Study Finds Students with Southern Accents Often Discriminated Against in Colleges

A new study conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University finds that students who have a southern or Appalachian accent are often discriminated against at the nation’s colleges and universities because of how they sound.

The study, titled “Dialect and Influences on the Academic Experiences of College Students” and published in The Journal of Higher Education, finds that the heavier a student’s southern accent, the more it can affect their college experience.

“Findings suggest,” the study says, “that for more vernacular students, dialect can influence participation in class, degree of comfort in course, perceived academic challenges, and for some, their beliefs about whether or not others perceive them as intelligent or scholarly based on their speech.”

In other words, students may shy away from speaking out in class and might curtail what could be a more involved rate of participation in class because they have faced ridicule over their accents. That ridicule, the researchers said, sometimes ends up causing students to doubt their own intelligence, which in turn can cause them to hold back, putting a crimp in their developing education.

A recent Fox News report on the study found several students who have worked hard to eliminate their own southern accents in order to “fit in” better at college.

Mollie Donihe of Roanoke, Virginia, for instance, told Fox, “If I’m in certain situations, such as an academic setting, I’ve taught myself to speak with a more standard English dialect.”

A recent piece at the website InsideHigherEd.com noted that discrimination against students with southern accents is “the last acceptable prejudice” in America’s colleges and universities and noted that professors often look down on students with southern accents.

Lead author of the new study, Stephany Dunstan, the assistant director of the Office of Assessment at North Carolina State University, said that the findings might help faculty become more “mindful” of how they treat students with southern accents.

Dunstan said that teachers and professors need to make sure that students “are treated respectfully and feel comfortable using their own voices–for example, not feeling they must code-switch to a ‘standard’ variety (of speech) to be taken seriously or respected.” She hoped her work would change the way some professors treat students in the future.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com


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