Have you ever felt pressure to navigate between multiple different identities in graduate school or your workplace? Do you ever suppress your culture or identity for the sake of “professionalism”? If so, you’re not alone. Many people engage in this process of “code-switching”, or altering mannerisms and/or speech patterns based upon context, and done with a sensitive and keen awareness of cultural norms.

On April 11, 2019, GradPro hosted a panel discussion called “Code-switching in Graduate School and Beyond.” The event was facilitated by two Professional Development Liaisons (PDLs), Rachel Wallace (MPP Candidate, Goldman School of Public Policy) and Laura Pulido (Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate School of Education). The objective of the workshop was to empower graduate students to seek resources and create support networks around the issues of code-switching, racialization, and professionalism in graduate school.

Wallace and Pulido shared their own experiences with code-switching as starting points to frame the workshop. Then, they tied in a timely CNN news discussion and Twitter thread, in which congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defended her use of code-switching as a method of connecting with familiar audiences. The brief clip demonstrated the nuanced and multifaceted nature of code-switching.

The discussion continued with a panel of speakers, which included Élida Bautista, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Haas; Travis J. Bristol, Assistant Professor of Education; and Kuan Hwa, visual artist and Ph.D. candidate in Rhetoric. Each of the panelists described situations in which they were misidentified as non-professionals due to their age, race, how they dressed, and how they talked. Intersectionality of race, age, gender, and sexuality was a common theme that emerged throughout the discussion. One participant mentioned the pressure to adopt a deeper voice at times in order to “marshall the authority of patriarchy.” All three described code-switching as both a necessity at times and a skill in their professional toolkits. For example, Bautista repeatedly discussed how her identity as a brown Latinx woman means she is frequently mistaken for someone in a more service-based or custodial position. At the same time, she admitted that her ability to code-switch with Latinx students has made some more comfortable opening up about their experiences as underrepresented minorities at Haas.

One of the most helpful parts of the panel was seeing how different each of the panelists’ perspectives and experiences around code-switching in the workplace were. In fact, this was one of the intended outcomes of the workshop. Wallace and Pulido stated, “We want to focus on individual experiences rather than drawing a hard line around what code-switching and professionalism are. Our goal is to foster a dialogue.”

Further professional development resources for underrepresented graduate students can be found in the Professional Development Toolkit for Underrepresented Graduate Students. This toolkit was presented to workshop participants.

Arathi Govind is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology and a Professional Development Liaison at the Graduate Division.