Sent on behalf of Mark Faaita, Director of Forensics and READI equity fellow.
As the Director of Forensics, I have the benefit of working with students from a variety of majors and, of course, a diversity of backgrounds. To be competitive, students must delve beneath the surface of issues in order to craft arguments that are simultaneously unique and relatable to a diversity of audience members. In 2018, Kanako Otani, an International Student from Hiroshima, Japan (still featured on the International Admissions’ International Inspirations webpage), qualified for the most prestigious Speech and Debate national tournament in the country with her After Dinner Speech on accent discrimination.
The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion explicitly states that “people who speak any languages” are welcomed by Chico State. It is important to consider that this declaration should also stand for people who speak languages differently than an imagined standard. Dr. Rosina Lippi Green makes a case for the fluidity of language and the universality of accent in her book English with an Accent. The legitimizing role of accent discrimination against immigrants is an article that discusses the role accent discrimination plays in a variety of experimental circumstances towards enhancing prejudice. Considering the diversity of our student population, it is important we remember that an accent is not merely a marker of birthplace. How we talk can denote many things, but it should never be deemed by faculty as a means for judging comprehension, or ability.
As a faculty member participating in groups made up entirely of faculty members, I have been present for the dismissal of narratives because of the “vulgarity” of the language used to share said narratives. I voiced my frustration with the dismissal in my own way, but I never returned to the groups. I am privileged to be where I am. I am a first-generation high school graduate who has managed to reach a place that allows me to currently be writing this to you, and I still struggle with discrimination and dismissal towards voices that sound like those that I grew up with. Our students deserve better. We have an opportunity, as faculty, to be a voice of acceptance and reassurance. The sounds of welcoming eventually outweighed the voices of rejection for me, but if we are not conscious about how we treat the diversity of voices with which we interact, our students may not be as lucky.
Accent discrimination is a nuanced aspect of discrimination at large. Discrimination is by no means something that only happens intentionally. READI and Faculty Development can provide some resources. You can start from this teaching guide on Academic Language Development or this teaching guide on Language Development Through Coursework. Our role is to work with faculty on all their equity-related needs, so reach out and book a consultation if you need additional help and support.