Communication, Privilege, and Community

Some things that I’m learning.

March 31, 2015
I want to start by saying thank you to everyone in our community who has engaged in our discussion these past few days about communication, privilege and community. My hope is to share some things that I am learning, in the hope that we might find common ground and shared understanding as we all grapple with these issues. 
The force the reaction to what I wrote on Friday took me by surprise. I had thought I was writing in defense of a less polarizing type of dialogue, but what I wrote was read as an attempt to silence and disempower. I had thought that what mattered was my intent, but my writing clearly caused pain and created a reaction that I had not expected or anticipated.  If my goal is to create more space for positive dialogue and understanding, then I need to act in a way that helps create more positive dialogue and understanding. I’m hoping that this post at least starts to open up that space.  
As a community we seem to be challenged to listen to each other when it comes to matters of (to quote Watters) “identity, power, and privilege”.  I know that I reacted strongly, and was hurt, when I was called sexist and a mansplainer. What I should have done, and what I am trying to do now, is to stop and ask - okay - how can I make my arguments and points in a way that advances rather than degrades our dialogue?   
One of the gifts that this whole week has given me is that I’ve had lots of really good conversations with some of my closest female colleagues.  They told me story after story about how they have been made to feel when making arguments… “too political, “too emotional, and entirely out-of-line”.  (Again quoting from Watters).  Over the years I have extensively linked to the writing of Watters, referencing her as an authority in educational technology.  (On 4/9/14 I even said that Watters was one of 3 people I know in edtech who should get a McArthur Genius Award, writing - “…who would better use this money/platform more to change our ideas about higher education?”).  Given this background, I had assumed (and I think that this was a bad assumption) that my critique of her and her co-author would be understood as part of an ongoing professional interaction within our IHE community.  It was my mistake to think that this history would matter in how my critical comments would be received, and to not fully appreciate the way that I wrote would be heard.  It is absolutely true that at the time I would have written a similar response if the authors of the Watters/Goldrick-Rab review of Carey’s book had been men.  My blindspot is not that I thought about gender when I wrote my critique of their review, it is that I did not.  
The other area that this whole week has caused me to think a good deal about is the role of privilege.  What I am realizing is that we have been having two different conversations, and are largely talking past each other.  The conversation that I thought I was having was about moderation and restraint in our community’s online discourse.  Instead, the communication that many in our community heard was one of a privileged male (me) trying to silence (once again) their critical voices.  One discussion (the one I thought we were having) was about the form of our discourse, and the other discussion was about a climate that allows those in privilege to dismiss the voices and ideas of those that they disagree with. 
I’m still very much struggling with understanding how privilege fits into how we construct, and how I participate in, our community’s critical discourse.  I am actively tuned into this discussion about privilege in a way that I was not last week.  This is not to say that I will always agree with everyone in this dialogue, but that I am listening hard and trying to be open to learning.


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