FT: “It’s not my job to perpetuate ignorance (and it shouldn’t be yours either). Lean into the discomfort.
At some point in your life you may have heard the phrase, “ignorance is bliss.” I’ll take a moment to validate that – ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is blissful because it allows us to view the world through a skewed lens, detached from the lived experiences of those in our respective communities. As an educator, I believe that when we fail to address ignorance in our students and peers, we are reinforcing the message that:
It’s acceptable to value individuals in our community differently because of their social identities.
The only perspective that matters is our own.
Connection doesn’t matter; it’s ok to live in a world devoid of human emotion.
As a person committed to creating and constructing inclusive campus environments, reinforcing that message makes me uneasy. And because that sentiment troubles me, I’ve realized that as an educator is perfectly acceptable to be gritty and raw. Tenacity is necessary as we seek to elevate inclusion and social consciousness. I believe that there is a layer of vulnerability that comes with being tenacious. It’s this realness that allows us to support and validate our students while simultaneously encouraging them to view an issue through a different lens.
We only begin to master this delicate balance when we commit to our own ongoing personal work, leaning into the discomfort of the unknown. Discomfort feels like exposure, anxiety in the pit of your stomach as you begin to introduce an opinion that differs from the majority. It is uneasiness and awkwardness, not always having the right words to say but knowing that you should be saying something. Discomfort is seeking critical feedback and modeling the openness that you expect of others.
Discomfort is also knowing when it’s appropriate to take risks. This past week, I saw an advertisement for on-campus student employment with dining services, titled “Poor College Students.” To say the least, I was appalled. With a single headline the department managed to trivialize the lived experiences of the 46 million Americans who actually live below the poverty line, stigmatize the current student workers employed by dining services, and publicly contribute to the power differential between the staff members and student consumers. It felt important to my being that I say something, but I was also afraid of the repercussions. I’ve been labeled somewhat of a spitfire in the department and part of me was worried that offering a thoughtful critique to the upper administration would be the last straw. I stared at my computer screen for 10 minutes before deciding to hit the “send” button in Outlook, forwarding my response to the head of our department. The uneasiness I felt sending that email was nothing compared to uneasiness some of the current student staff members saw when they read that email. Sometimes discomfort is not always knowing what’s going to happen but choosing to engage anyway. In my particular situation, a few moments of discomfort led to the department removing and revamping those advertisements. As I reflect on that experience, the issue almost feels trivial. But even the smallest acts contribute to a culture of inclusion and acceptance or disaffirm the identities of our students.
I’ve become more at ease with the unknown by engaging in conversations with my peers in brave spaces. My ideal brave space (and I’m lucky to have found it) allows those involved to be offended and to disagree, affirms lived experiences, and encourages us to move away from external definition. We are encouraged to ask critical questions and challenge assumptions because we know that the actual world isn’t a brave space. I can lean into the discomfort because I’ve done (and continually do) the prep work necessary. Oppression isn’t going to be overcome through cowardice. A more equitable world isn’t going to take form by forgoing the discomfort associated with educating ourselves and then others.
You have the power to be courageous in your work as an educator. We can choose to rationalize the ignorant behavior of our students and peers who say that they “didn’t know any better” or we can teach them how to be better. My goal as an educator is to create self-aware, critical thinkers. Drawing a student into a conversation about current issues is not “multicultural bullying.” It’s a pivotal moment where we have the opportunity to facilitate a deep examination of how that student is constructing their beliefs and how they are making meaning of their world.
Combatting ignorance and indifference has nothing to do with proving the other party wrong and everything to do with helping others gain understanding. This is the transformative work that we have the privilege to do daily in higher education. Can we commit to being bold and engaging in the unknown? I’m not interested in working in a field of professionals who have become comfortable and complacent. I’m yearning to work alongside individuals with character and strength of purpose.