I applaud all of those who write for the various school publications. It is not easy putting pen to paper, especially when you know that you are writing for a tough and demanding audience. I want to make special mention of the recently published essay, “You’ll Never Walk Alone – Unless You Are Gay” in the recent “Blue and White.”
If you missed it, it starts with this:
‘ToK is gay!’ At least according to a student in one of my classes last week. What bothered me was not so much the homophobic sentiment but rather my teacher’s half-hearted, somewhat obligatory response – a proverbial slap on the wrist – and that he seemed more bothered by the negative feeling toward ToK. (I will come back to this in a minute.)
I was sitting in Laidlaw Hall last Wednesday morning at 8:30, waiting for the CAS department to begin its presentation on ManageBac, when I heard the word ‘fag’ for the first time that day. And then I heard it and its close relatives several more times over the next ten minutes from my fellow students. I was vaguely aware that we missed our sleep-in over this, and perhaps my colleagues had not gotten their Venti no-chai chai lattes, but, come on, homophobia is not the way to defeat a caffeine headache.
However, even if missing one’s morning trip to Starbucks is an excuse to be ignorant and generally offensive, it is certainly not the only time that students behave that way. It is like that in the iDiv hallway, where bruised apples are ‘gay’. It is like that in the locker room, where a pair of shorts that actually fall above the knees or perhaps some slightly ill-hued socks are ‘fruity’, and students have even taken to questioning the sexual orientation of malfunctioning photocopiers.”
A couple of reflections on this essay:
First, not only does our student write well, but he also writes with courage. The issue he chose to focus on does not lend itself to simple answers. It is easy enough for anyone to stand up and say that you should not use any language that marginalizes anyone for race, ethnicity, orientation, gender or religion. Everyone has been saying something along these lines for a long, long time, but that doesn’t seem to have had much impact on the language used, especially by students during their first year or two of high school.
So how do we change things? At a faculty meeting at another school many years ago, I asked my colleagues for some advice. “If I am walking down the hall and I hear someone use a homophobic comment, what should I do? What is ‘best practice’ for this? “I got three different responses:
One group suggested that it’s better to simply ignore this kind of transgression. “If you make a big deal out of this or over-react in any way, you actually make things worse.” A second group took a diametrically different response. These folks recommended a stern response involving discipline. Both of these approaches are rational, I guess, and fairly traditional.
But someone offered a third approach. “Here’s what I do. I stop and pull the boy aside, and he and I have a conversation. And somewhere in that conversation, I let him know that I am personally bothered by what he said. I tell him that there are people I care about who are gay, and that that kind of language dehumanizes them. I don’t discipline him. I just try to tell him that that stuff hurts.”
That last approach appeals to me personally, and over the years, I have found it to be surprisingly effective. It’s not based on lording power over someone; it’s about making things personal. It’s about relationships.
I would urge all of us to consider this approach. Don’t ignore and don’t try to punish. Try to connect in a meaningful way and communicate what’s important as clearly and as simply as possible. If we all did this, just imagine how this might change our school?
A recent study on anxiety among university students reveals that what makes students most anxious during their college years does not involve papers, tests, or exams. Research suggests that students are most nervous 3 times a day, when they are coming out of the cafeteria line. That is when they face the question: “Will there be room for me?”
That is a question we all face at UCC. We’d all agree that anything about anyone — whether it’s about weight, gender, orientation, skin colour, complexion or class –anything along those lines –just divides us. If that sort of behaviour is allowed to stand, we will all eventually end up on the other side of the line; we will each become isolated. It’s just a matter of time.
But a good school, as our student author reminds us, shouldn’t marginalize anyone. None of us, for any reason, should ever be forced to walk alone.