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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Letter to the editor: in defense of the secretary

Published: November 2, 2012
Section: Opinions

I recently read the editorial about the weekly emails from the union secretary. While some of the claims should be taken seriously, some of them gave me great concern. The editorial raised questions about the “appropriateness” of the emails being sent. It made no distinction between the content of the emails and the style in which they were written, both of which were indirectly addressed. As it is not up to me to decide, I will make no judgements about the appropriateness of the content of the emails. I will, however, take issue with the seeming disdain for Carlton’s specific style of communication.

As any of Carlton’s other friends would tell you, he has a big personality. His personality may not reflect that of the typical Brandeis student, but he is well-liked nonetheless. I think his personality is reflected in the way he communicates both in personal interactions as well as in his weekly emails. The emails of past union secretaries have reflected their respective personalities (perhaps to a different extent) as well. I would argue that there were no qualms to be had with the emails of previous secretaries because they reflected dominant norms about what is “professional.”

Interrogating the notion of professionalism, or acceptable ways of behaving and communicating, is not just pertinent to Student Union emails. It is important to interrogate the much deeper expectations about behavior and communication that permeate all aspects of life at Brandeis.

On a campus like Brandeis’, where the administration, faculty and students are allegedly committed to inclusion, diversity and “social justice,” why is Carlton’s voice one that needs to be silenced?

The article asserts that, “A bare modicum of professionalism is not too much to ask.” We need to ask the question, where does “professionalism” come from? And is this standard something we want to impose on communications within the student body?

My experience has taught me that “professionalism” is a loaded term with racial, sexist and classist dimensions. In dominant narratives, to be “professional” is to embrace the values of white culture. To be “professional” is to assert your masculinity and to devalue those things associated with femininity. To be “professional” is to appeal to a standard embraced by upper classes. To be “professional” means (in a shortened, simplified version) to aspire to the cultural habits of wealthy, white men. Are these the kinds of values that Brandeis students should aspire to? Should Brandeis students seek to devalue the voices of those who do not espouse these relative social privileges? I would hope not.

Secondly, what about the students for whom Carlton’s personality and method of communicating reflect their own? What is to be said for the student who appreciates the divergent voice on a campus that, despite its diversity, often perpetuates and privileges majority notions of acceptable communication. What are these students to think when they see this style institutionally devalued?

My goal is not to suggest that the editorial was motivated by racism classism or sexism, rather I want to foster a discussion about what modes of communication the Brandeis community finds to be acceptable. In doing this, we ought to explore the socio-cultural and historical attitudes that have informed these notions. We ought to interrogate the privilege that allows the original editorial to be credible discourse on this campus. From here, we can, as a community, begin to deconstruct some of the notions of professionalism that marginalize certain styles of communication and the people who practice them. Diversity is only as important as our ability to recognize and communicate respectfully across our differences.

Brandeis ought to be an environment that values diversity and inclusiveness; that emphasizes and promotes our differences. This editorial mocks the writings of a student because they don’t appeal to dominant notions of professionalism. Inclusiveness and the perpetuation or imposition of majoritarian ideas of acceptable forms of communication are not compatible. Despite our differences, I (and many others) respect Carlton for his originality, creativity and bright voice on the Brandeis campus. He ought not be criticized simply for being different.