The UCI Center for Excellence in Writing & Communication held its second “Politics of Language” presentation of the year, featuring Dr. Long T. Bui, Associate Professor of Global and International Studies and Director of First-Gen Faculty Initiatives, on March 1.
Bui’s talk, “The Politics of Academese: A First-Gen Journey Through UCI and Beyond,” documented his struggle to penetrate the obscurity of academic language and offered solutions for making “academese,” or academic writing, more accessible.
Bui began by recounting his life story, noting that his parents did not attend high school or junior high.
“I consider myself a super-first gen,” Bui said. “Despite being a professor at UCI with tenure, I still have imposter syndrome. Many people share that same feeling.”
Bui grew up in Houston, Texas, where he was hyper-aware of academic stratification.
“Academia is defined by geographic location. There are very few schools in the deep South that are considered top-tier,” Bui said. “I [was] conforming to California academia. I felt like a fish out of water.”
At UCI, Bui found good mentors and ultimately an advisor for his thesis. Once he began pursuing his doctorate, he struggled in his interactions with the so-called Ivory Tower. Bui explained that his shyness was mistaken as apathy and his confidence was mistaken as cockiness. Despite “fearing rejection and alienation,” he was “still denigrated.”
“[Even] if you try so hard [to fit in], people are going to read you [anyway]. I want all of us to take [a] pause and think about where you are in the world and what you want to say, because that matters more than anything,” Bui said. “We are not a cultural deficit. We are actually cultural guardians.”
Bui also discussed how to make “academese” more accessible.
“Writing takes place in systems of oppression and institutions of power,” Bui said.
As a result, the bureaucratic nature of academic language can hinder many students.
“I suggest that we think about form as much as content. We don’t often teach form enough in our pedagogy,” Bui said. “Think about direct speech. We’re really going for impact. Not eloquence for the sake of eloquence.”
In the last portion of the event, Bui offered ways to improve the pedagogy of academic writing, including the teaching of writing courses to graduate students as frequently as undergraduate students and the allowance of colloquialisms in academic writing.
“Sounding smart for the sake of sounding smart contributes to a manufactured economy of scarcity around smartness. It’s more than technical,” Bui said. “If you think it’s all technical, you’re not addressing the human being.”
He pointed out that English is an evolving language.
“I found this happy medium between academic-level writing and writing for the people I grew up with,” Bui said. “I want us to think about how we can expand the academic imagination. We’re democratizing language. We’re not just being critical but also caring.”
The UCI Center for Excellence in Writing & Communication will host its next “Politics of Language” presentation during the spring quarter.
Chrissy Park is a Campus News Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.