The current political climate has understandably caused a lot of tension. Throughout history, politics have always been a sensitive topic, but the recent election in the United States and subsequent events have sparked a lot of debate and resistance. College campuses are known for being great spaces for mind opening debates and discussions. I have had many great discussions about current events that have expanded my worldview in classes that are in no way related to current events or politics. Having an open environment with a diverse group of people and ideas is rare. This is not something you can do in a typical work environment. College is the time when many people are actually able to develop well-formed opinions about the world. They are finally granted the freedom to explore important issues without the pressure of their parents or the isolation of a small town. Regardless of where people come from college offers a great environment to become a truly well informed citizen.
Although in a collegiate setting, I often feel hesitant to speak my mind. Often times an opportunity will arise for an open discussion but I do not say anything out of fear of making people uncomfortable. The gravity of these political issues should not be dismissed but at the same time we need to address the fact that having discussions about them may cause people discomfort in a setting where they are trying to learn.
Topics such as police brutality, systematic racism, rape, abortion and others may make a variety of people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. For me it is a balance of being able to say what is on my mind and being conscious of other people’s boundaries. Should I not express my views on the police in America because I fear somebody’s parent/loved one is a police officer and I may upset them? Or should somebody else not mention rape or domestic abuse because it may trigger a survivor making them physically or psychologically unable to be present for the rest of the class or even the day? School should be a place where people feel safe to learn but at the same time expanding your worldview is a part of learning. One solution that was presented in an English class of mine was the concept of trigger warnings. Despite the fact that being triggered/trigger warnings have turned into a joke among my peers I think this is a step in the right direction. Offering a trigger warning is the same as labeling allergy warnings on food.
Warning: contains peanuts.
Warning: rape mention.
So that if you are allergic to peanuts you can avoid a potentially serious reaction, and if you know that talking about or watching a video that mentions rape will cause you to have a panic attack you can do something to prepare yourself or step out of the room.
Much of the value I get from school is not what I learned from the textbooks but from discussions with my peers and professors. I didn’t receive adequate sex education growing up so once in a class discussion I said something that was completely inaccurate and possibly very offensive. Luckily, one of my peers professionally and politely corrected me. It is important in situations such as these not to take it personally, and to understand that somebody telling you that something you said is wrong is not insulting or demeaning to your character. Much of my fear of speaking up is that somebody will take my words personally. Therefore, it is vital to reinforce the notion that we are all here to learn and that we are all coming from a place of mutual respect. It is also important to remember that somebody may learn from us. There is no single person in the room, including the professor, who knows everything. I have found on occasion that I have said something which seemed like common knowledge to me but was one of my peers first time being exposed to that information.