Considering English Privilege

The knowledge that I gained at Brandeis that has been most helpful in contextualizing the work I am doing is not something explicit that I learned through one of my classes, but rather is a general awareness of how differences in opportunity and privilege affect our lives and our ability to succeed. I think that many of my peers would agree that one of the most eye-opening and meaningful experiences one gains by being a student at Brandeis is exposure to people who come from different backgrounds. Prior to coming to college, a lot of my peers were raised in fairly homogeneous communities in terms of socioeconomic status, race, and religion. Attending Brandeis has increased my awareness of how certain populations encounter more difficulties than others in pursuing educational opportunities and in attaining financial stability.

Awareness of this issue and the desire to help combat differences in opportunity is part of what motivated me to apply to this internship, and has also been very important to keep in mind as I complete my work here at MUA [Mujeres Unidas Avanzando, or Women United Advancing]. However, while at Brandeis I have been exposed to people who are from different socioeconomic, racial, and religious backgrounds from myself, I have come to realize that simply being at a university means that we as Brandeis students have certain privileges in common. Despite our many differences, we all have at least professional working proficiency in English. Many of the students who I have encountered and worked with at MUA do not share this privilege. Learning English as an adult is an incredibly daunting task, and yet it is very difficult to get by in America without being able to speak English.

Although the percentage of Hispanics in the United States who speak English proficiently has been increasing, the percentage of foreign-born Latinos who speak English proficiently has remained stagnant since 1980. Yet, nine out of ten Latino immigrants feel that it is necessary to learn English to succeed in the United States.

One of the classrooms at MUA.

It’s important to consider English-speaking privilege and how it contributes to other social injustices. Non-English speakers encounter greater difficulties gaining access to education, healthcare, and criminal justice than are English speakers. Furthermore, due to a wide range of social customs and stereotypes, non-English speakers are perceived as less intelligent, less educated, and more violent than are English speakers.

 

We work to combat this significant gap in privilege due to language at MUA. Whether it be by teaching English classes, helping students find affordable housing options, or providing job certification services, MUA works to help combat this particular social injustice.

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