A unique initiative at North Carolina State University takes on this last socially acceptable bigotry against people – especially white people – who are different, educating students in the “language diversity” of America and more specifically the state.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) profiles the Educating the Educated initiative, which sends students into the mountains of western North Carolina “to lead workshops about dialects for middle- and high-schoolers.”
The initiative – part of the university’s 23-year-old sociolinguistic Language and Life Project – grew out of co-director Stephany Dunstan’s dissertation on the college experience of students who speak an Appalachian dialect:
[W]hile mocking people for their race, ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic position is widely seen as taboo, mocking a dialect or an accent is still tolerated, if unwittingly, at colleges and in society. …
“The North Carolina Language and Life Project for 30 years now has done so much outreach throughout the state,” [Dunstan] says, “but we kind of stopped and said, ‘Oops, we haven’t done anything on our campus.’ ” Talking to students made her realize that something happening in the university’s own backyard had long been ignored. “Some of it was heartbreaking,” she says.
One rural student said a professor had made him an example of all white country males: Any time there was a discussion of racist ideology or what country people did, the whole class looked to him, assuming that, because of his dialect, he held those beliefs. An aerospace-engineering major was told that she might need speech therapy to mitigate her accent in order to be taken seriously. Another student felt she had to code-switch out of her mountain dialect if she didn’t want to become “the entertainment” among her peers.
The initiative even received a $3,000 grant from NC State’s diversity office – which might not have realized before then that white diversity existed – and language diversity has been incorporated into new-student convocation and resident-adviser training.
Its “language-diversity ambassadors” teach Diversity Week workshops, and it finally has student-fee money as an undergraduate club. This year it also won the “grand gold” award from NASPA, which represents student-affairs professionals.
The rest of NC State’s curriculum may teach impressionable undergrads that white people are the monolithic root of evil, but at least in one initiative, they can justifiably lay claim to being marginalized.