Recently, a Latina student at a university in Boston said that her professor on Thursday handed back her paper and told her, in front of the class, “This is not your language.”
After looking at more of the comments, the professor left on her literature review, Suffolk University sociology major Tiffany Martínez noticed that the professor had circled the word “hence” and had written, “This is not your word,” underlining “not” twice.
And at the top of her paper, the professor had written, “Please go back & indicate where you cut & paste.” An investigation of the professor has been opened by the Suffolk University Sociology Department.
In the Academy of Excellence, a public charter school in Phoenix, Ariz., a teacher told a Muslim refugee sixth grader in her class: “I can’t wait until Trump is elected. He’s going to deport all you Muslims. Muslims shouldn’t be given visas. They’ll probably take away your visa and deport you. You’re going to be the next terrorist, I bet”. Medium reported that when the sixth grader’s mother reported this instance along with other events, the school’s director sided with the teacher and claimed the teacher had done nothing wrong.
Unfortunately, these are not the only instances of anti-immigration rhetoric in the classroom. Too often, students of varying ages come across racial discrimination from their own school environment. It is disheartening when such prejudice comes from peers, and comes with its own trauma. But a teacher subjecting a student to racial discrimination is not only unprofessional, it also shows children and young adults that such behavior is acceptable, which brings more fear to them just because of their identity.
In a blog post titled, “Academia, Love Me Back,” which describes Martinez’s incident with the professor, she wrote: “My last name and appearance immediately instill a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth. These stereotypes and generalizations forced on marginalized communities are at times debilitating and painful. As a minority in my classrooms, I continuously hear my peers and professors use language that both covertly and overtly oppresses the communities I belong to. Therefore, I do not always feel safe when I attempt to advocate for my people in these spaces.”
Most real-world experiences outside of family life come from school, because that is where students experience the most diversity and are exposed to different cultures and attitudes. The experiences they face in school often shape a majority of their perceptions of society. As a teacher, you are meant to educate your students regardless of their background and identity and provide a safe environment for your students to learn. When you have these racial biases and allow them to affect your work, you are doing the exact opposite.
You discourage students from raising their voices and preventing them from being a part of the academic spaces they deserve. And when an educational institution excuses this behavior, you are tell them that their identities and experiences do not matter. You are telling them that they don’t matter, and that they deserve this kind of treatment.
Yes, freedom of speech exists, but that doesn’t give teachers and professors a right to bully and marginalize children and young adults for their identity. They should never have to feel the need to choose between their education and their safety. Students should never have to feel the need to accept and assimilate to ignorant ideologies imposed by individuals who are meant to educate them in order to gain the same rights as everyone else. As an education system, we need to do better. As a society, we need to do better.
If you are not willing to teach all of our children, do not teach at all.