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List of Failures

I just finished conducting a seminar for my colleagues in the College of Business Accountancy, where I shared information and my learning on Professional Scholarly Writing in a Global Context; the difference among Plagiarism, Copyright and Fair Use; and the use of the latest APA Style, 6th ed.

What struck me most from the seminar was the audience's feedback on using sensitive language in research, and "describing participants and subjects at the appropriate level of specificity." I gave them the example of how, sadly still, in our University, we use the term "List of Failures" to publish the list of students (well, their id nos. actually) who have incurred failing grades in their subjects at the end of the semester. A more appropriate and specific term for "List of Failures" should be "List of Students who have Failed Grades".

It catalyzed a spirited discussion among us, about our almost unconscious tendency to throw words around as if they meant nothing more than what we intended to use them for the moment. I shared my own thoughts about how, when we really take time to reflect on them, a lot of the words we use are actually violent, in the sense that they contribute to a paradigm of treating people as less than the fullest human beings that they are.

I remember a time many years ago when I was still chairing a new department in our University, which was really a department formed to "catch" all the students who've been floating around, shifting from one program to another, and just aimlessly going through college. The department was euphemistically named, "Interdisciplinary Studies" (IDS), but it had the stigma of having students whom people perceived as "losers", since they got kicked out of their previous programs.

So, when I took over as chair, I was faced with the challenge of how to handle 400-plus IDS students who perceived themselves as losers and failures, with half of them put on academic probationary status for less than satisfactory grade standing. They are usually called "Probees". And when you're an IDS Probee, that's double the stigma.

Just out of curiousity, and to put a more "fun" and positive spin to the status, when I called them for meetings, instead of posting the usual "Attention IDS Probees..." in the bulletin boards, with their names listed there, I turned to using the term "Late Bloomers" to call them, still with their names listed there.

It quickly caught on among the students and they thought it was really cool and fun... and they started seeing themselves that way, as late bloomers-- they may not have bloomed yet, but will.

I should have done a formal research on that, but I was too engrossed in addressing the myriad needs of the students in the department, getting them to believe in themselves again and to get out of the ruts they have temporarily dug themselves into. After 4 years, though, the "Late Bloomer" list interestingly went down from 50% of the student population in the program to only around 15%. Coincidence?

I don't know so.

That's why I don't join (name your disease/angst) support groups. The very act of naming them there and attaching "support group" to it actually perpetuates the mentality and one's perception of one's identity as being stuck there.

Naming something is making it real.

Be careful of the names you use.


Carri Pence's picture


I remember hearing the phrase 'sticks and stones can break bones, but words can never hurt me.' I find this completely false. Where words can leave emotional bruises that can sometimes never heal. It is true, as you mention to use words (that have a negative impression) to categorize people can lead to the weakening of that person due to the group they believe they fit into. Lastly, your entry reminded me of a time when I was in a class my teacher told me that tolerance was a bad word. It took me a while to diagnose why this word left a bad taste in my teachers mouth. Then I discover tolerance is to tolerate and to tolerate is not to truly accept a person but to allow them to be in your presence. Thanks so much for opening my eyes, where your words impacted not only my thoughts but how I vocalize my thoughts.

-Carri Pence

gracewithfire's picture


Thank you for sharing, Carri. I appreciate it very much, especially that very significant impression your teacher left on you. 'Makes one sit up huh, especially if one is in the business of working with words (teachers, pastors, media, writers, even parents!) to move people.

Yes, that saying about sticks and stones doesn't hold water especially in circumstances where there is consistent verbal abuse, and even in a culture that transmits messages of how one is never enough.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anais Nin

Pushpa Achanta's picture


Dear Jeanette,

Thanks for this very thought provoking peace. I wish and hope that more people teach/learn acceptance than tolerance. But I think that the latter can be a step to the former.

I like your id. and feel that you glow gracefully...

Love, joy and peace,
Pushpa :)

gracewithfire's picture

Thank you

Thank you, Pushpa. I am honored by your sharing and comment.

It's interesting how we women communicate huh? We just don't respond to what is explicitly written; we also respond to the context and the essence of both the message and the messenger! Which is as it should be.

: )


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anais Nin

everlyrose's picture

even at a young age

when i watch shows or read articles or even hear stories, what hurts us most are words that we remember even when we were young, on how it broke us

i remember hurtful comments that made me cry in the dark or in the bathroom
ugly insults that really shook me
i am just blessed i have great friends and a supportive family

i just have to forgive and move on

take care


Solvitur ambulando
(it is solved by walking)

Rudzanimbilu's picture

Too powerful, too powerful

Words are so powerful beyond measure and your post gave me a practical and inspiring take. The "Late Bloomers" reminded me of all the children who were outcast for having voices and teachers who gave them an opportunity to be who they are and I will never forget how some of them went from 0% to being top of the class. Educators are our greatest assets but how many of them are really aware of the power to change the student's life? Your post goes beyond just teaching but your lessons can be applied to an everyday situation where people are not afraid to call each other names because it is fashionable but observing can save us the burden we carry and I have observed and I am indeed shaken to think carefully about what I can say and do especially to my own children. Thank you so much for the post and it's amazing how for a very long time, it is going to be relevant. Words are so powerful....

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

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