4/09/2012

Wenzao College Student Protest Is Misguided

Last week, the Taipei Times ran a story on the dress code of Wenzao College, which is situated in Greater Kaohsiung, Taiwan: http://goo.gl/uOXAX. In it, the writer addresses the frustration of local students with the code but ignores their prejudice towards foreign students and ethnocentrism in taking a stance. So, I will briefly address these issues for him because I think his piece is problematic.

The report starts by covering the reaction of students at Wenzao to these words, posted on the school's front gates:  "The campus is a formal location [whatever that means] of learning and we [who?] ask that students comply with the following rules -- Please do not wear flip-flops, hot-pants, or revealing clothing on campus." It seems Wenzao's students, at least some of them, do not like being told how to dress. This is understandable. What should be important is that students do their homework, participate in classes, show respect for their teachers and peers, etc. Who gives a crap if they're wearing flip-flops or hot-pants? If anything, the school is showing disrespect to them by questioning their fashion sense and making a statement about their attitude.

Here's where the story gets annoying: "However some students complained that the school was being selective in its target audience, pointing out that the notice, written entirely in Chinese, was targeted at Taiwanese students rather than accompanied by an English version for foreign students, who some students said are the main culprits when it comes to violating the dress code." Really? I just don't get it. Where in this notice does it say that? Furthermore, where does it say "foreign students do not read this and do not heed this?"

Actually, I do get it. The protesters are assuming if you are not Taiwanese, you cannot read (or speak) Chinese. That is misguided because it shows prejudice -- a judgment we pass on another without first knowing them -- and ethnocentric behavior. I for a fact know it's ethnocentric behavior because I just went down to Greater Kaohsiung this morning and interviewed the same students as the Taipei Times. They reiterated their complaints that "the school was being selective in its target audience." Then they told me Chinese is the most difficult language in the world and only Chinese and Taiwanese people (like them) were smart enough to learn it.

While I was in Greater Kaohsiung, I stopped by the admissions office to get the school calendar. On page 2,553, I read the following:

II. Center of Chinese Language
Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages is Taiwan's only college of foreign languages. We have Taiwan's most advanced audiovisual center, equipped with instructional videos and audio tapes, and multifunctional language labs. The Center of Chinese Language is one of the newest divisions in Wenzao, focusing on language and cultural exchange between the Chinese and peoples from other nations. Our instructors are speakers of Mandarin, well-trained and highly experienced in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. With the guidance of these teachers, students soon master practical Chinese, adapt to life in Taiwan and are able to appreciate the many aspects of Chinese culture.

In other words, the next time you want to assume somebody can't do something based on the color of their skin, protesters, please don't. And stop talking trash about the teaching abilities of the instructors at your school.  BTW, good job, Taipei Times. Nice little piece of race-baiting in the "foreign students get away with murder and don't understand our ways, so we're angry" angle.   

11 comments:

MKL said...

The protesters are assuming if you are not Taiwanese, you cannot read (or speak) Chinese. That is misguided because it shows prejudice -- a judgment we pass on another without first knowing them -- and ethnocentric behavior.

So you would rather see, that they think, that everybody, who is not Taiwanese, can read (or speak) Chinese? That's in my opinion in heavy conflict with reality.

If you ask me, they are right. It would be better to have another English version next to the Chinese, it's common sense. How many non-Taiwanese (which here probably equals Westerners) can really read traditional Chinese well? A few do maybe.. a few. Having a bilingual warning is what bridges the gap between Chinese speaking and English speaking students, it should be embraced, not frowned upon.

And I think it goes too far to insert "skin color" here, I personally can not understand, why would you go that far. There are Singaporeans, who are Han Chinese, but only speak English.

I for a fact know it's ethnocentric behavior because I just went down to Greater Kaohsiung this morning and interviewed the same students as the Taipei Times.

This I don't believe, it's anecdotal evidence. In Taipei Times no student's name is mentioned, how could you have talked to the same one? And how many of them have you spoken with? Do they represent the majority of the students?

I'm not excluding the possibility, that someone said:

only Chinese and Taiwanese people (like them) were smart enough to learn it.

But seriously, I don't believe, that this is the opinion of the majority of the students of that college. I will believe it, when I hear it.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"So you would rather see, that they think, that everybody, who is not Taiwanese, can read (or speak) Chinese? That's in my opinion in heavy conflict with reality."

