Each and every word we use has power. It sounds a little cliche, right? Though this concept has been ingrained in me since childhood, some recent interactions with my peers have reminded me of the power our words have to shape the lives of those around us. Though we use them constantly, their frequency does not diminish their importance.
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble” -Yehuda Berg
On Monday, September 25th, 2017, an individual in my Educational Technology and Design lecture made the choice to use their words to commit an act of white supremacism based on discernible bias. This hate speech was conveyed via TodaysMeet, an online backchannel devised to give students the ability to communicate in the quietest way possible. To begin the conversation, each student logs into the provided link with an anonymous username and can then leave comments throughout the lecture in order to collaborate on ideas and concepts introduced. Participating in the discussion is not mandatory but is used as a supplemental form of instruction.
As we were wrapping up our conversation about global collaboration, the following interaction took place:
This class-wide interaction showcases blatant discrimination and bias while supporting white supremacy. The anonymous identity of this individual should not promote passiveness in the response. Acts of white supremacism are intolerable and should always be directly addressed.
As a student, I was infuriated. It took everything in my power to stay in my seat. Every part of me wanted to take a stand on stage and engage the class in a teachable moment. However, I decided to put trust into the hands of my professor monitoring the backchannel and hope for the best.
The only comment shared by the instructor via TodaysMeet was, “Everyone has the right to choose.”
But should we? Is it okay for educators to feel uncomfortable teaching students solely because of their different racial or ethnic backgrounds? This is a question that has haunted me since last Monday. I believe the answer should always be no.
Each and every one of my students deserve to have the best possible education, regardless of their racial and ethnic backgrounds. No exceptions.
In reaction, I have submitted a bias report to the university’s Bias Response Team but by no means do I believe this is sufficient action. If an instance like this took place publically, I can’t bear to think what some future educators may be saying in private. This event is proof that a more active approach to diversity education needs to be in place. I have reached out to both the Dean of the College of Education and the Department Head of the Department of Teaching expressing my concerns related to diversity education requirements in all education majors. If there is not already progress being made, I hope to take action.
This seems to be my motto lately: If you do not make yourself an active part of a solution, you are part of the problem.
This event has made me reflect on the environment I hope to foster in my classroom. I want my room to be a place where students feel comfortable embracing all of their identities and have the ability to express themselves. Without this base, I do not believe I can build an effective classroom community. I also hope to never back away from a teachable moment, no matter how difficult the topic may be to discuss. Though I want my students to learn fully the content instructed, I also recognize that some of the most powerful lessons they will learn will have nothing to do with the standards assessed.
As educators, let us lead by example and expect nothing but the best from our students and colleagues.