Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Sandhu ’25: Diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom starts with names

Growing up with a name that is not easy for everyone to pronounce, I struggled to feel recognized and included in classrooms where teachers did not learn my name. In the past, I had grown accustomed to mispronunciations of my name, undermining my sense of identity in class. Because of this, I know that pronouncing names correctly has the power to accelerate the progress of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in education. Though it may seem like a minor detail, correctly using a student’s name creates a space where students can feel confident about their identity, their learning and their belonging in academic settings. And considering it is so simple, there is no reason why we shouldn’t all respect each other’s names.

At the start of this semester, I anticipated a familiar experience. It was the first day of classes. Students peered at the door to check the room number and then silently filed into the classroom. I followed, taking a seat somewhere in the middle-front of the room. As the professor read out the class list and neared the end of the alphabet, I began looking for the signs. Will she pause? Will her expression appear unsure? Will everyone’s eyes turn to me when I speak up to diffuse her mistake? But this time, the pause never came. When I’m called, my name rings around the room in perfect pronunciation. All I have to say is, “Here!”

What was different? This professor was acquainted with my name. The feeling I got knowing that I wasn’t anonymous in this class made me want to speak up more. It also encouraged my classmates to make an effort to learn my name since the professor set an expectation that it was known, pronounceable and important to remember. I felt confident, included and equal to my peers. In the past, I have often thought that to be an excellent student, I had to accommodate or simplify my name so that teachers would recognize me and, therefore, my work. When “Jane” or “Sam” contributed positively to a discussion, a professor who did not take the time to learn challenging names acknowledged these contributions before a contribution made by “Meher,” ultimately depriving some students of equally deserved recognition. I found myself accepting mispronunciations of my name in order to draw less attention to its difficulty and to make sure I was known at all, whether it was by the correct pronunciation of my name or not.

Poet Harman Kaur writes in her collection “Phulkari” about the experience of growing up with a Punjabi name that is difficult to pronounce. She writes that if her classmates can study the pronunciation of scientific terms, they can learn her name. As a biology student, I have diligently learned how to pronounce complicated organic chemistry nomenclature and bacteria names so that, when I spoke up in class, I felt prepared and knowledgeable. Scientific language is universally taught, and, regardless of the student’s native language, they are expected to memorize difficult jargon with ease. Why should we not make the same effort with names?


The solution to this problem has two components. The first is a willingness in teachers to learn how to say students’ names the way they like, and the second is for schools to hire a more diverse faculty that reflects the diversity of students. Not only does diversity in academia offer new perspectives to the learning experience, but representation amongst faculty welcomes minority-background students into the classroom by fostering a sense of belonging. Every student benefits from diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts. And that starts with a commitment to calling every student by their name of choice.


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.