It’s a half hour into your English class, and that one debate kid is at it again — repeating the same thing ten times over and throwing around words like “paradigm” and the “human experience” in every other sentence.

We subconsciously lower our hands, watching in frustration as the professor nods at every word they say. We worry. We believe that whatever we say next must be equally as “intellectual.” And what’s more, even if we completely disagree, we choose not to speak up. Every stutter, every “like” and “um,” every emotional stray from the norm is a risk we simply cannot take.  

I thought about this the day I dropped my writing seminar this fall and even more so after my Yale-affiliated mentor said that I can naturally sound “white.” He then pointed to my friend — another Asian American — and said that he can achieve the same level of confidence if only he would practice. 

Eurocentric bounds of intellectualism have been around for ages. We are taught to respect the style of writing and verbage established by white philosophers, politicians and scientists. We read literature that assesses a niche ability to debunk cluttered, pretentious writing rather than our true reading comprehension. And we unknowingly use them as models for our own work — conditioning every sentence we write.

The superfluous nature of modern academia and classroom language is a tool of exclusion and colonization that keeps certain groups out of relevant conversations. It manipulates us as to make us lose interest in civic participation, leaving a select few to completely dominate the discussion. It picks at our self-esteem, and a “lack” of it is the first thing people notice in our breadth of identities. It eliminates us as competition in a world of corner-cutters who are too scared to face the reality of sharing with others. 

The truth is, being succinct is actually more challenging than trying to sound like an “intellectual”; resorting to fluff and beating around the bush with our words not only point to a lack of confidence, but also intimidate others and make them question their abilities as speakers and writers. 

In just one month of Yale, my friends have been asked why they’re speaking “fresh out of the hood,” and I had to physically accompany my mom to a five-star Yale-affiliated hotel, simply to make sure that she gets her perfectly understandable “champurr” and “toofpase” for the night. 

To those wondering why some career fields lack diversity, read any research paper or historical document and see for yourself. We see just how much media representation of successful people in STEM and politics reflects this language style. 

Since being an “intellectual” is what the standard is, many communities of color and immigrant families are forced to abandon their own linguistic values to navigate professional environments. We are pressured to sound “white” to have our voices heard but not “too white” because any confident, well-educated person of color is obviously a threat to society. The only times we can be vulnerable — intimate — with our true linguistic roots are with loved ones or in very isolated media outlets like WeChat, which, by the way, has its own problems.

For thousands of years, writing and literacy have done more than keeping us connected — they have kept us alive. Secret messages helped lead slaves to freedom, and letters from loved ones motivated wartime soldiers like nothing else. Above all, good language inspires and shares the knowledge embedded within. 

Superfluous writing and language do not do this effectively, and we need to stop worshipping it. I am scared for a future classroom setting where complexity and a lack of clarity are the easy way out, while simplicity and fearlessness to express are seen as less than.

In a school like Yale where we feel pressured to keep up, such perceptions of linguistic talent are even more distorted by privilege. We are surrounded by people who are just as talented and intelligent, and we are quick to copy the habits of those we mistakenly deem successful in the classroom, quick to cover up any weaknesses we think we have but don’t. 

Realize that every linguistic style — whether it’s African American Vernacular English, Chinglish, the gay lisp or oral literature — has personal and cultural significance. They should not be considered less “classy” than the words that come out of a white American’s mouth. Rather, we must stand up for our roots and educate our children to do the same. No one should be put in a position where they have to choose between sounding smart and sounding right, between measuring up and having their voices matter. 

Creating an inclusive classroom atmosphere is a collective effort that requires the participation of all students. Instead of judging someone for being shy, reach out and encourage them to share their ideas. Realize that discussion is about listening as much as it is about reading, and stop the stigma that longer is better. There is no correct formula or correct syntax—and this flexibility is what makes everyday conversation beautiful.

So the next time you consider taking five minutes to explain something that can be said in 30 seconds, don’t — we’ll thank you for it.


BRIAN ZHANG is a first year in Davenport College. He can be contacted at

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!