Saturday, August 28, 2010

List of Failures

I just finished conducting a seminar for my colleagues in the College of Business Accountancy, where I shared information and my learning on Professional Scholarly Writing in a Global Context; the difference among Plagiarism, Copyright and Fair Use; and the use of the latest APA Style, 6th ed.

What struck me most from the seminar was the audience's feedback on using sensitive language in research, and "describing participants and subjects at the appropriate level of specificity."  I gave them the example of how, sadly still, in our University, we use the term "List of Failures" to publish the list of students (well, their id nos. actually) who have incurred failing grades in their subjects at the end of the semester.  A more appropriate and specific term for "List of Failures" should be "List of Students who have Failed Grades".

It catalyzed a spirited discussion among us, about our almost unconscious tendency to throw words around as if they meant nothing more than what we intended to use them for the moment.  I shared my own thoughts about how, when we really take time to reflect on them, a lot of the words we use are actually violent, in the sense that they contribute to a paradigm of treating people as less than the fullest human beings that they are.

I remember a time many years ago when I was still chairing a new department in our University, which was really a department formed to "catch" all the students who've been floating around, shifting from one program to another, and just aimlessly going through college.  The department was euphemistically named, "Interdisciplinary Studies" (IDS), but it had the stigma of having students whom people perceived as "losers", since they got kicked out of their previous programs.

So, when I took over as chair, I was faced with the challenge of how to handle 400-plus IDS students who perceived themselves as losers and failures, with half of them put on academic probationary status for less than satisfactory grade standing.  They are usually called "Probees".  And when you're an IDS Probee, that's double the stigma.

Just out of curiousity, and to put a more "fun" and positive spin to the status, when I called them for meetings, instead of posting the usual "Attention IDS Probees..." in the bulletin boards, with their names listed there, I turned to using the term "Late Bloomers" to call them, still with their names listed there.

It quickly caught on among the students and they thought it was really cool and fun... and they started seeing themselves that way, as late bloomers-- they may not have bloomed yet, but will.

I should have done a formal research on that, but I was too engrossed in addressing the myriad needs of the students in the department, getting them to believe in themselves again and to get out of the ruts they have temporarily dug themselves into.  After 4 years, though, the "Late Bloomer" list interestingly went down from 50% of the student population in the program to only around 15%.  Coincidence?

I don't know so.

That's why I don't join (name your disease/angst) support groups.  The very act of naming them there and attaching "support group" to it actually perpetuates the mentality and one's perception of one's identity as being stuck there.

Naming something is making it real.

Be careful of the names you use.

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