Thursday, July 10, 2014

When We Should Not Take No For An Answer.

The English department at the University of Iowa offered many interesting graduate courses, but  I really wanted to take the seminar in expository writing. In order to be admitted we had to submit a sample of our work, I sent two  papers, both had received very good grades. To my dismay I was not accepted to the seminar, the professor wrote that my papers were not elegant enough.

This reply was very disappointing, but I knew that he was right. As English is my second language  my writing is purposeful, but it lacks the ease that many native writers possess, and I make mistakes

In retrospect  I should have contested the verdict; a much better course of action would have been to ask the professor to meet me. Face to face I could have explained that although I agreed with his opinion of my work,  his seminar could help me improve my writing and make it more elegant. Moreover, I should  have argued that as this was a teaching institution his commitment was to help the weaker students and not only to perfect the technique of those who were  already excellent.

But at the time I did nothing;  I was too embarassed, perhaps even ashamed, that my writing wasn’t good enough and did not dare to challenge that ruling.

The rejection of my application is an illustration of how sometimes under the pretense of academic excellence, or other lofty standards, we discriminate.  The professor had no idea who I was and what I was capable of, he simply compared my work to that of the rest of the candidates and concluded that I did not belong in his classroom. While this decision was entirely within his discretion, it was not inclusive and showed short-sightedness. Obviously I was the main loser, but by not investigating further, he deprived his class of the opportunity to intellectually engage with someone from another culture with different qualities and  insights.

Today I believe that we don't have to  automatically take no for an answer; there should be room for negotiation and further discussion. Often we accept exclusions because they comply with our inner fears or insecurities. It is especially true about students who are young and inexperienced.

Sometimes when people doubt our ability to do something we work much harder just to prove them wrong, at other times it is disheartening and life seems arbitrary and unjust. Evidently some rejections are unavoidable, but it is the teachers' rsponsibility not to harp on their  finality and to encourage their students either to try again or, if needed, to look for alternatives. When my students seek advice I tell them the story of the essay writing seminar. Then I urge them to dare, to be brave and request an opportunity to prove themselves so that they could succeed in achieving their goals .

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