Tricky Moments address issues of boundary violating remarks and acts during situations of teaching and learning. Reading through them can therefore have a (re-)traumatizing effect on people who have encountered violence and discrimination before (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.). The following Tricky Moment depicts a fictional situation inspired by actual experiences.

Plan B

This is about:

Exam situation

Describing the situation

Entrance examination*: in the room there are the student candidate and the members of the examination committee consisting of professors of all genders from different subject areas. The candidate has already successfully finished both the written and the practical section of the examination. For the ultimate section he has been invited to a final talk/conversation. The scheduled topics are canon, repertoire knowledge and the student’s individual interest concerning his choice of studies. The candidate tells about his activities in the local cultural center, his musical role models and his career aspirations. Upon being asked, he also presents details in relation to his plan B if he were to fail the admission examination. In conclusion, a member of the examination committee offers the following advice: “In order to be able to entirely devote yourself to your studies, relocating to Vienna is a must as this will allow you to regularly attend concerts and other important cultural offers. You will also be able to frequent libraries and meet and exchange with fellow students. Ideally, look for an apartment in one of the inner districts of the city, maybe together with other students interested in culture.”

What happened here?

Viewing/regarding the situation from different perspectives

Besides being examined on contents that are relevant for admission, the candidate is also questioned about his personal life. Any such question by definition involves classist aspects because it aims at gaining information in relation to private life plans as well as socio-economic and educational details. The advice offered contains subtle classist judgements that remain vague and are therefore difficult to pin down.

The examination committee poses the question in regards to alternative career plans consciously. It is aimed at testing the applicant’s earnestness and whether his career ambitions are straightforward. Outlining a plan B deviates from the ideal image of (art) students at university who are typically expected to fully focus on their studies, be available most of the time and perform at their highest level. It could therefore result in an unfavorable assessment of the applicant.

The committee member speaks from a position of privilege. The advice they give infringes on the candidate’s privacy and contains classist elements.

After describing his plan B, the student applicant receives unsolicited advice in relation to his private life. He is unsure whether it was a good idea to have provided information on alternative career choices. The advice pressures him, leaving the impression that his way of life so far does not correspond to the prototypical image of (art) students at university.

Exam situation

Every examination setting is characterized by marked hierarchical differences of the persons present, especially so in entrance exams*: decisions regarding procedure, content related questions, exam mode, admission, academic success, etc. rest solely within the power of the committee members / examiners while exam candidates find themselves in a highly precarious and vulnerable position.

* At mdw, admission into all degree programs and most non-degree programs is preconditioned on entrance examinations (with the exception of scientific PhD programs). Depending on the subject, these exams can vary in respect to the composition of the examination committee, procedure and content.

Which terms, concepts and images are relevant here?

The following definitions are taken from the glossaries Diskriminierungskritische Perspektiven an der Schnittstelle Bildung/Kunst [“Engaging discrimination at the interface of education and art – critical perspectives”] and Gender- und Diversityportal der Universität Freiburg [“University of Freiburg’s Gender- and Diversity web portal”]

Erstakademiker_in/ first generation student The term first-generation students denotes students who are the first in their families to enter or graduate from university.
classism, classistic discrimination »This term describes systemic discrimination based on socio-economic position or background of a person or group. Classism is predominantly directed against persons from ›lower‹ classes, especially affecting those in manual labor or low-paying jobs (›working class‹) and poor people. Social classes are ascribed certain values and skills, generally associating the working class with negative characteristics.«
Privilege »[…] the entitlement, advantage or security a human derives from (ascribed) membership to a group. Based on their privilege the person is simultaneously spared from hardships and discrimination. Privileges are rooted in institutionalized systems that have developed historically – such as sexism or racism.«
Social background »As a dimension of diversity, social background reviews a person’s socio-cultural heritage and their situatedness in a specific milieu and/or class by considering the life-situation of their parents. […]« (Gender & Diversity Portal o.J.) »[…] following Pierre Bourdieu, the resources and value systems into which a human is born and in which socialization happens. […]«

Becoming active, doing what and how?

How can my actions actively contribute to successful situations of teaching and learning?

Have you experienced a similar situation?

You are not alone. Here you can forward your experiences with discrimination directly to the Working Group on Equal Opportunities (AKG) or ask for possible courses of action. Your information will be treated confidentially.

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