Case for PC plodders

January 14, 2000

The process of extending access to higher education to categories of people who have been under-represented creates a situation in which those who have been excluded hitherto are confronted with ground rules that were developed for and by "the included".

These may have built-in assumptions that were formed by the taken-for-granted realities of those who established them.

Those who have had a virtual monopoly of access to, and careers in, colleges and universities find themselves obliged to question what has seemed to be beyond question. These are not comfortable processes for anyone concerned.

But I cannot think of a worse way of tackling them than that proposed by Frankie Heywood ("Black and white", Letters, THES, January 7).

Applicants should be checked carefully for "politically correct" leanings, she suggests, and, presumably, be swiftly eliminated from the admissions process.

All social activities require ground rules, but these are not fixed and self-evident, accessible to any right-thinking, as opposed to "politically correct", person. They are subject to (rational) appraisal and questioning.

It is wise, also, to include those who are to be bound by these rules in their articulation.

It is common practice, at least in some quarters, to spend some time at the start of the first session of a course in holding a group discussion of the rules so that commonly agreed protocols are established.

While it may be true that many mistakes have been made in social work and elsewhere in addressing these difficulties, we should avoid simply re-establishing the old bad practices and, in the process, probably reinscribing the lines of exclusion.

Terry Lovell

Director Centre for the Study of Women and Gender

Warwick University

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