Proper Grammar is ‘Racist,’ Says University of Washington

A paper with corrections written in red pen.

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According to a statement released by the writing center at the University of Washington, Tacoma, there is no “standard” version of the English language. Therefore, the institution argues that proper grammar leads to social hierarchies that perpetuate racism.

“Linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English,” the statement reads.

In a sense, the statement is correct. There are in fact several different spellings, punctuation styles, and grammar rules depending on the region that a person is from. In the U.K., for example, “accessorize” is spelled “accessorise.” Additionally, these rules change over time (e.g. “anchor” used to be spelled “anker” in Middle English).

Dr. Asao Inoue, Director of the Writing Center at the University of Washington, Tacoma, spearheaded the idea. He is the author of Race and Writing Assessment and Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies, both of which won Outstanding Book Awards.

“The anti-racism statement is a document that took over a year to collaboratively create with writing center professional staff and student writing consultants. It was officially put up and incorporated in our work in the fall of 2016, so we are just beginning.”

So far, the University of Washington has stood by the statement. Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Affairs Dr. Jill Purdy remarked that the statement is a “great example of how we are striving to act against racism. Language is the bridge between ideas and action, so how we use words has a lot of influence on what we think and do.”

As can be imagined, the University of Washington’s stance on proper grammar usage has sparked quite a bit of controversy in the department of higher education. Some people love the idea of a more inclusive language, and others hate the idea of improper grammar becoming the norm.

Homeless Students

A homeless man sleeping on the ground outside of a building.

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When we think about the typical college experience, homelessness isn’t what pops to mind. But for an increasing number of students, that’s their reality, not keggers or dorm life. They pull all-nighters in their car, parked outside a closed Starbucks for Internet access and doing their readings by the dashboard light, or take advantage of the campus library’s late hours for a warm, safe place to nap.

In a recent survey by the University of Wisconsin, gathering data from more than 4,000 undergraduates at community colleges around the United States, they found that one in five students reported themselves as food-insecure and thirteen percent called themselves homeless. These numbers are up, rising alongside the increased costs of college.

“It’s that they’re working, and borrowing,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, the sociologist responsible for interpreting the survey’s results, “and sometimes still falling so short that they’re going without having their basic needs met.”

More and more college campuses are developing their own food assistance programs, since students often have trouble availing themselves of food stamps or similar safety nets. For a student in college with no children, most states require them to be working at least 20 hours a week to receive food stamps.

To other students and even to college administrators, it’s often an invisible problem. Homeless students go to great lengths to conceal their status, out of shame or fear. They couch surf if they can, or use the school athletic center’s shower rooms to keep appearances up. To have a place to sleep safely, they might team up with other homeless in a “hot bed” apartment—an illegal but cheap kind of room-sharing that exposes them to risk of violence or other crime.

According to Goldrick-Rab’s team, what needs to happen to help this matter is for state and federal governments to make their safety nets more available to student bodies. Currently, there’s an attitude that if you can afford school, you don’t need help, but with the current state of student debt, that just isn’t realistic.

Teaching Students to Learn From and Acknowledge Mistakes

Three young boys reading a book in a classroom.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Education at Flickr Creative Commons.

Mistakes happen, but learning from them is an essential skill that many students aren’t being taught to use. As children begin to transition into formal schooling, usually around the age of seven, they general come in with one of two mindsets: growth or fixed.

A growth mindset assumes that people can get smarter with hard work, and these students tend to pay attention to and learn from their mistakes. A fixed mindset assumes that intelligence is static, and these students tend to ignore their mistakes because they don’t want to think about how they failed.

According to a new study from Michigan State University, this is measurable in brain activity. 123 children, split into groups based on the mindsets they had about learning, performed a computerized test.

Growth mindset children paid more attention after they realized they made a mistake, and then “bounced back” more than fixed mindset children. Fixed mindset children could learn from their mistakes, but only if they paid close attention to them, something they were less inclined to do in the first place.

The research implies that even fixed mindset children can learn from their mistakes, as long as they acknowledge and pay attention to them. These mindsets aren’t permanent but instead are—and can be—taught.

By addressing mistakes when they happen, we can help students to better understand the problems they face and find ways to overcome them and grow as individuals. By glossing over mistakes though, we’re doing students a disservice, and the earlier we ingrain such behavior, the harder it will be to change over time.

Teaching students that they can, should, and indeed must learn from their mistakes is an obligation that all teachers and parents share. To do otherwise, even with the best of intentions, is a disservice to not only the student, but to society as a whole.

Students Stranded Overseas Due to Immigration Ban

A photo of an Immigration Ban protest taking place at an airport.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth Lu at Flickr Creative Commons.

Despite what whether you agree with the immigration ban or not, I think we can all agree that it was never intended to block college students from re-entering the U.S. But that’s precisely what happened. Dozens of international students found themselves stranded overseas when the ban was signed into law. They’re being treated like criminals, even though their only crime was visiting loved ones from their native country.

Saira Rafiee found herself in this situation. She is a Ph.D. student studying political science at City University of New York. Rafiee recently took a trip to Iran to visit family. When she tried to return to the U.S., she ended up getting detained by travel officials. After a near 18-hour ordeal, she was sent back to Iran.

Rafiee was understandably devastated. Unfortunately, there are several others just like her who are stuck in the same predicament.

“My story isn’t as painful and terrifying as many other stories I have heard these days,” Rafiee wrote in a Facebook post. “I know an Iranian student in the U.S., who was planning to go back to Iran to see her sister who has cancer probably for the last time, but had to cancel her trip because of this order.”

It’s stories like these that have several influential political figures (including those within the GOP) questioning whether the immigration ban is right. Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University and former Republican Governor of Indiana, is just one of many conservatives who disagree with the new policy. He described it as “a bad idea, poorly implemented” and advises Trump to “promptly revoke and rethink it.”

But the Trump administration has shown no signs of repealing the new order. It’s looking like it’s going to be a long 90 days before students and immigrants can travel to the U.S. without being discriminated against.