Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Cheryl Casey presented a paper titled "Oppression by Convenience/The Convenience of Oppression: Sexist Language Habits and the Ethics of Classroom Discussion" at the annual convention of the Eastern Communication Association in Arlington, Va., on April 16. The paper was sponsored by the Institute for General Semantics and was awarded that division's Top Paper.
In the paper, Casey argued that although diversity initiatives on college campuses have brought the problem of talking about race, class and gender to the fore in many classrooms, sexist discourse persists in everyday language use, masking and justifying gendered power structures. She used naming traditions as one case in point to discuss how the persistence of sexist language is buttressed by the convenience of tradition.
For example, studies have shown that even women interested in gender issues take their husband's name upon marriage, citing reasons of tradition, familial solidarity and convenience; the power dynamics reflected in the surname change is accepted and taken for granted. Situating her paper within the larger context of the struggle between dominant communication systems and cultural diversity, Casey argued for the reinvigoration of feminist thought in studies of language and culture as a way to develop an ethic of discursive diversity that validates the perceptions of all students in classrooms and campus diversity initiatives.