I’ve heard from many minority students here at Williams and throughout my academic life about the “burden” of representing their respective minority group in a class setting. More specifically, the situation that may arise if they are in a class talking about a particular issue and are looked at to provide insight on their views as a member of whatever minority group to which they may belong. This is done in order to help others understand that particular minority perspective. Obviously this is not a good way by any means to understand a perspective of any culture, but it does suffice as a short term solution in the classroom. While it may seem as if this idea is “racist” or “intolerant” or whatever term you deem appropriate, I think that this act is so natural that no one can truly be judged for doing so.
Read the whole thing.
1) This always generates a dilemma for the professor leading the discussion. Anytime you think a student has a different perspective on topic X, you want to ensure that the other students benefit from that perspective. (This applies in all sorts of contexts, not just race/gender/class/whatever.) How do you ensure that the student has a chance to speak (if she wants to) while not forcing her to speak (if she doesn’t) and, at the same time, encouraging her to speak if she is initially indifferent or even hesitant? Hard to do, especially in the middle of a free-wheeling discussion that covers many topics.
2) The primary (legal) justification for affirmative action is precisely this sort of diversity-educations-all-the-students argument. Michigan can admit less qualified black students as long as it can plausibly claim that those black students, because of their life experiences, add to the education of the students admitted without regard to race. But, of course, if the affirmative action students do not “provide insight on their views as a member of whatever minority group to which they may belong,” then the rational for affirmative action, at least according to the US Supreme Court, collapses.
3) It is easy to understand why some students would find such perspective-sharing a burden. “Why does the professor always turn to me when some African-American related topic comes up? Just treat me like all the other students in the class. Is that so hard?”
In any event, with luck Claiming Williams has generated many honest conversations about these issues. Any reader reports from the various events?