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5 Questions for . . .



Meredith Derecho, class of 2018, East Asian Studies,Yale University

Lauren Britt-Elmore, recent graduate, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Javier Espinoza, class of 2017, Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA

Kirsten Hoyte, Department of English, Concord Academy

Michael Jeffries, Associate Professor of American Studies, Wellelsley College

Michael Salamone, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Washington State University

Jonathan Sawday, Walter J. Ong, S.J., Professor in the Humanities, Saint Louis University

Olga Shurchkov, Associate Professor of Economics, Wellesley College

2. Does the use of such language constitute social progress?


Meredith Derecho

First I'll address the use of those two specific terms. When the term "microaggression" is used to help people understand why something might be offensive when it wasn't meant that way, I think that provides an opportunity to improve people's understanding of each other, which is good. I guess that's a form of social progress, yeah. I think that trigger warnings don't really hurt, either.

More generally speaking, I think that all of the political correctness and sensitive terminology can kind of trip over itself and actually obstruct communication, which isn't great. Like if I start getting mad about a bunch of microaggressions and use this kind of terminology to convey that, for example, but you think that all this terminology is dumb, then we're almost speaking in different languages, which makes dialogue difficult. 


So to summarize, I like these terms insofar as they promote communication, but I think that overuse of the terminology is unhelpful and divisive.


Olga Shurchkov and Michael Jeffries

It is important to identify and call out things that prevent us from achieving social justice. In that sense, these words do constitute progress because they have enabled us to have more constructive dialogue among the members of the Wellesley community and beyond. I have been involved with some aspects of student life, and I know that Wellesley holds numerous conversations and training sessions around these issues.  However, they do seem like tiny drops in the bucket once we realize that real progress cannot be achieved until we can address the institutional structures that sustain or enable the damage these terms were created to identify.


Lauren Britt-Elmore

I am wondering why these two terms are being linked…one is a term created to describe a social phenomenon based on race. The other evolved over time as a way to warn mainly women about what might be perceived as disturbing content. 


Since I don’t see these as being part of the same movement, I believe the use of the word microaggression is indeed a sign of social progress because it’s about making the implicit explicit, which is always the first step in making positive change. One must be able to name what is wrong before one can fix it. The acknowledgement of microaggressions is further evidence of the fact that American racism and prejudice does not just exist in some “bad apples” but instead is embedded in the very fabric of our society and is perpetuated in daily interactions.


Jonathan Sawday

Well, if it indicates a heightened awareness of the often difficult and troubled individual histories that might be in play in the classroom... then, perhaps.


Javier Espinoza

I think it does. I think it’s always critical to name our problems so we can talk about them and therefore solve them. I’m also convinced by the research I’ve read that connects the daily stressors individuals experience that are race based to the disproportionate levels of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases found among people of color.


In response to these terms, I often hear people say “You’re just being too sensitive,” or “You’re just too PC.” In addition to responding “I just think we should treat everyone with dignity,” I observe how people who say this are usually part of more privileged groups in society (men, white people, straight, able bodied, Christian, U.S. citizens, rich people) that hold more social, economic, and political power than less privileged groups (women, dark skinned people, LGB, disabled, Not Christian, Undocumented, poor).


For example, the same guy that gets upset at my pink socks that say “men ruin stuff” is the same person who says I’m being too PC when I call him out for using a rape joke. The same white woman who says I’m being too PC for wanting to take down a confederate flag is the same person who gets upset when I take down my US flag after the US “mistakenly” bombs 85 people that look like me. The same person who believes Black Lives Matter is political correctness gone amok is the same person that is ok with mass incarceration and war, and yet still proclaims that all lives matter.  

This makes me believe that accusing someone of being “too PC” is just a form of policing the actions of marginalized communities so that the distribution of unequal power goes unchallenged.


Kirsten Hoyte

Yes and no. I think the overall trend of being more considerate and thoughtful in the way that we speak to and treat others is a good trend. I also think that empathy and the ability to see events from other people's perspectives are important skills. Caring about these issues does lead to greater progress in the overall arc of social change. However, as I read (and to some extent experience) the backlash against those terms, I am very aware that the terms are sometimes misused and often misunderstood. I also think that much like the phrase "politically correct," these terms have been latched upon by reactionaries and conservatives as "proof" of left-wing rigidity and hypersensitivity. Thus, the important overall goals of empathy and thoughtfulness are sometimes undermined because the terms have been misunderstood and sometimes outright disparaged.


Michael Salamone

I am undecided on whether the use of such language represents social progress, but the use of such language indicates a national conversation about privilege, and that is social progress. I imagine that the idea that privilege should be challenged or even acknowledged was outside the mainstream even a couple decades ago. I’ll leave it someone else to determine if these terms are the most effective way of achieving equity, but the fact that we are talking about them says something.

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