is silence golden?

Silence is something I think about a lot. Usually while sitting in my apartment, listening to the little things, which aren’t silent at all – the hum of my appliances, students talking in the lounge outside my door, the ceiling fan clicking each time it turns. With this strange soundtrack as my backdrop, I often sit and think.

I didn’t talk a lot as a child. I was incredibly shy hardly speaking, even to close relatives. I began to break this silence at 16 when I enrolled at Perpich Center for Arts Education where I (ironically) studied voice. But, it’s not as though I went searching for my voice, it found me. During my time at Perpich, I sang my first solo, took creative writing and began journaling. I started speaking up and speaking out. I found ways to share my opinion with others even if it wasn’t popular.

I took my voice with me to college. At UVM I realized that my voice was appreciated and important.  Professors and student affairs professionals guided me and I began to understand how to articulate my values. My voice and I have had ups and downs since then but we always come back to the place we began, silence.

 

In some contexts, silence is terrible. When it’s important to speak up for something, silence can equal death.

 

But at other times, silence has power.

 

In yoga class where I can quiet the stresses and noise of my daily life, silence has so much power. Yoga ends with the savasana, or “corpse pose,” where you quietly lie on your back, close your eyes, and breathe deep, a practice intended to rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit.

In relationships, there is something beautiful about silence. When a bond is so close between friends or family that I don’t have to say anything for my message to be received. But, silence in relationships can be painful. “Spiteful words can hurt your feelings but silence breaks your heart.” When others decide your silence is necessary it’s painful. The relationship goes ‘silent,’ your voice is lost.

How do you use that silence to rebuild and reclaim your voice? What are the sounds of silence? For me, lately, it’s sounded like mourning. It hurts – physically and emotionally. I’m trying to be patient and re-find my voice but I’m not sure how. How can I use this silence, which feels so destructive, to create? How can I work to listen to my voice even when it’s so quiet I can hardly hear it?

And so begins my journey to find my voice and myself. A better and whole me, respectful of myself along the way.

Being ‘the man’

This week I attended my campus’ Take Back the Night event.  The event is one of the hallmarks of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and provides a space for rallying as well as speaking out against power-based personal violence.

I’ve attended Take Back the Night events for the last several years but this year felt very different. This year was the first year I wasn’t sure if the space was mine. Every other year I’ve attended as a student. Whether in grad student or as an undergrad, the school was mine to learn from, it was a space for me. As a staff member, I am to provide that space. It isn’t about me anymore.

I’ve recently realized that I am becoming (or maybe I already am) ‘the man.’ Prior to attending and during the event I was concerned about my own presence in the space. I became incredibly aware that my presence could be seen as intrusive to a safe student space. I feel I am slowly becoming archetype of those whom I did not feel respected by and rallied against just a few years ago.

How do I work to create an environment where students do not feel disrespected by me even though, at times, I do have to be ‘the man’? How do I continue to do my job, often enforcing policies, while creating spaces for students to be authentic? How can I be authentic when I do not necessarily agree with policies and practices of my institution (especially when these policies and practices create a more hostile environment between the students and administrators)?

My small and momentary solution was to speak at Take Back the Night. In front of all the students, I read a poem I wrote. Hopefully, even for just a moment, I helped my students realize I am just like them in a lot of ways. Perhaps in the future they will think of that moment, where I was on their side and one of them when they feel hurt by the policies and practices I sometimes must enforce.

A journey toward justice.

This week marks the Jewish holiday of Passover. The theme of Passover is liberation from exile. It’s a tale of perseverance and I think it serves as a great opportunity to begin a dialogue around some of these issues.

Passover has four famous questions, typically recited by the youngest child. Each question gets at a component of the introductory question ‘why is this night different from all other nights?’ Yet, while reflecting on the holiday this week I kept coming back to the same question: Is this night any different than the exodus?

During the Passover Seder we symbolically reenact the exodus journey from Egypt. We engage with the community, welcoming the stranger and encouraging all who have no place to go to join us at our table. But, what if the stranger is the person you passed on your way home, holding a sign and asking for spare change? Would we invite them in or would we give our food and send them on their way? I think the ultimate message in Passover is not that we were slaves and now we are free, the ultimate message is a question; what are we doing with our freedom?

Activism is more than sharing a video on facebook, eating a piece of matzah and retelling our story. As we remember and eat our bread of affliction we need to realize that in our schools and on our streets all over the world many are still forced to eat their bread of affliction (if they have anything to eat at all). In reality, this night is not any different than the exodus for so many. And as long as we remain bystanders, that truth will keep us all in exile.

Fitting the ‘file’ image.

This week I’ve had the opportunity to interview many students for our summer staff positions. Prior, during and after I had a lot of conversations with my students who were going through the interview process. One in particular stood out – my student and I talked about how during interviews they often felt “fake.” They know what professional staff members in my department want to hear, they know the answers they are supposed to share and the “correct” outfit for the occasion but they simply feel that isn’t authentic to who they are.

Our conversation really made me think about how we can pigeonhole students through our interview processes. We are looking for students who look and act a certain way. But what way do we mean when we say that?

During the conversation, my student and I talked about the ‘just be yourself’ idea; but, perhaps what people really mean when they say that is, be a version of yourself that you pull out for occasions like this. Be yourself but a little more cleaned up. Be yourself but in an outfit you’d never typically wear. Be yourself but sell yourself through the experiences you’ve had. Be yourself but don’t really be yourself.

What message does this all send? We can be accepting if only you look, act and are a certain way?

I don’t think this is something only undergraduate students experience. It’s not something that can be chalked up to a “developmental phase” – it’s something, I believe, all feel pressure in.

I was thinking about this throughout the week and then something clicked. I had the opportunity to hear Jess Pettitt speak on social justice and I realized why this bothered me so much. It’s about power and privilege; it’s a social justice issue. I think I’m finally able to put some language to this feeling but bear with me as it may be a bit rough…

During the lecture, Jess Pettitt talked about envisioning a dentist. Do this. What does a dentist look like? Most people recalled an image of a white man. Then, perhaps an image of their own dentist. But the ‘file’ image in your brain for ‘dentist’ is a white man. What is the file image for RA? Student affairs professional? Etc.?

If you don’t fit this image, of who is first recalled in the mind of most when a particular profession is mentioned, how much harder do you have to try? How much more time do you spend making sure you look the part? What are the ways you compensate for not being the ‘file’ image?

The inauthenticity my student was feeling might be because they didn’t fit that file image. They were attempting to ‘fit’ a mold, which wasn’t ever made with them in mind.

This begs the question – what do we do to change this? Do we need to? Where is my role here? For now, I’m not sure but this is certainly something I will continue to reflect on.

my song.

Today my yoga instructor said: “Turn down the volume of the chatter in your mind,
 turn up the voice of your own song.”

 

And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

 

I’ve decided to re-find writing. This time publicly. Writing in a journal certainly serves a purpose but I’m in search of community and community cannot be found between pages kept under my pillow.

I think this blog will change a lot as I write. I have no set plan, no agenda and truly no purpose. Perhaps this is a journey to find me. To find out who I am and what I want in this world. To figure out my purpose.

There are so few certainties in my world right now that this should be interesting. Get ready for a wild ride.