Monday, November 11, 2013

Tutor Replacement: A Cultural Disservice (Blog 11)

I really appreciate that we get to discuss this issue in the blog. I recently had a less than fortunate encounter with one of the male Saudi exchange students.

The assignment was to craft a business proposal for a product that you would appreciate incorporated into the practices of a particular business. While I am not, nor have I ever been, a business student, I am the daughter of a business owner and have spent most of my life surrounded by the jargon  I was confident that I could help him clean up his writing and explain any inconsistencies that I, as the reader, perceived.

However, I noticed very early on that his writing was quite choppy but not anything out of the ordinary for an ESL student. So, I began to address with him some of the language issues present in his paper.  He had seemed a little reserved since he sat down but, as I addressed some of his writing problems, he began to get more vocal and a bit aggressive. I had not really had any issues with the Saudi students all semester – most were very nice to me. Regardless, I continued the session and acted as I would with any other student. We had reached the middle of his proposal and had hit a language barrier issue. I kept asking questions in order to figure out which word he meant to use, and he got quite frustrated and said, “You just don’t understand business because you are a woman. Business talk is only for men.” I was immediately taken aback and took a moment to cool down – I was quite frustrated.

I knew that we had been trained to address the situation by relinquishing the session to someone, in this case a man, who was more suited to the tutee. So, I told the student that I didn't feel I could be helpful in the current situation. He seemed to panic and apologized with, “No, no, no! I’m sorry, I know that women in America are different.” It came as a surprise but he explained that he didn't have any time to wait for a male tutor because the assignment was due that afternoon. If there had been any male tutors available, I would have relinquished the session regardless. However, none were available, so I continued and finished out the session myself.

I have never been an exchange student to a foreign country but I feel that, should I have made that decision, I would want to immerse myself in whatever culture I found myself in. While I would not voluntarily attend an exchange program in Saudi Arabia, I would still want to observe whatever culture I had chosen (e.g. Parisian, British, German, Italian, Brazilian, etc.). While I can respect the cultural challenges that Saudi students present, particularly the male/female dynamic, I still can’t help but think we are doing them a disservice.

Yes, most American women act differently than most Saudi woman. However, I can’t see that as proper justification for conceding to those differences on the basis of prejudice. That’s what it is: prejudice. Saudi men have been raised and taught to believe that women are inferior to them – this is why they are uncomfortable being the male “student-tutee” of the female “teacher-tutor.” But, they made the conscious choice to complete their studies at an American university and need to understand that we abide by different rules. We do them absolutely no service by conceding to their cultural bubble in a place where that cultural bubble no longer applies to the society at large.

Now, I understand that tutoring embraces the idea that learning can only happen when the student is comfortable and open. I also understand that the Writing Center shouldn't be a place of cultural activism. But the Writing Center’s goal for this year is to be “inclusive” of all cultural backgrounds. Well, my cultural background dictates that a tutor can be effective regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious preference.  In this capacity, I believe that the Writing Center’s policy of tutor replacement based on cultural differences does a disservice to both the tutor (who needs to learn to face these global struggles) and the tutee (who needs to embrace the culture that they have adopted for the duration of their study).

p.s. Sorry this was so long, I was passionate about the topic. 


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