“How do we create a harmonious society out of so many kinds of people? The key is tolerance – – the one value that is indispensable in creating community.” (Barbara Jordan)
As a former professor of English Second Language classes, I vividly recall those international students I taught who endured numerous hardships in attempting to master English language competence in a competitive University setting. The following fictional story thus dramatizes the struggle of Maryan, a shy female pupil, originally from Iran, who would face insurmountable cultural barriers to succeed in Reading Lab because of her Islamic background.
Next to the holy mosque, the Reading Lab on campus seemed to Maryam these days as the most important place in her life. For as a young, second year student, her practice of ESL reading/writing skills in this isolated setting seemed to be a vital step toward obtaining her Microbiology degree at this esteemed institution of learning. So each weeknight at 5:00 pm, Maryam would dutifully put in her three hours of Reading Lab time on campus after working all day as a part-time, office delivery person to master the challenging lab time requirements of her course syllabus.
Everything seemed to be working well for Maryam throughout the college term until she experienced for the first time at Midterm, the stern presence of Ms. Croft as the new night coordinator of the Reading Lab. For in taking her accustomed seat in the first row at the front of the room night after night, Maryan sensed gradually that Ms. Croft exhibited a distinct dislike for her as an Islamic worshipping individual. She began to ponder why Ms. Croft would address her every night as Mary Ann rather than show more respect for her given Muslim name. She also wondered for what purpose was she commanded to remove her Arab head scarf while in the lab and place it along with other personal belongings she carried under the coordinator’s front desk table before beginning each session. Maryam particularly objected as well to being told by Ms. Croft that her sacred Qur’an book that she normally took everywhere, could not be kept at her desk to read as it helped her to relax between challenging grammar lessons.
As “crunch time” proceeded inside the Reading Lab trenches during week 14 of the academic term, sudden tragedy struck Maryam’s life. For on this particular Tuesday night as Ms. Croft casually talked on the front counter telephone, Maryam took a lab violation risk of removing her shoes under her lab carrel to ease her pain from a foot injury she had experienced three hours ago after standing all day at work. Suddenly a passing male student grabbed one of these shoes and flung it deliberately at the currently distracted Ms. Croft. Hoping to avoid scrutiny of his actions, he then immediately fled to a desk hidden from Ms. Croft’s view at the back of the room. Campus Security were called in immediately to investigate the incident. Ms. Croft reported to them then that she suspected that Maryam, who she indicated in fact was the shoe wearer in this case, would be a likely culprit to accuse for inciting this act of violent misbehavior. She also related to them that Maryam had shown negligent violation of current lab policies tonight by taking off her shoes. Sadly, there were no student bystanders in the lab that night willing to come forward to defend Maryam and point out the real culprit in the actual throwing of the shoe.
In spite of Maryam’s desperate pleas of her innocence in this matter, Ms. Croft was granted the right by the Reading Department Chairperson the next morning to ban her from attendance in the Reading Lab for the remainder of the term. Feeling embittered by thoughts of experiencing such cultural shame and negative impact on her current coursework efforts, Maryam would make the decision soon after the end of the semester to drop out of college. It seemed that she had persuaded herself that striving toward the heights of English competence made little sense to her anymore.
A reasonable conclusion can be made that Maryam did not deserve such an unjust fate in the Reading Lab. For based on her actions on that disastrous night, to what extent had she been wrongfully treated by others at this college simply because her cultural persona was different than theirs? How might you then go about building new bridges of cultural diversity awareness in this divisive time of racial/ethnic confusion?