I don't know about that. Assuming that foreign students who study Chinese aren't able to understand Chinese is problematic for the couple of reasons I go into. I for one know lots of foreign students who do understand Chinese. That is why they study, and what they learn in their classes: how to read and speak Chinese. The college makes the claim that its foreign students have this capability on their website.

"This I don't believe, it's anecdotal evidence. In Taipei Times no student's name is mentioned, how could you have talked to the same one? And how many of them have you spoken with? Do they represent the majority of the students?"

It's a joke, a hyperbole if you will; I don't think that this is too hard to grasp in the tone of my post. The Taipei Times obviously did not talk to anyone; that is why not a single student's name was mentioned. I didn't talk to anyone either. In fact, I didn't even go to Greater Kaohsiung. I was just mimicking their crappy reporting to make a point.

MJ Klein said...

so, how intelligent does one have to be to learn a language as a baby? geesh.

Anonymous said...

Middle people

I like to mention I read somewhere it's the SECOND hardest language in the world. They say wha...???!?! I say there are African languages that are tonal as well as using clicks. Whoever thought up a language where liver and frack are the same sound...sheesh?! I dunno know about you, I don't mind being middle class, but I don't like to be middle (mediocre?) people.

MARC SCOTT said...

Love your articles Patric...keep on-em.

Anonymous said...

"What should be important is that students do their homework, participate in classes, show respect for their teachers and peers, etc. Who gives a crap if they're wearing flip-flops or hot-pants? If anything, the school is showing disrespect to them by questioning their fashion sense and making a statement about their attitude."

I'm far from supporting the school here, but it probably helps to know though that Wenzao is in nature a catholic school (the school's name is a dedication to a missionary by that same name) and in many ways even more conservative than the average educational environment in Taiwan. Also, let's not forget, the full English name is "Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages."

Besides from having a chapel on campus, a lot of (catholic) missionaries from all sorts of countries study Chinese there for free (AFAIK) or at least get discounts that other students do not.

Having been there for quite a while myself, I find it rather ridiculous to blame possible violations of any dress code on the foreign students there, who really aren't that many. I would even go so far as to say that most of them are missionaries or come from Southeast Asian countries.

Ironically, due to the conservativeness of the environment, girls being enrolled in the under-university levels at Wenzao (like at many other schools in Taiwan) are usually required to wear skirt-based school uniforms, which, I guess is one of the most sexist/male-oriented biases as to how young women are supposed to dress, sorry, I meant *reasonable* clothing requirements of the world.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Having been there for quite a while myself, I find it rather ridiculous to blame possible violations of any dress code on the foreign students there, who really aren't that many."

Thanks for the insight. It's interesting to hear from someone who actually goes to the school. It is ridiculous.

Taiwan's media to a certain degree has been race baiting a lot recently; the US & Them stuff, especially when it has sexual connotations, must sell papers because it is occurring on a regular basis.

Terry J. Benzie said...

Dress codes have their place in certain institutions and, if the school has one in place, they should enforce it. However, anybody who has been on any campus in Taiwan can tell you that it's not a "foreign student" issue if, for no other reason than the percentage of them are rather low in comparison to the general population.

A university campus is the one place that you can expect a high number of foreigners to read Chinese well. (If students are in the first year of their language programme, the programme should help them to understand in the same way that second language programmes do in other countries).

However, does this school routinely post notices in two (or more) languages? Are they demanding that all flyers be bilingual? If not, they can generally be disregarded as saber rattling and race baiting as opposed to actually pushing for lasting change.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"However, does this school routinely post notices in two (or more) languages? Are they demanding that all flyers be bilingual?"

Good points. I suspect it does not. I should look into this.

Anonymous said...

They don't need to read chinese as those restrictions on clothes are SIGNS, it's 3 photographs with the forbidden red sign on it so...it does concern everyone. You should have seen those sign at the 2 main entrance if you went there.
And you said who cares about students dress? i mean it's good to have dress code sometimes for school especially because in Wenzao there are university student AND highschool ones. I guess a 16yu student might not need to see hotpants or tiny top on the campus ;-)

Patrick Cowsill said...

People need to take it easy. What is the problem with young adults in "hot pants?" Young people express themselves in what they wear. And what's the matter with them expressing their sexuality while they are at it, if that is what they want to do?