Almost every student at Montclair State University knows about the general education course CMST101, also known as Fundamentals of Speech, and commonly just called public speaking. Whether you love it or hate it, public speaking is a really important skill and MSU recognizes that by making it a requirement. Something most students probably do not know about the professors of CMST101 is that each year they go through a training to discuss the coming year and important information about teaching the course. This year Mary Lou Naumoff, who coordinates the Fundamentals of Speech Program reached out to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Center within the Office of Equity and Diversity to request a workshop on how to support transgender and gender variant students. Her goal was to teach the professors about gender pronouns and the best ways to address audiences. As a peer educator and lavender leader at the LGBTQ Center, a friend and I presented this workshop.
One of the professors, who is pretty known on this campus is George Elian, who is extremely supportive of the need for this workshop. After this experience of presenting to those who usually teach me, Wired Jersey interviewed him about the connections between the course and the presentation.
George Elian is an Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies who uses the pronouns: He, Him, His, and Himself.
As we prepared this presentation, it was really hard to pinpoint why public speaking professors would ask for this. Elian explained that he “believe(s) the most significant motivation is that this is a PERFORMANCE class where students must go in front of an audience to perform their assignments. This also a COMMUNICATION class where the words they use in those performances must be chosen carefully because of the significant impact they may have on ALL members of the audience.”
Something else that is important to talk about is the generation gap between the students and the professor. Since gender pronouns and the various identities are quite new for them, it can be hard for them to understand. When I asked Elian about this he said, “people are a product of the era and culture they grew up in. As they get older they become more set in their ways and it is difficult to get them to change. However, it is never too late to be inclusive and enlightened.”
A big part of the current movement in certain departments at MSU is using standard syllabi that would include information on gender pronouns and used names. While this is not implemented in CMST101 just yet, in our presentation, we gave advice to the professors on things they can add to their syllabi specifically. I asked Elian about his opinion on this and he said:
“The syllabus is a contract between both the teachers and their students that must be adhered to by all. In the case of a Gen-Ed class like CMST 101, the parameters and assignment requirements are department mandated. Since the professors are not identical robots you are going to get differing interpretations and implementations of the same syllabus. As a result, sensitivity and inclusion will vary from class to class. It’s unavoidable when you’re dealing with the subjectivity inherent in all humans.”
Since I know Elian is an ally to the LGBTQ Community, I was not surprised when he said he is already making an effort to be inclusive in his classroom. I am really hoping that the other CMST 101 professors as well as extended faculty adopt more inclusive habits in their classrooms.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Center is located within the Office of Equity and Diversity in Student Center room 110.
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