Scholar, Student, or Academic: words shape perceptions

Words matter. They are the first introduction we have to groups, people, places, and events. Any person in public relations can tell you their importance in conveying an idea. First impressions matter and different words will cause different reactions (emotional) or conclusions (logical). Often we forgot to think about the listening we are creating with our words. Economic as we must be with words, there are some things which are hard, if not impossible, to avoid, especially in a brief label or title.

Take for example the Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars. The group is comprised of students pursuing a Masters in Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California (and I believe other universities but USC’s APDS chapter is the most active). My friend John Brown criticized the use of “scholar” on his blog, describing it use as “pretentious.” John is not an angry old man shaking his cane (he’s neither angry nor with a cane, however he is old…), and yet, with the noted exception of Shawn Powers and Craig Hayden (also friends of mine), the reaction in the comments on his post were confused, aggressive and indicative of two groups not speaking the same language. Ironic considering the public diplomat’s need to understand the listening created by words and actions.

The APDS use of “scholar” denotes not a level of attainment but a condition or status. Here that condition is that of a graduate student. Even “academic” would not fit here.

Is “scholar” the best word? Perhaps not, but then on a broader level beyond the students, “public diplomacy” is a worse choice….


4 thoughts on “Scholar, Student, or Academic: words shape perceptions

  1. As the one who posted the cane-shaking “diatribe,” I can attest that my response was not meant in aggressive fashion but in utter sarcasm befitting the stupidity of the whole “incident.” Moving on….

  2. Frankly, as a lifetime member of APDS, and graduate of USC’s groundbreaking Master of Public Diplomacy program, (along with yours truly), with all you have done, Matt, you completely deserve the title of Scholar and all that it implies. I should think you’d be a bit miffed at John Brown yourself.

  3. Yael, thanks. I didn’t (and don’t) take John’s comment as an affront. I found his comments off-putting but the reactions more so. If APDS members can’t take criticism of the organization, how are they supposed to engage in debates with global audiences who have different perspectives and likewise ‘hear’ different things? Craig and Shawn’s comments are noteworthy for they engaged and understood John’s position. Did they change his mind? Maybe, possibly, perhaps not. On a certain level, it doesn’t matter because they did, in fact and quite simply, engage. It is noteworthy – and not surprising – that his response here focused not on the positive engagement but the negative.

  4. “If you are going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you.”-George Bernard Shaw

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