Burden of being a spokesperson

It is unfair to assume that any one student represents the experiences or beliefs of an entire group.

When certain issues arise in classroom or theoretical discussions, especially those relating to race, class, or gender, the pressures of being a spokesperson arise. These pressures tend to burden underrepresented students more than others. Consider the pressures put on a woman in an engineering seminar if she were asked, "How would a woman approach this design problem?" or on the man in a feminist theory class if he were asked to provide "the male perspective."

Suggestions for Students
  • Avoid asking your peers and professors to speak as spokespersons for a group to which you think they belong. Simply ask for their perspective.
  • Avoid assuming that the "white male" experience is the norm. Seek to understand how race, gender, and other characteristics are factors that can influence people's perspectives on intellectual problems or issues.
  • Emphasize, when called upon, that you speak from your own perspective. If you voluntarily take on a spokesperson role for an issue you feel strongly about, explain that there may be others present who do not feel the same way.
  • When you hear other students voluntarily taking on spokesperson roles, acknowledge what you have learned from their contributions to the discussion.
Suggestions for Faculty
  • Avoid assuming that the "white male" experience is the norm. Understand how race, gender, and other characteristics influence, but do not predetermine, your students' perspectives on intellectual problems or issues.
  • Avoid asking students to speak as spokespersons for the group to which you perceive they belong. Simply ask for their perspective.
  • When you hear students voluntarily taking on spokesperson roles, acknowledge what you have gained from their contributions to the discussion.