Month: December 2014

The importance of listening

Talking is only half of a conversation; the other half is listening. When thinking about issues of social justice, it’s important to take time to STOP & LISTEN. That’s the theme for this semester’s publication of The Matrix.

I’m on the debate team, which has given me way too much time to argue with other people. When I’m outside of debate rounds, though, I don’t usually like to get into too much direct rebuttal. The reason is that any good debater knows that it’s far more important to really know what someone is saying. Otherwise, people just end up talking past each other.

Why is that a social justice issue? There are crucial issues in society where people are on completely opposite sides. Vegans could hold the position that meat is murder, which makes it really hard to compromise on whether having a pepperoni pizza is alright or not.

Listening takes respect. When talking about someone you disagree with, it’s too simple to just repeat what others say. It’s too easy to say, “I disagree with that politician because my friends all say that the politician hates America.”

It becomes an echo chamber.

Listening is something radically different, though. It takes a serious moment to stop, to let go of all of the preconceptions and assumptions, to truly listen to what someone has to say.

It isn’t easy. In fact, it can be incredibly frustrating to listen to someone. The urge to interject, to disprove, to argue, is strong. Even if we can stay silent, that doesn’t mean that we are really listening. We can tune out, we can stay disinterested, or worse, we can avoid even showing up.

Listening to someone means giving them your full time and attention. It extends beyond the time and place. It means keeping it in mind. That’s something I think we all deserve.

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Advocacy at PLU

What do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the protests in Ferguson, and the PLU Ruth Anderson debate on vegetarianism all have in common? They’re all forms of advocacy.

The word advocacy comes from Latin roots meaning, “to speak for.” This goes a long way in explaining how advocacy can take so many different forms, as people speak for the issues they care about, from topics as wide as healthcare, the environment, social justice, politics, and more.

It’s even in PLU’s mission statement, “[…] service, leadership, and care – for other people, for [student’s] communities, and for the earth.” Serving, leading, and caring are all essential to being an advocate.

Small wonder, then, that PLU is full of advocates. One such person is Jenna Harmon, junior, the president of the Grassroots Environmental Action Now (GREAN) club. GREAN has tackled a wide array of environmental issues, like trying to stop coal port terminals and encourage PLU to divest from fossil fuels.

Harmon sees the environment in all parts of life. “I always try to think about my impacts personally on the environment and reduce those,” she says. It’s about the big things, too, she explains, “I also try to educate others on ways to be more sustainable through GREAN, and the classes I’m taking will help me to work for environmental non-profits in the future and even this summer.”

Jumping into advocacy can be hard, though. One group on campus, the PLU speech and debate team, is interested in helping students learn the skills they need for advocacy.

Calvin Horne is an assistant coach for the debate team. He says, “Debate helps you be a better advocate for causes you already support by challenging your beliefs, giving you the tools to effectively communicate your views, and by encouraging a culture of sharing and entertaining a wide variety of beliefs and values.”

The debaters buy it. Matthew Aust, a sophomore, details one of the unique benefits of debate, arguing for positions you don’t agree with. “It is important, if you want to persuade people, to acknowledge that alternative viewpoints are valid.”

Hannah Bates, a first year, agrees. Arguing new topics and different sides each round has helped her expand her views. She points out that, “Debate has also simply educated me on global events, part of being an advocate for something is knowing about it and debate has given me the knowledge to better communicate my own ideas.”

You don’t have to be a debater to be an advocate, but it can’t hurt. In the end, it’s about bettering the world. As long as there’s value in life, we have a responsibility to advocate. Harmon sums it up well, saying, “[Advocacy] means, fighting for what you believe, generally for policy and through political leaders, but fighting for what you see as right.”

Safe Spaces

What do the Diversity Center, the Women’s Center, and your favorite school club have in common? They can all be safe spaces.

Places like the Diversity Center and the Women’s Center were set up to give people a place to go to speak without fear. Dan Stell, a senior and ASPLU vice president, notes that they are valuable as safe spaces. Safe spaces, Stell says, are “[A]n environment where your identities will not be challenged or criticized […] where you are comfortable, truly embracing all the facets of your personality and sharing them with others.”

These places depend on the individual. Many find solace in the Diversity Center, but some get that comfort relaxing in a dorm room with friends. Places fromthe practice rooms in Mary Baker Russell to the track field or the counseling center can all be safe spaces.

Safe spaces don’t need to be physical locations, though. They can also be digital. For me, as a teenager, this took the form of texting. My parents couldn’t see or overhear my thoughts; it was just me and the friends I trusted to share secrets. Technology has expanded the range of options we have for the safe release of thoughts.

David Leon, senior, is a bit of a controversial figure on campus due to his role in hosting anonymous confessions pages. However, he believes he is helping PLU out, saying “The confessions page allows for an exchange and dialogue to take place amongst everyone affiliated with PLU and to really engage and facilitate widespread community support.”

Stell disagrees. He notes that confessions pages can lead to bullying without repercussions, saying, “There is no active dialogue when the posts there are anonymous, I would say that in order to have a safe space one must be open to the vulnerability of people knowing your thoughts and ideas.”

Stell continued, “I think that anonymity can be vitally important in keeping a safe space safe, but I would say it’s anonymity towards those that are not a part of it.” Just like me as a teenager, trust is needed for safe spaces to grow.

Leon agrees that anonymity is important. “It gives [people who post confessions] a sense of control over their personal safety but also how the world views their own individual lives […] The fact that we have the ability to cloak our sleeves but be able to share out struggles and have others relate is a powerful thing.” Leon thinks anonymity builds empathy. People can be nasty, but there is evidence for this empathy. Some have confessed about mental health issues and referred to professional help.

Stell concludes, “[These spaces] are environments where you begin to critically analyze the different identities that you have and question the privileges that go along with them.”

With this opportunity, a safe space can be the place for important conversations to start.