Speaking Up

While I doubt anyone would ever consider me "quiet" or "shy", I sometimes get feedback from professors that I should speak up more often in class. It's not that I never speak up (or even that I rarely speak up, because I do!), but instead that I have a tendency to want to have a thought fully formed before sharing it aloud, or a desire to not compete with the kids in the class who tend to dominate discussions. In retrospect, I think I could have learned more from classes had I spoken up more often, especially my Islam in Europe course last January. Knowing hardly anything about European politics or Islam in general, I tended to listen more and ask questions rather than share opinions, because I didn't think I knew enough to have a "valid" opinion. As a senior, I recommend that you learn from my errors and speak up more often in class!

Part of why I've been thinking about this is because I've been undergoing a similar struggle in my day-to-day life. I've made a commitment to speak out more often against examples of prejudice or inequality that I see. I'm still trying to navigate the space of knowing when - and how - it's appropriate to speak up and when it probably isn't a good idea.

For example, my J-term class has been interviewing a 60+ age cohort in the surrounding Decorah area. One day, I drove to a location where we were administering surveys, and another kid from my class drove another carload of students. It just so happened that the girls ended up in my vehicle and the guys in the other. Along the way, the guys' car stalled, causing them to be late to our appointment. When they showed up, the administrator said something along the lines of "thank God it was the car full of men that broke down!". The group awkwardly laughed, but I blurted out, "what does that mean?!". Maybe not my classiest moment, but the undertones of sexism bothered me. I felt that instance was maybe a good time to speak out to a stranger (someone older than me with a lot more power than me), to show that these types of comments show prejudice and are unacceptable.

Later, I was having a conversation with an 80-year old. Toward the very end of an incredibly pleasant conversation, he made an incredibly sexist comment. My classmate, a male, who was with me to administer the survey looked at my dumbstruck. I bit my tongue. That moment did not feel appropriate to speak out - I was a guest in his home, and he was doing me a favor by taking an hour of his time to help my psychology class. Interestingly, this comment bothered me a whole lot more than the previous one that I chose to spoke out against.

I'm still trying to navigate the space of knowing when and how to speak up - when it's appropriate to share what I'm thinking, even though I might be wrong or possibly a little rude because I feel so passionately.

Obviously, what I'm experiencing in the classroom is applying to my larger life, and in ways that maybe aren't what someone typically thinks of when someone considers their "education". I'm glad to attend a liberal arts school where I'm gaining life skills rather than solely job-specific knowledge.

Luther students speaking out against racism. Photo by Michael Hagstrom

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