It’s fair to say that Gen Z has gotten its comeuppance for its snide use of the word ‘boomer’. Zoomer is apparently what we’re called now.
But that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
As we come of age in the midst of a pandemic and shift more of our social activities online, we have the chance to make new choices about how inclusive we are for others.
Perhaps Zoom can be the next frontier for our generation to express the best values attributed to us: idealism, egalitarianism, and above all, a willingness to step forward to advocate for a fairer world.
Perhaps in several decades, our children will say “Okay, Zoomer” admirably instead of disparagingly. For that to happen though, we’ll need to start walking the talk.
Here are four ways that we can make life in “Zoom University” more inclusive.
1. Display your pronouns beside your name on Zoom
What are pronouns, you may ask? Pronouns are nouns that are used to refer to other people, like “he / him / his”, “she / her / hers”, “they / them / theirs”. Displaying one’s pronouns on social media and in the workplace has become increasingly common.
Recently, Zoom has made it possible to opt for your pronouns to be automatically displayed alongside one’s name. It is also possible to opt for Zoom to ask you every meeting if you would like your pronouns to be displayed beside your name. This makes it easier than ever to share your pronouns.
Normalising the sharing of pronouns helps us avoid assuming someone's gender, based on factors like appearance or stereotypes on what is “masculine or feminine”.
More importantly, by sharing our pronouns on our Zoom display, we show that we will respect everyone’s pronouns and their gender identity. It is a way to let others know (especially LGBTQ+ folks) that we want to be part of creating a safe space for them. It is also a way to spark important conversations with the people around us about the place that LGBTQ+ folks have in society.
If you have any lingering questions about the use of pronouns that you might be too shy to ask (and if search results on Google confuse you), you can try direct messaging SMU Out to Care - club formed by LGBTQ+ students in SMU - on Instagram (@smuouttocare).
2. Consider that not everyone has access to a conducive learning environment
There are disparities between students in the type of spaces they have access to in order to engage in their learning!
Not everyone has access to a room free of distractions to join online classes or meetings. Not everyone’s computers can support virtual backgrounds to block what is happening behind them. For such students, switching on their video camera often means exposing the going-ons around them to the rest of the class.
This can be intensely awkward and uncomfortable. For instance, students may be responsible for taking care of other family members while at home, or have family members walking in on them if they do not have a room to themselves. Their home environment may also be messy. To turn their video cameras on would thus mean allowing others into their home, to view aspects of their lives that they may prefer to keep hidden.
Zoom videos also often offer a more magnified view of students’ faces that their classmates can see, compared to if they were simply sitting in a classroom. Students who have not had enough time to tidy up their appearance may feel uncomfortable facing the class. Not to mention, it makes it more awkward for students to grab a bite during class or meetings too.
We can make Zoom classes or meetings more inclusive by setting expectations upfront that students need not switch on their video cameras.
Alternatively, we can make use of Zoom’s recent feature: “Focus Mode”. This feature gives Zoom hosts and co-hosts a view of all participants’ videos without other participants seeing each other.
To enable this function, sign into the Zoom web portal. In the navigation panel, click Settings and click the Meeting tab. There you will see the option to enable Focus Mode.
Another issue is that not all students have access to a quiet space for joining online classes or meetings. This may make it challenging for them to unmute themselves to participate.
Wherever possible, we can set expectations at the start of the class to encourage each other to use the chat function to participate if they are not in a particularly conducive environment.
3. Automatic Live Transcription
Zoom also recently launched an automatic live transcription service that will live caption speech in Zoom. This feature can help make life easier for students with hearing difficulties, students who are joining the class from a noisier environment, or students who simply find it easier to read rather than listen.
To enable automatic live transcription, sign into the Zoom web portal.
In the navigation panel, click Settings and click the Meeting tab. There, you may select the 'caption' options you would like to have.
The host or co-host of a meeting can turn on 'Automatic Live Transcription' by selecting “Live Transcript” in the Zoom menu bar, and then “Enable Auto-Transcription.”
You can also connect specialised transcription software such as Otter.ai to Zoom, which renders even more accurate captions. More information on the Automatic Live Transcription function of Zoom can be found here.
4. Help others feel safe to voice out their struggles
Above all, being attentive and open-minded can go a long way towards recognising when we can do something to help our fellow SMU students adjust to attending “Zoom University.” There is no hard and fast rule about how we can go about doing this. But we can, through small acts of kindness and generosity, give our fellow SMU students a sense that it is okay for them to voice out if they may have difficulty using Zoom.
Maybe their Wifi isn't working well. Maybe something is wrong with their laptop that they cannot easily fix. Maybe there are construction works going on near their house... There are often so many unexpected things that can make using Zoom harder for someone.
Just by recognising the possibilities and challenges of navigating life on Zoom and exercising a little more empathy, we can make the experience of using Zoom for university more inclusive for everyone!