We’ve all seen the quintessential “scream at the foreigner” scene in movies.
You know, the one where the seemingly ethnic character is screamed at by white or mainstream characters who think having a native language that isn’t English somehow makes you deaf and/or incompetent. In trying to communicate so obnoxiously, the mainstream character just looks ridiculous. We laugh, wondering how on earth someone could be so ignorant. Yet that scene is not so different from what I have observed on campus.
Part of going to college is being exposed to other cultures. We meet students, professors, and other faculty members from different regions and countries. It is suddenly not uncommon to walk past a group of kids chatting away in their native language, be it Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, or Hindi. What I don’t understand, however, is why in the classroom, diverse is considered disqualified.
Lesson? Being American-born does not entitle you to endlessly criticize those who are not natives, accent or not.
Let me explain; in one of my history classes this semester, I have a professor who is Chinese, and whose first language was Chinese. Thus, she speaks English with an accent. Due to my unfamiliarity with the Chinese language, I do have to listen a bit more closely to her lectures so as not to misunderstand her. But not for a second did I ever consider her to be a sub-par professor because of it. My economics teacher is South Korean, and she is, by far, the best economics teacher I have had at MU. Her accent has zero effect on her abilities.
On the first day of lecture, a classmate of mine made disparaging remarks about my history professor’s accent every time she spoke. He also questioned her capability to teach an American history class, since she is not American-born. I am cynical enough by now to expect students not to pay attention during large lectures, but I was surprised at his down-right rudeness. Why is she stupid or deserving of ridicule just because she speaks with an accent? Why should a mere undergraduate question the authority of an obviously respected and learned professor, foreign-born or otherwise? If her accent heavily obscured her speech, or if she was needlessly harsh, perhaps I could begin to understand his blatant disrespect. But on the first day? She had barely introduced herself when the comments began. And this rude student is not the only one guilty of such behavior. Plenty of students dismiss foreign-born professors as soon as the first word leaves their mouths.
My professor had to leave her home, learn an entirely new language, and accustom herself to a society where the culture is vastly different than the one she left. That she was able to complete a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree would be admirable in any situation. Throw in the confusing English language and the tendency for America to require a strictly American education to achieve a job in higher education, and you have a person who is just as qualified, or more qualified, than anyone else.
Long story short: She may not be as “American” as you, rude student, and she may not articulate English to your precise standards, but she certainly has more credibility, not to mention a professorship at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. Beat that.