. . . Whether they’re doing so consciously or not, members of marginalized groups often change their manner of speaking and behaving to make members of the dominant group feel comfortable. “Code switching” works both ways, putting pressure on people to switch back when they’re around members of their own cultural group. Our Katherine Mangan spoke with an expert about the dynamics of code switching, who it hurts, why it sometimes helps, and what workplaces, including colleges, can do to minimize the harmful pressures.
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Myles I. Durkee says he does it so often that it usually doesn’t occur to him that he’s code switching. As a Black man in a predominantly white workplace, he’s accustomed to adjusting his voice and mannerisms in ways that go beyond the universal desire to appear professional.
An assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Durkee has more insight into the behavior than most. He studies the way that people of color modify their behavior to fit in and be taken seriously, and the stresses this dynamic can cause.
In a recent interview, Durkee explained what college leaders should know about code switching and how they can help ease the burden on employees from marginalized groups. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.