Code-Switching Through Classes

It’s been established many times over that Boston College has its own language. When I return home, I often feel that I change my vernacular to suit that of my non-BC peers, as many other BC students feel.

This is an example of code-switching. Code-switching is the act alternating between languages or ways of speaking in order to meet the constraints of a social situation.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of BC itself. I am a double major with each in a different college, an experience that many undergraduates share. In my case, it is Finance in CSOM and International Studies in MCAS, so I have been fortunate enough to have a wildly interdisciplinary college career.

Even if you do not have a formal major or minor in different academic fields, the University Core necessitates that everyone enroll in at least a few classes outside of their comfort zone, and the separate colleges have their own policies as well. For instance, every CSOM student has to take some MCAS classes for the CSOM core itself.

I would argue that there are different cultural phrases in the different schools. For instance, a LSOE “prac,” or teaching practicum, might not have as much meaning for an MCAS student who knows what it is, but has not had to go into a school and teach while still a student themselves.

Because each school gets different resources, this is also a common point of connection. For example, when the weekly email “This week in CSOM” is discussed, those not getting the emails cannot connect to the content in the way that those who receive it can. Assuming the resources are more or less equal, this is neither good nor bad, but it does foster a different cultural connection for those in the college as opposed to those not.

In addition to this, academics often define our language. I definitely find myself using phrases that I’ve learned in classes in my day-to-day. Things that might make sense to people in my CSOM classes wouldn’t be part of the common culture in my core or double major classes.

My point here is that BC provides ample opportunity for an interdisciplinary college experience, and even though I may gripe about the certain classes I have to take for the core, I do feel that they make me more well-rounded in the sense that they force me to change the way I approach language.

Those who are anti-core might feel that they are paying an exorbitant amount of money to study the subject of their choosing, and should be given the liberty to focus on the classes they want to take, which also holds validity. My overwhelmingly beneficial experience with the core, however, has been an asset to my college experience.

One thing I have noticed after taking many CSOM and MCAS classes is that very often the tone of the room varies completely. For instance, I had both a finance class and a feminisms class the day after President Donald Trump was elected, and the students’ tone and rhetoric in both rooms were staunchly different.

I have to say that in both classes the professors were excellent in moderating discussion and maintaining neutrality. I often cite this experience as my main example of how varied the student body is at BC.

In this instance I did not feel like I needed to switch the content of what I was personally saying. My approach to making my points, however, was vastly different in the two classes. Minute aspects of my language could change the way my thoughts and opinions were perceived.

This is not to say that one has to change what they believe in depending on what class or college they are in at the moment. It might mean, however, that they choose different words or are wary of nuances in their speech, like tone and inflection, to suit their surroundings. This can provide benefits such as social cohesion and an improvement in educational quality in a classroom environment, all while maintaining the integrity of the message.

I do not think that this code-switching between colleges makes BC more divisive in a negative way. On the contrary, I think that it fosters a community within each school. Perhaps this is to a lesser extent in the larger community of MCAS, but even in that case I feel that divisions between specific majors might serve this purpose. It helps students share their common experience, and often commiserate over assignments and tests.

While code-switching is something that humans do naturally, it is something that can be developed. This is an important skill that students have to develop in order to succeed upon graduation, as it will be necessary in different aspects of their careers. In reality, people have to code-switch every day, and practicing as an undergraduate is more of an asset than many come to realize.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor