I walk into the room, sit down and glance around causally. There are less than a dozen freshman and sophomores and two sociology seniors who have shown up to hear the varying opinions on the social climate of our campus (of course the table of free food lining one of the walls may have enticed them as well). This is the first ever First Year Experience Diversity Forum designed to assist freshman students on how they can use their voice to peacefully combat any social issues that will inevitably arise around them now that they are living in the realm of higher education and young adulthood.
As someone who has volunteered and holds a student worker position in the Office of Diversity, for over a year I have seen and heard the complaints of students who can’t stand to hear homophobia, double standards, racial micro-aggressions and general intolerance from their peers. I have heard from the students who have been in awkward situations in their new dorms with their new roommates wondering how to tell them their preference on how to be addressed, how to ask them sensitive questions and how to explain to them that they just might see the world differently than them. As we grow up through the four years in undergraduate we change and our voices may get louder when we use them to stand up for ourselves. What jump starts this growth? Simply put, experiences do.
The First Year Experience Forum acted as one the of those experiences to prompt that growth. We all acted out scenes that we had seen play out in classrooms and our dorms and discussed how we would solve the problem in that situation. One of the memorable scenes was a teacher singling out a male student in a classroom full of females, a situation that is not too far fetched considering our campus’ 62 percent female population. A freshman, Ellen*, thought that speaking with the teacher after class about singling someone out to get their opinion on anything based on who they are in relation to the majority in the class was wrong and that there were other ways to get someone’s perspective. A a sophomore, Katie* agreed with Ellen saying “approaching a teacher after class is less intimidating and you don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself or them.”
The students did another exercise where they wrote down something they hate to hear when they are around campus or in the company of their peers. The small cards the students wrote these comments on were passed around and traded off so another student could read the card out loud and answer why they thought people say these things, and also what is the best thing to say back if it hurts you to hear it or bothers you. To me, this was the most interesting part of the forum because it got people to speak candidly and unabashedly.
After the event was over and the students were getting to know each other I realized how great it is that students can come together and converse in solidarity on how they can navigate the rocky social scene in college and create a mutual understanding of what its like in their shoes.
* Names have been changed.
*The views in this article represent the opinion of the author, and not those of CisternYard News.