What can we do about problematic terminology in the classroom?

What do you do when an authority figure, be that a professor or anyone else, makes insensitive or problematic remarks in a classroom setting? Following these steps can work towards making students from all different backgrounds and cultures feel comfortable and included.

1. Speaking up

Speak up when a problematic remark or comment is made. But keep in mind that while acting with anger may help release frustration, it likely will not change the other person’s behaviour. Avoid using “you” statements and instead use “I” statements. For instance, “I was really upset by that comment because it sounded stereotypical.” “I” statements bring forward your feelings and can help the person of authority understand your point of view. In situations like these, it is important to explain why using such language can be harmful to people or why a certain remark is upsetting to you and others.

['auto'] Kristine Ho

2. Discover intent

It may be beneficial for you to ask the authority figure what the intent behind what they said was. Often, people make insensitive comments out of ignorance. You can take that opportunity to emphasize that even if they had not intended any harm, what they said can still be perceived as hurtful and can have a negative impact.

3. Start a conversation

If you are able to speak up during a lecture, other students who share the same feelings as you might feel more comfortable voicing their opinions as well. This can open up an opportunity for dialogue and can create an environment where people aren’t afraid to share how they feel. If students are aware that their feelings and opinions matter, it can create a more inclusive learning space for everyone.

['auto'] Kristine Ho

4. Reach out

After the lecture, you can privately email or talk to your professor to further discuss the issue. Doing this can demonstrate that your actions were spurred by your passion for the issue and not a dislike towards the professor or their class.

5. Accountability

If the professor continues to make problematic remarks, remind them about what you said. It’s important to hold others accountable for their actions, especially if they continue to use disrespectful terminology. You can’t force people to think a certain way, but you can request that they not use certain language in public situations or arenas.

It is important to note that choosing to publicly call out an authority figure can sometimes be a risky endeavour that may have less than desirable effects on your mental health, academic performance and more. There are resources at UBC that you can access in order to voice any complaints you may have: the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office, AMS Advocacy and Ombuds office, UBC Ombuds office and the UBC Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office. None of these resources are perfect or comprehensive in the support they provide, but they may be able to offer a valuable starting point for students to work towards making UBC a place where everyone can feel welcome.