Inclusive language should be a priority in classrooms

Acknowledging different identities keeps student groups from being excluded

Sharing pronouns in class settings is one way of prioritizing inclusion. PHOTO: LA Johnson / NPR

By: Dev Petrovic, Opinions Editor

As a political science major, I tend to witness a lot of class conversations that take place at other communities’ expenses. Almost always, these conversations are facilitated by the professor and more often than not there seems to be minimal effort in ensuring the language and resources used in these conversations are representative of the groups involved. This particularly occurs when the experiences of marginalized communities are erased from relevant discourse, like those of gender-diverse folks on the topic of gender inequality. Beyond my department and throughout post-secondary learning in general, inclusive language needs to be a priority in classrooms to ensure that no student groups are being left behind or misrepresented.

To be clear, using inclusive language in class settings is not just about promoting diversity in conversations.  Acknowledging individual differences like gender diversity, students with disabilities, and those within the BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA2S+ communities is important in setting a welcoming environment and building rapport between students. It is also a basic tool for maintaining visibility for marginalized student groups. Otherwise, neglecting various groups’ presences is harmful and interferes with their experiences being integrated into educational spaces.

As someone who is often excluded from course conversations due to my gender and sexual identity, as well as being a person with a disability, I feel that being left out limits the educational value of the course content. In these situations, there could be a learning opportunity to bring forward the full sphere of a topic. Instead, I feel like this exclusionary environment restricts my perception of acceptance and security, as well as my willingness to participate. Naturally, if I do not feel as if the instructor has put in the effort to acknowledge my identity (or that of other underrepresented populations), I feel uneasy about even being in the class — let alone driven to share my experiences. Simple discrepancies in course logistics, like working within a gender binary or through a mainly heteronormative lens, are enough to completely alienate me from the course as a whole.

I should not have to feel as if I need to speak up for my identity to be seen and represented. Marginalized groups are not responsible for reminding instructors that they exist. Their presence in classes also should not be the only reason that they are included. The onus should be on the professors, whose job it is to create accessible and equitable opportunities for their students. Otherwise, the only students being represented are those with social privilege.

Frankly, I don’t think asking professors to use inclusive language is asking very much, nor is it a particularly difficult task to accomplish. Many instructors put significant effort into acknowledging diverse identities in their classes. Initiatives like introducing pronouns in introductions and Zoom usernames, switching to gender-neutral vocabulary, and avoiding stereotypes and generalizations are all examples of implementing inclusive language.

That being said, I understand that language is fluid and that keeping up with changes in dialect and what is appropriate can be difficult for some instructors. Nonetheless, when it comes to respecting individual differences, particularly in a learning environment, there are no valid excuses for excluding, misrepresenting, or inappropriately addressing marginalized folks. Part of being an educator is learning, growing, and adapting to socio-cultural progressions. Besides, choosing not to use inclusive language is bigotry, plain and simple.