Sensitive to insensitivity

Staff Editorial

Illustration by Sandra Moore

It is not an especially rare occurrence when a teacher says something in class that causes some to cringe in disbelief. After all, teachers are people, too. Educators, however, are incredibly influential to a student’s moral compass, and therefore have more of an obligation to be cautious in what they say than the average person. If a teacher says something with regard to race, sexuality, or any sensitive topic, one might assume it is an acceptable thing to say. Unfortunately, this is often far from the truth.

Teachers in general do their best to remain unbiased and well-mannered. However, there are cases in which they are not. Even teachers who are well-liked and only have the best intentions can be guilty of inappropriate remarks.

Students recounted an instance where a teacher associated a Muslim student with the 9/11 attacks when the lights turned off in the classroom during a lesson. It was also reported that the same teacher told a joke to two students in which part of the punchline was the n-word.

“It’s easy to laugh out of shock and a lack of time to truly assess how much of a negative impact [comments like that] can have on our perception of race relations,” senior Seiji Sasaki said. “However, it’s completely unprofessional and unethical for a teacher — someone who is supposed to be a role model — to condone the marginalization of a particular race or culture. As a teacher, one has an inherent obligation to act with the utmost moral behavior.”

Although these jokes are never acceptable, they are especially unacceptable in a classroom setting. Being in an environment where these remarks are accepted justifies and even encourages students’ own harmful prejudices, so long as it is for a laugh. Because of the imbalance of power between teachers and students, the students who do recognize inappropriate comments in the classroom are often not comfortable to speak out. This silence reaffirms the teacher’s idea that such comments are acceptable, when this is far from reality.

Teachers do not intend for students to feel uncomfortable or offended, but their intent means little when compared to outcomes. Most teachers filter what they say, as they should, but the few who don’t perpetuate some of society’s most prevalent problems. Just because students laugh does not mean your words are harmless; just because a teacher says it does not make it O.K. Teachers need to think carefully before they speak and consider the consequences of
their words.