Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Practice what you preach

The post title is quite vague for the specific topic I want to talk about today. But I'm keeping it that way because it's a good reminder to all of us to be mindful and intentional about what comes out of our mouths, down to the very vocabulary and jargon we use on a daily basis.

Friends and colleagues: we should NOT be calling the college students that we work with "kids." I realize that this is an easy slip-up for all of us, right next to the "you guys" habit (which I'm STILL trying to break) but there really is no excuse.

Yesterday my division had an in-service, aka professional development opportunity, that focused on strategizing for collaboration across differences. Dr. Rev. Jamie Washington spoke with us for three hours about how to work together and be authentically engaged with multiple identities in the room. It was a fantastic experience, and if you ever get the chance to meet or hear Dr. Washington speak, I highly recommend you jump on the opportunity.

It was Dr. Washington's words that inspired me to write about this topic today. Some say that if you are apathetic to an oppressive act, then you are an oppressor yourself. It is up to you and only you to speak up about injustice. Don't stay quiet so that you can save your reputation and still come off as "nice," because "politeness is one of the glues that keeps oppression alive and well."

I'm curious if some critics would argue that I'm taking this a little far. Do I really think that calling college students "kids" is a form of oppression? Absolutely. College students are already oppressed for their age group. Ever heard of ageism? The privileged population is people aged early 30s to 50s, and the marginalized population is generally anyone who falls outside of that category. College students are stereotyped enough. We can at least do away with hammering down their hopes of being considered an adult by not calling them "kids" anymore.

Here in the student affairs field, we preach a lot about equality, equity, social justice, fairness, and ethics. So if we're going to practice what we preach, we need to quit belittling the population we work with, and quit categorizing them as children, or, as some might claim, baby goats. Despite the fact that many of us will argue that a large portion of college students are far from being adults, they are not "kids" either, and we should stop calling them as such. When you're talking about a group of students, call them students. It's that simple.

Adams, Bell, and Griffin (2007) say that "social justice is both a process and a goal." Be a part of the process, and change your colloquial habits. Work to change the habits of your colleagues as well. There is no reason we should be belittling students in this manner.

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