As a first year university student, many of us are worried about living in residence. Will my floor be social? Will I meet new friends? Will my roommate be normal?
But what does normal entail?
In an increasingly culturally, religiously, and economically diverse society, should normal be included in our vocabulary? Now, I am not saying that the deranged roommate in Christiansen’s film The Roommate is normal, but we should try to understand the consequences and implications of using normalized language.
As a student in teacher’s college, what is normal for me will differ from those who have already started their profession as a teacher. For example, it is normal for me to be in debt at this stage of my life due to the large sum of money that has been used to allow me to pursue a post secondary education. It is normal for me to spend hours every evening creating lesson plans for English and History classes at the intermediate and senior grade levels. After completing four years of my undergraduate degree, it is normal for me to return to living at home in order to save money (or at least try) before living on my own. It is normal for me to want to write these articles because I have a passion for the English language. It is normal for me to not attend any religious ceremonies or events because I am not baptized.
My point is that the word normal is not universal.
What is normal for me, is not normal for you. If we continue to normalize certain cultural practices, religious obligations, careers, or extra curricular activities, we are making those individuals who do not conform or agree to these normalized occurrences feel excluded.
We can all agree that when examining culture, sexual identity, gender, education, careers, or even interests, it doesn’t make sense to label one component normal over another. Is it fair to say that Western culture is “normal” in comparison to the East? How about stating that it is normal to go to university or college rather than entering the workforce right after high school? These statements sound absolutely absurd and demeaning, however subconsciously we still use categorizations of normality.
Let’s return to the roommate scenario. I am sure that we can all admit to saying “at least he/she is normal” when encountering a new colleague, teacher, or roommate. When we say this, we are creating an exclusive environment in which individuals must align with either our standards of normal or society’s expectations of the norm. Those that do not align are ostracized and consequently feel as though they are not good enough to meet these constructed expectations of normality.
Next time you are describing your first encounter with an individual, try to refrain from describing them in normalized language. When you do so, you are using your norms as a benchmark to determine whether or not they are “normal”. But as I mentioned before, what is normal for me is not normal for you. We pride ourselves on accepting diversity, but this kind of descriptive language we use disrupts our attempts at creating inclusive environments.
Remember, there is no such thing as normal.