Sunday, September 10, 2006

Leaders and Language Use

Besides witnessing a glorious conquest of the Gophers led by the Golden Bears of Berkeley, today I participated and planned a training session for our new executive committees for hall association.

Just to define these terms for readers, Hall Association is the forum by which residents can use their voice and represent their interests, when it comes to doling out funding for programs (each resident puts in $45 of his or her housing fees to a hall government fund), deciding on which issues the community values participation in, and to coalesce in social harmony and shape the residence halls into something they can all call Home. The officers democratically elected as leaders of the hall association make up the Executive Committee. I just spent the last couple of weeks planning and implementing an extended elections production for these officers, teaming with publicity, paperwork and parleys, so you can perhaps understand where I was coming from with the previous post.

I’m pleased with the outcome, both of the officer turnout and of their initial training. Training today consisted of the standard introduction and icebreaker, followed by specific job training for each of the different Ex-Comm positions. I and another staff member led the training for RHA Reps. Again, some clarification: the officers of the Ex-Comm all have different roles, and these include president, executive vice president, secretary, treasurer, and so forth. Another important position is the Residence Hall Assembly (RHA) Representative. A common analogy employed is that of the levels of government in America: RHA is the federal government, namely the senate, where representatives from every Ex-Comm in the Berkeley Res. Hall system (the state governments) can congregate and discuss issues that are important to their constituents, whom are the residents of their respective hall communities. Very swank indeed.

So, right, the RHA Rep training. We discussed some basic duties of the position, time commitments, all in all a very broad overview because they would be getting more specific training next week that I am not a part of. I’m proud to say that the last section we included was one on addressing diversity, specifically related with language use and abuse and why it matters to leaders who want to effectively lead. I’m going to include the flyer we helped put together with some additional analysis.

In one sense, this information is key in understanding those that one wants to lead, and we were explicitly promoting these tenets from the sole perspective of including others as one leads. However, I think readers will know that I’m also a fan of social justice for the sake of it itself, and I want to make it clear that these ideas should be given credit regardless of one’s job or, say, position on an executive committee.

We as a diverse people accept language norms from society and assume they are natural, but only because it is so ingrained in our culture and daily life. We accept this and other arms of socialization in different aspects of our lives, but only because we may not have made an effort to really see what is going on. That is, we’re allowing others to think for us. Us! College students! This simple truth can be hard to swallow but it is an immediate consequence of interacting with a society corrupted by fears and generalizations. It’s up to anyone who is a free-thinking individual, particularly those of us who are quickly moving ahead in the world with higher education, to step up to the challenge of instituting change, and recognize that just because society says it is ok does not make it right.

One does not need to consider oneself a leader to act as a conduit for change. Nay, the very act of pushing for change is what defines you as a leader, so take from this what you will and know that your actions, no matter how trivial you assume them to be, are what make you a leader in the eyes of others.

Including Others: Language

As leaders in the halls, you play the dual role of representing your peers and acting as role models before them. Listed below are some examples of offensive phrases and perceptions that affect different areas of diversity. Make a conscious effort to avoid language abuse and encourage your peers to do the same. Many of these statements may not have ever occurred to you as being offensive, but please read with an open mind, and remember that intent is not always the same as impact.

Intent vs. Impact
• What you mean isn’t necessarily how it is perceived
• You must take responsibility for what you say; just because you didn’t mean it doesn’t invalidate the emotional response of the person you offended

Bottled-up Effect
• You don’t know what experiences people go through
• You might think someone is overreacting to a situation
• You might say something and the person will pretend to not be offended or hold it in and then explode later
• People’s physical reactions don’t necessarily reflect how they are really feeling

One of my favorite analogies to this (as I indeed used it today and will continue doing so) follows: suppose I reached over my friend to pick up a book, but in doing so, I absolutely crushed my friend's foot in the process with accidental misplaced footing. My intent was pure and righteous, seeing as how I only wanted the book and didn't want to cause trouble, but the impact manifested itself as a few bruised toes, and a probably irate friend. Knowing this, it would be foolish to justify my actions by saying, 'Whoops! Mah' bad, but it's only your foot, you'll live," or to similarly move on with my life without taking responsibility for my action. I would be invalidating his response and not recognizing that the impact of my actions was tremendously different than just what I intended.

We can make the connections from this analogy to any of the below statements used in our society, and how what we intend to mean does not necessarily correspond with an intended impact.

“Oh that’s so gay”

An all-too-common adjective describing anything negative. Why do we use this? Why is gay given a negative description? How is anything other than people gay? How do you think a person who identifies as being gay will respond to such a statement?

• “Hey guys”
• “First Years” instead of “Freshmen”

Why do you only address the guys in the room when you address your friends with this? How awkward for you would it be, if you are a man or a woman, to hear someone welcome a group of people with "Hey ladies how's it going"?

• “Asian ghetto”

An affectionate term for a special southside hub of Berkeley delectable eats from a variety of cultures, several of them identifying as Asian. But why do we call it that? What are we implying about those that work there, or those that eat there? What about the Asian cultures that are represented there? Further, how does using the term ghetto for labeling a successful food court make those who are actually suffering in poverty-stricken areas of America feel? Aren't we then making a mockery of their plight?

A helpful note to Cal students: its name is the DURANT FOOD COURT. So use it!

• “That’s so retarded/that’s insane/that’s crazy”

Similar to the language involving gay.

• “Let’s all thank God…”
• “You’re going to hell”

Why assume that everyone identifies with a Christian belief system?

• “This is so cheap!”

Not for some it isn't. Why assume that everyone has similar finances or similar financial stability?

• "Residence Halls" instead of "Dorms"

Not so important for those living outside the residence halls, but still an important distinction to make. The word dormitory has Latin origin and comes from to sleep, but we don't want this to be a place just for sleep. We want interaction. We want communities to form. We want a sense of being at Home, with extended family. That's why they are residence halls.

No comments:

Post a Comment