Friday, February 10, 2017

Five Minute Friday: SAFE




Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday. Today's prompt word is "SAFE."


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I teach an online course in essay-writing at Queen's University here in Kingston. When I checked my email first thing this morning, there was the weekly electronic newsletter from the university -- and the first words that appeared at the top were "Providing a Safe Haven."

This is how the article with that headline began:

Queen’s announced today a number of additional measures to assist students and academics impacted by changes in entry and transit policies announced two weeks ago by the United States.

“As a university, it is our collective responsibility to do what we can to assist those in need,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “By offering a safe haven for those impacted by this policy to continue their studies or their research, we are reaffirming the values of inclusion, diversity and equality that are central to our mission as a modern institute of higher education.”

I got thinking about what I do as an instructor to make my course a safe haven -- not only for those affected by the travel policies, but for all students.

One thing I have been doing this term is revising our course policy on gendered pronouns. Up to this point, I would have told students (and instructed my TAs to tell students) that a sentence like "A student must do their work" is wrong, because "student" is singular and "their" is plural. And I would advise revisions like "A student must do his or her work" to include both sexes.

*** (here's where the 5 minutes ended, but I had a bit more to say) ***

However, times are changing. Some students do not self-identify as male or female, so they don't consider "his or her" a helpful or accurate alternative. Usage in this area is undergoing a shift in the culture in general; the university has an express policy statement on this very matter.

So I'm changing our course material to reflect this shift, and I'm encouraging students to write in a way that acknowledges it as well. I want them to know that grammar is not more important than people, and that learning to write well is more than just knowing the rules.

I realize this is a hot-button issue for a lot of people, particularly Christians. And I don't see a direct commandment in the Bible about how I should handle a situation like this. There isn't much there about grammar, usage, or noun-pronoun agreement.

But when I rewrite this material, I feel as if I'm serving my students -- treating them the way I'd want to be treated. Maybe I'm making just one student feel a little safer.




14 comments:

  1. Definitely a touchy subject in today's world. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. And thanks for reading, Meredith. BTW I just love that name: my mom's name was Meredith, and so is my niece's.

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  2. Such a tough subject. There have also been discussions in my work context about how to respond to this, but I agree, whatever our views, we are called to show love and respect to others and it is important to help people feel safe.

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    1. Thanks, Lesley, I appreciate your comment. These situations always challenge us to prioritize and seek wisdom.

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  3. Thanks for putting this out there Jeannie! I think that the Holy Spirit is our best guide in these situations and we have to listen carefully for cues from God rather than the noise around us. I agree that students should feel safe- I'm a teacher too- and that's a huge goal of mine as well!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Amy -- I appreciate it!

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  4. I'm a fan of the singular "they" not only because it's handy (and almost never truly confusing in context) but also because Jane Austen used it and her genius is beyond dispute. Now watch; someone is sure to dispute me regarding JA. ;-)

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    1. Well, I wouldn't dispute you, Tim! If Jane did it, it's good enough for me!
      :-)

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  5. I don't disagree with your decision to pursue more gender neutral pronouns, but I find this idea of university classrooms as safe havens to be so interesting. I definitely agree with what you said, times are changing. I remember when I was in college (10 years ago!), I was regularly confronted in the classroom in ways that challenged my beliefs and identity. And this kind of experience was a given, it was the norm. It's interesting and a little bizarre to me that this isn't the experience anymore. Nonetheless, I applaud your desire to be a source of grace for all people, regardless of gender/nationality/identification.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Rachel; I always appreciate hearing from you as well as reading what you write. I think that atmosphere of challenge in the classroom still exists -- only now there are different people being challenged.

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  6. The offering of a safe haven is a most compelling gift to receive ... and to give. I appreciate your words here ... this is a safe haven.

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    1. Thank you, Linda - I appreciate that very much.

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  7. Thanks for this post, Jeannie! I am getting quite used to using "they" pronouns because a very dear friend of mine has a non-binary adult child. Love finds a way to respond to lots of very big and challenging things in life, grammar is such a little unimportant thing by comparison :)
    And anyway, I imagine that grammar is more descriptive than prescriptive, considering how many exceptions to exceptions there are in just about every language :)

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    1. Exactly, Franceen. I think we get caught up in thinking certain rules are sacrosanct: just last week I saw someone complaining online about (usually younger) people not saying "You're welcome" anymore, just "No problem" or whatever. Really, though, who decided that the words "you're welcome" were the only correct response? And what do they mean exactly: "You are welcome to have the change I just gave you for that $10 bill? You are welcome to the meal I just served you?" etc. Seems kind of silly to be so hung up on the exact words.

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