Love, Life Stories

I refuse to stay silent in the classroom

As a minority, I have an obligation to speak up.

I’ve never been the type of person who constantly participates in class. Even when I was in high school back in Colombia, I was always a little apprehensive of asking “dumb questions.” However, I was never completely mute for a full semester; I like to think that I was in a happy medium: I participated whenever I really, really, felt like it.

I participated whenever I really, really, felt like it. Click To Tweet

Things changed when I came to Boston to study at Emerson College, a small liberal arts school where the lecture hall academic setting was not a thing. Instead, my classes were small (15-30 students) and very discussion-driven. Added on to that, pursuing a major in Communication Studies meant that I had to frequently speak in public and participate in class debates.

Although very liberal, my school is predominantly white, which meant that inevitably, I was always part of a minority composed of international students and other students of color. My culture, nationality, and experiences were incredibly different from those around me, which often made it difficult to speak up.

My culture, nationality, and experiences were incredibly different from those around me, which often made it difficult to speak up. Click To Tweet

I remember classes where I literally never spoke one word other than a few introductory remarks on the first day. After every one of these classes, I went home with a bitter taste in my mouth. I felt disappointed in myself for not having the balls to ask the burning questions, for not questioning my peers, or for not introducing a different viewpoint into the discussion.

I always had one of these unfulfilling classes every semester, but every time, I had a different reason for remaining silent. One time it was because the teacher was rude and disrespectful to minorities. The other because I felt like every time I brought up a global perspective into the conversation everyone tuned out or didn’t care. Other times, it was simply because I felt like my opinion wasn’t welcome, like it wasn’t my place to comment on American issues.

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Sadly, many of these things were not in my head. There is a high degree of discrimination from the part of both students and faculty — even at a liberal college like mine. In fact, it’s always us minorities that don’t speak. I remember one class where two other international students and I remained silent for the entire semester because every time we spoke, our teacher turned a deaf ear. While as a freshman I accepted this implicit understanding that as a minority you have to stay silent while white people talk, as a senior, I’ve chosen to do things differently.

Other times, it was simply because I felt like my opinion wasn't welcome, like it wasn't my place to comment on American issues. Click To Tweet

“Even if it makes you uncomfortable, I don’t plan on shutting up.” This has become my motto now. It took me nearly three years to realize that the only way that I could make myself welcome into the classroom was to push my way through. Indeed it’s sad to know that as a minority you have to make an extra effort to be accepted into the classroom, but it’s the only way that your revolutionary ideas will make it to the ears of ethnocentric humans.

Even if it makes you uncomfortable, I don't plan on shutting up Click To Tweet

This decision of mine is fairly recent, but I started making changes towards the end of this past semester. That one time when the highly verbal white student was saying that Latino immigrants have an obligation to learn English instead of government websites providing Spanish translations for them, I did not let my burning words stop at my throat. I opposed this viewpoint politely and said that translations take literally no time to make and that they should be available while “immigrants” learn the language. Something as simple as that created chaos in the classroom, and that is precisely why I’m not willing to stay quiet anymore.

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Now that my undergraduate years are coming to an end, all the unspoken words that I’ve swallowed throughout these past three years are ready to come out. I’ve made this choice not because I want to create a revolution, but because the silencing of minorities needs to stop, in the classroom and elsewhere. We cannot stay silent anymore, because in doing so we are ignoring our responsibility to change the world, even if it’s at a small scale. By speaking up in the classroom, I’m making someone think, reflect; even if at the time they may hate the cognitive dissonance, eventually, my words may resonate with them.

I've made this choice not because I want to create a revolution, but because the silencing of minorities needs to stop, in the classroom and elsewhere. Click To Tweet

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Maria Garcia-Arrázola

Maria Garcia-Arrázola

Maria García-Arrázola was born in Colombia—which explains her love for coffee—where she lived for most of her life. Her desire to explore the globe and her passion for words and film, drove her to begin her undergraduate studies at Emerson College in Boston, MA.

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