[MSA-talk] student personal disclosures (was ...color-blind students...)

Mazdab, Frank K - (fmazdab) fmazdab at email.arizona.edu
Wed Nov 1 16:17:06 EDT 2017

Hi Matt,

As your note was in response to what I wrote last week, let me comment.  I understand your reasoning, but I disagree with you.  This is an example of sensitivity training run amok.

Simply put, most colorblind students have such minor color deficiency issues that they don’t even know that they’re colorblind.  In a color-intensive class like optical mineralogy (just as in art class or any other color-intensive class), there’s really no way students with color deficiency issues are not going to get inadvertently “outed”, perhaps even to themselves, at least to some degree.  I suppose inclusivity training class might suggest that we don’t discuss color at all in the optical mineralogy (or art class, for that matter), so as not to risk this devastating outcome. That’s clearly not an option in this case.  However, I’m not sure what options there are here, although I’m quite curious about what kind of special learning accommodation you offer students who privately speak to you about being colorblind, and how you ensure fairness to colorblind students who don’t speak to you (either because they opt not to mention it, or more likely because they’re unaware of it).

I encourage students to ask their neighbors about any color questions they have in the same way I ask students to ask their neighbors about any subjective optical or physical property.  Relief is a great example… one student’s “high” relief is another’s “moderate” relief, so I’m fine with neighbors conferring about that as well.  So if one student sees yellow and another sees green (or “high” and “moderate” relief), each can leave the conversation either believing they’re correct, that the other student is maybe correct, or that maybe the answer is really yellow-green (or “moderate-high”). Even a student aware of their color vision deficiency need not necessarily “out” themselves in this situation; they’re just asking for an opinion, and with colorblindness so prevalent and because even with the blue filter everything under the microscope has a bit of an un-natural yellowish cast, only one’s most astute neighbors, supremely confident in their own color perception, might perhaps wonder about the deeper ramifications of a color inquiry.  And of course, no one is required to consult their neighbor; if a student is aware of and sensitive about their own color vision issues, they can of course come and see me privately about it… it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that I would never announce to a class, “Johnny is colorblind, so please help him with his colors”.

Finally, your sexual orientation analogy doesn’t quite work here.  Of course sexual orientation is not an appropriate discussion topic for an optical mineralogy class (although making students aware of general non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies on the first day of class definitely is), but if you were running some inclusive swingers club somewhere, you might want to encourage (but of course, not force or require) guests to mention that particular personal topic to other guests so that they could perhaps have their wants accommodated.  So what is appropriate and not appropriate would seem to have some situational context.  And in contrast to sexual orientation, there’s no persecution or even stigma of individuals based on colorblindness (indeed, even “sinister" left-handed students have endured worse in the past than any colorblind students I’m aware of).

Ultimately however, yes, you are correct that students need to feel comfortable in their learning environment, and I acknowledge that it’s possible a student could be sensitive about color vision issues, just as they might be sensitive about the thousands of other things young adults can be sensitive about (I remember).  But there is the subject at hand (petrography) to be learned as well… the close to 1 in 10 students who may sit silently frustrated that they can’t recognize the pink-green pleochroism of hypersthene (or alternatively, the other students with perfect color perception who may accidentally have the bright-field illumination knob inserted and are perplexed by the stray polarization colors they see in quartz and feldspar) should feel that in a non-exam situation it’s OK to ask their neighbor to help them interpret what they see, if they want to ask.  Of course, they’re certainly under no obligation to do so.


On 1 Nov 2017, at 07:06:28, Matt Kohn <mattkohn at boisestate.edu<mailto:mattkohn at boisestate.edu>> wrote:

OK, look - I’m not suggesting that the topic of sexual orientation is an appropriate topic for a mineralogy class.

I’m simply pointing out that you would NEVER ask a student to reveal something so personal to another student.

To be blunt: color blindness is a personal issue. Don’t encourage students to reveal it to others.


Begin forwarded message:

From: Matt Kohn <mattkohn at boisestate.edu<mailto:mattkohn at boisestate.edu>>
Subject: Re: student personal disclosures (was ...color-blind students...)
Date: November 1, 2017 at 7:41:10 AM MDT
To: msa-talk at minlists.org<mailto:msa-talk at minlists.org>

In a non-exam situation, I always suggest to students with color vision issues to ask their neighbors, and so they don’t feel self-conscious about it, I make sure at the start of the semester to note that I’m color-blind

While I understand the good intention here, after attending an inclusivity workshop, I strongly caution against this.

It's one thing to reveal one’s own color blindness (an encouraging act), quite another to (implicitly) ask a student to reveal this information to another student.

I do think it’s important make an announcement to the class, inviting them to speak to me privately if an individual has color blindness. That allows me to make learning accommodations. But it’s important not to put pressure on anyone, especially when you’re in a position of power over them.

Look at it this way: suppose you’re bisexual, and you choose to admit that to a class. It’s quite another to suggest that one student to reveal that to another student.



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Frank K. Mazdab
analytical mineralogist
Department of Geosciences
1040 E. 4th St., Gould-Simpson Bldg. (Bldg. 77)
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

fmazdab at email.arizona.edu<mailto:fmazdab at email.arizona.edu>
office: rm 342 Gould-Simpson Bldg.


#idiocracy begets #kakistocracy

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