A few weeks ago, I received a document from a student to review before it was going to be published as a part of a Psychology Club newsletter. One of my students, an incredibly talented writer, brilliant, and passionate was the author. It was a very provocative article and addressed some issues that politics has made people very sensitive about: the government, Trump, race, mental health. I was nervous about its publication and talked to a colleague. This person is someone who I really respect- in general, but especially for her sensitivity about and passion for social justice. One of the takeaway messages I remember most strongly from that conversation was essentially this: Why am I more concerned with the majority? Why am I more concerned that majority members will have a negative response to this article rather than concerned that minority voices don’t get heard?
It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot. Racism and social justice issues have been on my mind a lot, largely inspired by the conversations and programs that BW has sponsored. If you’re looking to get started, I highly recommend Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? It is one of the most meaningful and significant books I have read in a long time.
In one of my classes today, we discussed the topic of aggression. During our discussion, the related issues of gun violence, mental health, and government spending arose. Usually in these situations, I feel external, societal pressure to be neutral. But what I realized today was that all I was doing was ensuring that the majority opinion was represented. And that concern wasn’t letting my students’ voices be heard.
So I did something that I rarely do in class- I shared my (partisan) opinion. I agreed with their frustrations about the lack of gun laws and government money being spent more on the military than on health care or education. I shared a story about a student in my class last semester who couldn’t afford her depression medication any more after insurance changes and stopped attending class because her mental health was affecting her so strongly. I shared my passion that students shouldn’t have to worry about how insurance is going to affect their performance in college. This story inspired another student to share a similar experience- her inability to afford her own medication and how challenging the semester had been because of it.
Sometimes, learning about bias and privilege makes me overwhelmed. I think that I can’t do anything to change people or society; it’s so broken, what difference will my small voice make? But you don’t have to change the world for everyone. It’s enough to change it for one person. I may not be able to change how the government spends their money or if guns are finally banned in this country. But I can change how my students feel. I can give voice to their stories and I can give them the courage to share their own voices with the world.
Don’t underestimate the positive effect you can have on others’ lives. Share your voice.