Anne Charity-Hudley, University of California, Santa Barbara
Talking College: Linguistic Justice in Higher Education
Knowledge about race and language is critical to addressing racism in all its forms, both in higher education and society. And messages of linguistic justice and empowerment are central to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion on college and university campuses. As Black students transition from high school to college, they seek to add their voices and perspectives to academic discourse and the scholarly community in a way that is both advantageous and authentic.
The Talking College Project is a Black student and Black studies centered way to learn more about the particular linguistic choices of Black students, while empowering them to be proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage. One key question of The Talking College Project is: how does the acquisition of different varieties of Black language and culture overlap with identity development, particularly intersectional racial identity development? To answer this question, Talking College researchers used a community-based participatory research methodology to conduct over 100 interviews with Black students at several Minority-Serving Institutions, Historically Black College, and Predominantly White Universities. Talking College Participants also conducted ethnographies on over 10 college campuses. Based on information collected from the interviews and our ethnographies, it is evident that Black students often face linguistic bias and need additional support and guidance as they navigate the linguistic terrain of higher education.
The Talking College Project findings serve to help create an equity-based model of assessment for what sociolinguistic information Black students need to be successful in higher education. We have a focus on how faculty create opportunities for students to access content about language, culture, and education within the college curriculum. We also address the work we need to do as educators and linguists to provide more Black college students with information that both empowers them and respects their developing identity choices.
Umberto Ansaldo, University of Sydney/Curtin University
Doing language for others
For the last decade at least, we have been asking ourselves whether the HASS are in a crisis. That
question can be tackled from different angles: the degree to which governments fund research in
HASS disciplines; the employability of graduates with HASS degrees and their median income; the
status afforded to HASS studies by politicians and the business sector; the amount of respect shown in
our vice-chancellors’ strategies for the role of HASS in a given university. There is certainly more.
While these are all important and significant dimensions to consider, for me the most important
dimension is evidence of impact. What kind of society do we live in? Is it sufficiently humane? Is it
just? Does it offer diversity of expressions? And do we play a role in it?
Quite unlike Steven Pinker’s view of humanity (The Better Angels of our Nature, 2011), my answers
to the questions above are primarily negative. The last decade has shown us an overall decrease of
democratic values in those very societies we trusted to uphold and evolve democracy around the
world. Despite much talk about tolerance and multiculturalism, it is a Celtic white – and often but not
solely male – caste that still dominates western societies. A capitalist model divorced from ethics in
many sectors has fuelled the rise of totalitarian states. In these, human rights are abused, voices are
curtailed, and populations are being kept in a status just above domesticated animals, ruled by a
higher caste that is afforded a higher level of humanity. Environmental degradation threatens the
stability of species and ecosystems. Forced migrations, mass detentions, and modern slavery affect
billions of people. And there is more.
It is clear to me that there are too many individuals, groups, and institutions out there who either fail
to understand or have chosen to ignore the very essence of what the HASS should be about: the
centrality of the human experience, the absolute right to a just society, the supreme importance of
freedom of expression. Even within our own universities, we are too often willing to compromise any
of these for the purpose of an abstract notion of ‘success’, financial calculations of questionable ethic
fitness, and overall consideration that are not entirely humane. Two questions we must ask ourselves
are: (1) where did we go wrong, and (2) what can we do about it? In this talk, I first analyse whether
we went wrong, and if so how. I propose 5 scenarios that range from “nothing is wrong” to “it is
indeed our own fault”. In the second part of the talk I propose what can be done about each of the
scenarios by diving into my own discipline of linguistics for illustration. Here I present a view of
linguistics as a form of activism, in which research questions are designed with communities and for
communities. I discuss what impact linguistics can have on society, to what extent it is translatable,
and whether it is in our power to contribute to a better society.