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Virtual Discrimination

A student—I shall call her L here—arrived about forty-five minutes late to my first Wednesday NYU class. She hadn’t received my emails with attached documents and went to the wrong building, a good mile away from where we were meeting. I had left text and voice messages for everyone on my roster telling them to check their emails, but there were blank spaces next to L’s name, and all my efforts to track her down before class had failed. Now here she was, our mystery guest I was already calling her, exhausted, frustrated, and embarrassed. When we talked during the break she told me that she had only recently bought a computer and a cell phone. “I know I am far behind,” she said. “But I want to write so badly.” She had bought an Apple laptop and an iPhone and was taking every class offered at the Apple store, but she was still learning how to negotiate email and the internet. Oh dear, I thought, I don’t hand out anything, I’ve gone completely virtual. And then the thought: If a student is not electronically connected, are we discriminating?

I believe the answer is yes. After all, if a student enrolls, it is our job to make sure that the class works for them even if that means printing out materials to hand them in class. Which is what I offered to do. I called my student at home over the weekend to reassure her again but, unfortunately, and to my great dismay, she had already withdrawn. Then another student wrote to ask if I could start a class Facebook page so that work could be posted and shared with ease. Most assuredly, the answer to that question is no, for all the discriminatory reasons stated above.

As a mentor, I have to protect and serve every member of my workshop, to make them and their writing efforts welcome and valued, whether they have gone virtual, or not. In the past, I have had students submit manuscripts etched in longhand on lined paper and then photocopied for everyone to read. It didn’t matter. Only the writing matters.
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