Culture

University Gender Studies Handout: Asking an Asian Classmate for Help in Math a ‘Microaggression’

A handout given to students in a Gonzaga University gender studies class warns that “asking an Asian person to help with a math and science problem” is a “microaggression.”

According to the handout, asking that question is a problem because the “message” of it is that “all Asians are intelligent and good at math/science.”

Um#..#no it isn’t. Asking an Asian student for help with math and science is saying that you think that that particular Asian student is good at math and science, which could obviously be for reasons other than his or her race. Doesn’t Gonzaga consider the possibility that perhaps one student might want to ask an Asian classmate for help because that classmate always knows the answers to the questions in class? Should other students not ask that person for help just because that person also happens to be Asian? Sorry, but that’s absurd.  

A picture of the handout was posted on Twitter on Tuesday by freshman Ben McDonald. In an email to National Review, McDonald said that one of his classmates had shown it to him after receiving it in his feminist-theory class.

Other no-nos listed on the document include asking an Asian or Latino American person, “Where are you from?” (because that’s really saying, “You are not American”), telling a “person of color” that he or she is “so articulate” (because that’s really saying, “It is unusual for someone of your race to be intelligent”), “asking an Asian American to teach them words in their native language” (because that’s really saying, “You are a foreigner”) and saying that “everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough” (because that’s really saying, “People of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder”).

#related#Obviously, this is ridiculous. Sure, there are times when saying, “You are so articulate” to a person of color could be a sort of passive-aggressive slight, which is insulting and obviously something you should avoid. But I’ve described particular people of all different races for being particularly “articulate.” I’ve said it about white people; does this handout mean that it’s something I should only say to white people? That “articulate” is a compliment that cannot be given to people of other races? Because that doesn’t seem all that fair.

Context makes all the difference in these situations, and context is exactly what lists like this ignore. In fact, without considering the role of context, such a list actually runs the risk of inhibiting communication — it can freak people out about saying things that they really don’t have to be freaked out about saying. Discussions about sensitivity are one thing, but making definitive claims that a particular phrase always has a particular meaning is not the way to deal with something as nuanced as language.

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