This is the third installment of the six-part series on inclusivity in the classroom. The other installments include: Building an Inclusive Classroom: A Starting Place and Building an Inclusive Classroom: Reflecting on Privileges. You can also read more about the ways our faculty use inclusivity practices in their own classrooms in Inclusivity in Practice.
Let’s talk about Maria. If you talk to Maria’s professor, he will tell you that she is an excellent student: she comes to class early, turns in her homework, and participates in class discussion. He’ll talk about her essay where she compared different models of masculinity in Gilgamesh and her oral presentation on “bad boys” in Greek mythology. He might also say that he encouraged Maria to take his class on reading poetry in the spring. Hi! My name in Melissa, and I once spent a semester during my undergraduate career as Maria. I’m not sure why this professor called me Maria (despite initial attempts to correct him): did he misread my name on the roster, did I not pronounce it clearly on the first day, or did I just “look” like a Maria? I’ll never know.
I bring up this minor (and now humorous) interlude of my undergraduate career because it illustrates a few important point about “knowing” your students. First, the professor was not really interested in knowing me as a student or a person, since the first way you demonstrate that interest is by knowing and using someone’s correct name. Second, the professor did not listen to me when I tried to correct him further demonstrating that our relationship was merely about my course output. And finally, this moment clarified for me that he didn’t really know any of his students. At all. We were all “Maria” in that course. If “Maria” had been a student who needed additional support and relationship-building in the classroom, she probably wouldn’t have succeed in this course. If “Maria” was an easily embarrassed student, an introverted student, or an at-risk student, she probably would have dropped the course or stopped coming entirely after a few weeks of being called the wrong name.