“Slang and Space” Peripeteia Course Encourages Discussion on Slang and Appropriation

This past weekend was Swarthmore’s third annual Peripeteia, a series of short, specialized courses taught by students and faculty. This year, there were a multitude of courses including writing workshops, to classes about tarot cards, to death and the funeral industry, and much more. On January 26, 2018, the first day of Peripeteia, two Diversity Peer Advisors, Joy George ‘20 and Diana Martinez ‘20, co-facilitated a discussion they called “Slang and Space: A Conversation in Color” on slang and appropriation from and between communities of color.

George says the idea began with a conversation she and Martinez had last semester. Both hailing from New York (George is from the Bronx and Martinez is from Brooklyn), they both encountered and used similar slang. “Both of us lived primarily around black and brown people. So we were kind of talking about the claims on that language that people use.”

George used herself as an example of how the intersecting identities and cultural groups in the Bronx affect language, and slang in particular. “[For] me as a black person, my proximity to Latinx people made me speak Spanish slang.” This was natural and common in George’s residential area, but when she came to Swarthmore, she started looking at her use of language, especially slang, differently. “I realized that that’s not acceptable because that’s not my culture. So [Diana and I] were having a conversation about what that meant, and if she believed that cultural appropriation for language was possible.”

After having their own enriching conversation, they decided to bring it to the Swarthmore campus community. “We thought it would probably be a good idea… understanding how many identities cross on Swarthmore’s campus, [and] also in other residential spaces. [We thought] having this conversation would be good to get people’s ideas about what appropriation is, because people kind of don’t have a concrete definition around that.” For George and Martinez, it wasn’t just about seeing how people define and conceptualize cultural or linguistic appropriation, but also allowing other students to see that they, too, are capable of “appropriation or adoption or whatever.” Their training as DPAs was especially beneficial for this discussion. “We got certain training on how to facilitate guided conversation, so we started off the conversation by setting up guidelines, things like that, to protect people’s ideas and opinions   we wanted [attendees]to participate as much as possible.”

In terms of their expectations and desires for the course, they wanted it to be small and intimate, so that participants would feel comfortable sharing. This was especially important because, as George states, “... that’s really personal, things having to do with your identity.” And those expectations were met. George emphasized the conscious performance of the identities that people adopt, and how language is part of how people perform their identities. She emphasizes the importance of “being mindful about why other people say the things that they do, where the things that you say come from, and understanding that because we’re in a space where so many people are intellectually capable of keeping themselves from saying certain things, then they should.”

“I think it went really well,” says George. The discussion brought up a lot of questions, but also a quest for answers as well. “... ‘is it okay for me to say this?’ ‘is it okay for me to use this kind of language because you want to be the best person you possibly can be...really that was what their purpose was, not only to engage and actually find answers to these questions but also to… better themselves so that they can carry that information with them… so that was really, really really dope.”