Use Your Voice!

This week in my History of American Higher Education course, we were discussing perspective — meaning that each of the authors and articles I assign has a perspective or an inherent bias. I work hard to teach students to critically think and to realize that bias is everywhere and that it’s nearly impossible to find anything that takes a neutral stance. Typically, students are fooled by bland, boring academic text, thinking “oh, it’s academic in tone, it must be unbiased.” However, when they read an article in which the author is upfront about his or her perspective and passionate in tone, many students assume that the writing isn’t scholarly or isn’t academic or better yet, it’s more biased. 

            All too often, we teach students to write in a bland, almost dead, style. We suck the life out of potentially creative scholarship — scholarship that engages and draws in the audience. Sometimes knowingly, but often unknowingly, we take away the voices of our students. This problem is particularly acute among students of color, who are often told to change their voice to a more “academic” one. 

            I want to make a plea for using your voice! Really, what good is academic research if you can’t talk about it and express your ideas with the very passion that drew you to investigate the ideas in the first place?  I often tell students that as long as they do the research and have the evidence, they can present it in creative, rich and robust ways — it doesn’t have to be dry and lackluster to be scholarly.

            From time to time, someone gives me a hard time about “wasting my time” on these blog entries. They’ll say, “that’s not scholarship” or “you shouldn’t be taking a stand on issues.”  I have several responses to these comments (which I politely say to critics).  First, whenever I write a blog entry it’s based on my research or my teaching — so I can back up what I say.  Second, I also do peer reviewed articles and write books and one of the reasons that I was asked to write these blog entries is because of my scholarly record. And third, if we tenured academics, who are protected by academic freedom, don’t take a stand and speak out on important issues using our voice then who will?

            And so, I want to encourage young people pursuing faculty careers to resist the urge to “cleanse” their writing. Instead, write from your gut, from your soul. Engage readers, push readers, and make them think with your words. Find unique ways of presenting your research findings and take a stand if you feel compelled. Passionate, inspiring writing has a long lasting impact whereas bland writing ends up in the hallway in the “free stuff” box.  If you are still not convinced, pick up any book that has won a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award — it’s far from boring and the authors are willing to take a stand.