May 5, 2017
By Annemarie Vaccaro
My pathway and impetus for studying women’s silence...
As someone who teaches diversity and social justice classes, I have seen how difficult it is to create a space where students can dig deeply, and speak freely, with peers. Even when students “talk” in class, these conversations often remain at the surface level. For years, I have been pondering this dilemma. The limited literature on silence helped, but it did not fully explain my observations as a teacher. Nor did the research fully explain why I (as a white, queer cisgender woman) sometimes remained silent during discussions about diversity.
Insight into the many complicated reasons for women’s silence emerged in a study of diverse students who enrolled in a “discussion based” class about women of color. These incredible women had a lot to say about their reasons for silence. I learned so much from their candid answers to my research questions. No matter what your role on campus, I have no doubt that their perspectives can also expand your ideas about student silence.
This article offers an intersectional critical race feminist analysis of student silence in a diverse university classroom. Findings from a case study with six Women of Color and four White women revealed students remained silent because they felt their complicated intersectional realities did not fit with the acceptable classroom counter-narrative. Because students perceived the course to focus on essentialist narratives of working class Women of Color who experienced overt racism and sexism, White women and Women of Color worried their stories did not belong. Student silence was not completely explained by prior literature describing it as disempowerment, internalized oppression, limited development, a coping mechanism, intense intellectual engagement, or resistance to White privilege. Suggestions for higher education professionals working with students inside and outside the classroom are provided.
Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASPA. If you agree or disagree with the content of this post, we encourage you to dialogue in the comment section below. NASPA reserves the right to remove any blog that is inaccurate or offensive.