Code change: It’s a phrase you might hear from time to time, but what does it really mean?
George Paasewe, professor and author in the Milwaukee area, has made it his goal to research and share the benefits of code-switching, especially in the case of colored people.
Paasewe attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and as a black student, he attended a university where only about 5% of the student’s population resembled him.
That was where he first learned about the concept. Paasewe defines code-shifting as “the practice of adapting one’s speaking style, appearance, behavior, and expression to a particular context or situation.”
“It was something that I noticed that I myself did a lot on the university campus, especially when it came to interacting with my professors or mentors; I noticed that I myself changed code,” Paasewe said.
Five years after attending that college, Paasewe has now written a book that is being used on university campuses across the country.
“How Black College Students Learn Code-Switching,” which Paasewe himself published in 2020, explores how code-switching can break the communication barrier between cultures.
Paasewe began researching the subject while studying at UW-Whitewater in 2015. He talked to students on campus about their experiences.
“And the whole purpose was just to assess their thoughts, their feelings and their experiences and even their challenges of being colored students at a predominantly white institution,” he said.
Paasewe is now Professor of Sociology at Bryant & Stratton College in Wauwatosa. He also uses code switching as he connects with people with different backgrounds to meet them where they are.
He has made it his goal to educate others on how code switching can be used as a positive.
Are you recoding?
“Code change is something we all do as human beings,” Paasewe said.
An example is how individuals talk to family or friends, compared to how they talk to their boss or colleagues.
“It’s more than likely that your speech, your appearance or your behavior, your expression, will change into a more formal and more professional and measured tone,” Paasewe said.
Code change can be used to identify with people of different genders, ethnicities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, religions and more.
It can also benefit colored students who study at predominantly white institutions. A “predominantly white institution” describes institutions of higher learning in which individuals with white ethnicity account for 50% or more of student enrollment, according to the Encyclopedia of African American Education.
Paasewe recognizes that colored students may experience challenges navigating predominantly white areas due to lack of support, micro-aggressions, and even racism.
“We have found that the code-switching tool can help people, especially colored students, establish new connections with individuals outside their race and also open new doors for advancement when using the code-switching tool in real environment,” said Paasewe.
Code-switching can be used to break down communication barriers and create new connections.
“Language differences between cultures can serve as a roadblock. In these cases, code-switching has value because it provides an opportunity to participate in the larger, more diverse society,” Paasewe said.
Paasewe added that it is important to preserve your own identity, even while changing code. And there can also be negative effects when it comes to code switching, including a feeling of not belonging or mental or emotional fatigue.
The code changer
Paasewe has lectured on his book and research at colleges across the country.
During these speech engagements, he discusses the pros and cons of code switching. He also does training and workshops related to the topic, and takes students and others through simulations of research studies, case studies and real-life scenarios.
Paasewe also started The Code Switcher, an “education-centric, self-publishing company,” he explains.
The goal? To help aspiring writers publish their own books.
He started the idea when he wrote his own book.
“While writing that book, I faced several obstacles and challenges in the bookwriting and publishing process,” he said.
“I recognize the need to educate others and teach them how to prevent the roadblocks I faced.”
The company offers e-courses on how to write and publish a book.
Earlier this year, Paasewe won $ 10,000 on “Project Pitch It” on WISN-TV Channel12 for the startup.
Learn more about The Code Switcher at thecodeswitcherllc.com.
Evan Casey can be contacted at 414-403-4391 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecaseymedia.