“The Origin of Someone’s Surname Can’t Tell You Their First Language”: Why I Support Anonymous Marking

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Lancaster University does not currently have a requirement for anonymous marking, except for in examination circumstances. English Literature is one subject that has chosen not to implement anonymous marking on coursework. We must put our full name on top of every page of work.

As someone with a non-English name, I have been personally affected by this choice. Not only have my mistakes been attributed to me not being English, but I believe it has also caused me to, only just now, in the second term of third year, be diagnosed with dyslexia.

English isn’t my first language, but I have spent most of my life in the UK. During that time, my English has actually become better than my native language, as I use it more in my life and academic work.

But, since we must include our names on our assessments, I’ve received countless comments telling me that my sentence structure, expression, and grammar needed improving. On one occasion, these comments were accompanied with:

“Although I’m guessing, from your name, that English may not be your first language?” 

LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STAFF MEMBER

At first, I didn’t think much of it; it’s true that English is not my first language. So, I brushed it off, knowing this wasn’t the reason for my mistakes. However, after sharing these comments with my housemates  I released how discriminating and inappropriate these comments actually were.

“When I saw the comment, I was really surprised a tutor would say something like that. In my course all my work is anonymous, probably to stop things like this from happening.”

FELLOW HOUSEMATE OF THE STUDENT

The origin of someone’s surname can’t tell you their first language, and to make assumptions based on someone’s name is casual discrimination and certainly not professional. When I brought these comments to the EDI Director for the English department they agreed, and the comments were both raised with the Head of Department and advice was shared in the department EDI newsletter.

Ironically, I also told the EDI director that assumptions like this may mean learning disabilities in students could be missed.

Since  I was getting these suggestions repeatedly with my feedback, I decided to email the Learning Developers in the hope that I would get some help. Yet, along with little to no help, I experienced further assumptions based on my records and my nationality.  These comments included:

“Also – anyone who has learned a second language knows how hard it is to get the ‘little things’ perfect. From looking at your records, I can see that you went to college in Wales, and that you’re Polish – would you say that your Polish is influencing you English? Welsh?”

LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STAFF MEMBER

And on a separate occasion:

“Also, you write ‘attach within this email’ – is that the Polish coming through? Or did you just want to avoid the little 2-letter word ‘to’?”

LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STAFF MEMBER

This assumption that my writing was influenced by my nationality, even after telling them twice that “English is my second language, but it is the language I am better at as I moved here when I was very young” and that “I don’t think it would be the Polish influence,” is unacceptable.

“I actually never went to school in Poland so the only time I do use it is to speak to my parents, but other than that I am more fluent in English.”

Only after asserting this multiple times, did I receive any help.

Even then, I still had to point out twice that I hadn’t gone to school in Poland which made me feel like this service wasn’t going to be helpful after all. It also made me doubt myself more, maybe my mistakes were purely because English wasn’t my first language?

But then I received back my best piece of written work to date, and it was an exam piece so had been marked anonymously. This gave me the confidence I needed to explore other factors that may have been affecting my work.

As a third-year student, I’ve now been diagnosed with dyslexia. How did none of my tutors catch this in my work?

Out of twenty-three written assessments, seventeen of them had the same feedback, telling me that I need to look out for syntax, sentence structure and grammar. Some went as far as to say that I needed to proofread my writing. This was after I’d made an extra effort to proofread my work.

I asked numerous tutors and lecturers for feedback and help on how to improve in these areas; not one of them considered dyslexia as a possibility. I only got the assessment after speaking with my housemates and having them read over my essays. One of which happens to be dyslexic and told me that the way I write and the mistakes I make, were similar to the ones they make.

So, I completed a test on the University’s Disability Moodle which led me to do an assessment.

Although Lancaster University isn’t the first institution not to recognise this diagnosis, my Secondary School and College also not recognising it, I’m still disappointed in the way this has been handled and the casual discrimination I faced.

There needs to be improvements made within the staff to assist in the recognition of learning disabilities. At University, you would expect that they would be able to pick up on the signs instead of blaming it on my nationality.

Lancaster University have responded with the following statement:

“Lancaster University is currently piloting anonymous marking in several departments. This pilot has been received positively, and at its completion, the University’s Academic Standards and Quality Committee will consider whether to implement this across the institution.

“It is important that anonymous marking allows us to continue to deliver high-quality and robust feedback, and the pilot is assisting us in understanding how this can be done across a range of disciplines.

“The University and the Department for English Literature and Creative Writing is concerned to hear about this experience and we would urge this student, and any other student who believes they have received inappropriate comments, to contact either their Director of Studies or their Head of Department. Staff should comment on the quality of writing and the way it is expressed, but it should be done in a supportive and non-discriminatory way.

“Identifying dyslexia can be extremely difficult. Academic staff are not clinically trained to identify dyslexia, but some staff will refer students to our Disability & Inclusivity Services. The University has lots of information to support students who wonder whether they have dyslexia, including providing a free online screening service that makes an initial assessment. Students can then seek a clinical assessment from external bodies, and the University can financially support many students with the costs.”

You can find Lancaster University’s current anonymous marking guidelines here

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