So you want to be a racist?

So, I was grading papers this evening, and for the first time in my teaching life I came across a paper that I’m going to label as “racist.” It is important to note that the students had to read an article suggesting that American colleges and universities have issues with diversity and community. The students were asked to propose a solution to this or prove that the author was incorrect and that there was no issue. Overall the papers were not that great, but when I came across the “racist” one I was forced to stop in my tracks.

First of all, the paper was not a good one. The quality of writing was not up to the level that I expect my students to write at. It was choppy and needed a lot of work with argument, thesis, and organization. That being said, the student then had a paragraph that had some pretty racist comments. The student was discussing segregation and how it wasn’t something society accepted, but it made sense for people to stick with their own kind. This was always qualified by the student suggesting that some groups made white people uncomfortable because of how they were different.  The student also wrote how people in one race only exposed to their own race would be uncomfortable around people different from them and would only communicate with their own race because of their comfort level. I’m paraphrasing of course but I think you get the picture. I would love to post the paragraph up here but I like my job, and would like to keep it.

I do not by any means want to make excuses for this student, but is it possible that maybe this student trying to say that people mingle with people they feel they already have a connection to, a similar background? Is it possible that the student is just using this paragraph as an example of that? 

To be honest, I don’t think the student realizes what they are doing. Or maybe I want to believe they don’t realize it. Think about it. This is this student’s first college English paper. If this student isn’t the great communicator, isn’t it possible that this is a mistake or should I say miscommunication, that happened late at night after trying to pump pages out?  

I’m trying to decide if I should use this paragraph as example when I’m teaching. I’m concerned, first and foremost, the student will be highly offended. I’m also worried that it will lead to a blowout in the classroom where students start spouting off and possibly over reacting.

Currently, I’m at quite a loss for words. Paper grading really takes it out of me.



  1. This is s sticky situation for sure, MFA. Teachers walk a difficult line in these situations. I think there are a couple of things to consider: (1) If the student does indeed have racist tendencies, I wouldn’t label them as such to the class. People who think the way this student does will just become defensive, angry, remain closed-minded. (2) Perhaps assigning a reading that might help the students look at particular ideologies (i.e. understanding the grander scheme of race relations) might start the conversation. (3) Using something like this in a teaching activity is brilliant. Instead of using that particular student’s paragraph, why not find or develop one that is similar and show it along side a paragraph that says the same thing with a different tone or without the racist slant (like you mentioned above …”Is it possible this student was trying to say…”). Give the students in the class each paragraph to read and side by side and have them pick out the differences, etc. This way you aren’t singling out this particular student and with two paragraphs side-by-side he/she will be able to discern the differences for himself. I see an activity like this as giving students to resources/tools to see what’s wrong without having to tell them… Does that make sense? Good luck with this one…I look forward to reading your follow-up…

    1. Genkigrad,

      Those are some great suggestions. I haven’t used the paragraph as an example, but I did briefly discuss charged language and tone with my students yesterday. The student that handed in the paper was not pleased when I handed back their paper. I could tell because usually they participate and have a lot to say, but the student instead was quiet and had a sad face. I think I’m going to try the side by side thing, but I do want to let the student know if it wasn’t intentional then we need to find a way to fix it. I felt a bad that they were uncomfortable to participate in class discussion, epspecially since this student makes some great comments.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Yes, that’s hard when the student reacts unfavorably to your constructive comments and chooses not to participate. I am interested in seeing how this all pans out and how the students continues to write and react. Good luck. Since you asked, I’m doing my PhD in Ed Psych.

    1. Cool on the Ed Psych.

      I confronted (and that sounds combative but it so wasn’t, it was more like)
      ME: Are you okay about the paper?
      STUDENT: Oh of course, I read what you wrote and reread what I wrote. I see exactly what you’re talking about.
      ME: Oh good. What happened there? Where you writing late at night?
      STUDENT: Yes, and I was frustrated and didn’t know how to say what I wanted to.
      ME: Well, if it happens again, or you’re worried it might email me questions or come to my office hours.

      CRISIS OVER! Thank God.

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