if this was your general attitude to teaching. I know a lot of teachers who go into the profession because they had nothing better to do, and their parents would no longer support their “writing” career. But you talk about teaching passionately, and most of my fellow students get a “that’s a really well articulated point,” or even a “I’m not sure I agree, but I’d love you to explain further,” even if that point is as blatantly obvious as the sky being blue (which is a really deep and meaningful metaphor, by the way.)

With all due respect, one student spends the entire seminar duration on her phone, and every other word that comes out of another student’s mouth is “like.” I’m starting to believe less and less that it is my academic abilities are the problem here.

I understand I don’t look like your stereotypical English Literature student. I have an unruly afro. I don’t have an affinity for A-line dresses. I probably have more to say about Kanye West than I do about Robert Browning. The demographics in my English Literature course are startlingly disproportionate- most of them are white females. This is what you think of when you think of a “good” English Literature student.

But I regret to inform you that I refuse to sit at the back of the class and take prejudice anymore. I am sick of the mixed looks of surprise and speechlessness when I actually made a half-arsed point; and then disgust because I went against your expectations. I am exhausted of frankly, having to work harder than most simply to break through the barrier of prejudice that seems to keep erecting itself just when you think it has been knocked down. I am bored of my opinion only mattering when it comes to issues of race, because yeah, I was there, I must know all about the slave experience.

But I will thank you, and every other figure in a position of authority that has treated me with such prejudicial discontent. In an ideal world, we shouldn’t judge people by their appearance, or what we think we know about them. We shouldn’t assume that Asians are only built to study maths or economics, and we shouldn’t, even in our darkest prejudices, think that black students; and other students of ethnic minorities, only got their place to fill a diversity quota.

And I confess that I am writing this more quickly than I wrote my essay for your module, but this is something that needs to be said- for every student that has felt, and still feels, like old and tired stereotypes are what’s stopping them from being themselves and achieving everything they have potential to achieve and beyond. This is for every student who refuses to let their societal identity define who they are and what they are capable of.

I am not a tickbox on a form. I am not your expectations. But I truly hope that one day I’ll be able to prove you wrong.  

So, I know I've been quieter than Lindsay Lohan's career, but I am back by popular demand. I've got a couple of exciting projects lined up for this old thing, so keep your eyes peeled. I'd like to say they are very carefully planned projects, but recently, I've realised planning in advance never works out. Thank you for reading and for keeping on reading, you guys are the best. x 

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