Category Archives: self-presentation

Fire Station and Campus

by Claire DeLaval ’17

Claire DeLaval was a finalist in the 2017 Bailey Oratorical competition. This year’s prompt was: “At the heart of the liberal arts is civic engagement: How can we use the values of our liberal arts education to heal divides in our nation and world?”

I love my life. This semester I’m taking all politics and economics courses, like Human Rights and International Political Economy. Once I’m finished with my day on campus, I head down to the fire station next to Johnny’s, Huntingdon Regional District 5. Three nights a week I have to be there by six o’clock to do my fire classes: four hours of classroom or practical skills all about how to lay fire hose in the bed of a truck so that you can pull it out quickly and smoothly; how to rescue a person from a vehicle; how to fightImage result for fire hose fire in its various forms. Being a volunteer firefighter in Huntingdon is just as important to me as being a student of the liberal arts at Juniata, but sometimes I feel like, in my daily life, I have to cross a divide between these two spaces I care about. I’m sure I’m not the only person here who’s experienced that–the feeling of belonging, somehow, in multiple places that are divided from each other. And on a societal level, it’s clear that we’re struggling with how to live in a divided America. Hillbilly Elegy, the memoir by J.D. Vance, was chosen by the New York Times as one of the “six books to help understand Trump’s win.”

For me, living in both these worlds has been a test of my values. I have learned that the values of one person’s reality will not always be a road map to understanding another person’s reality. I have had to suspend my reflex for quick judgment, practice open-mindedness, and most of all, confront my assumptions. Let’s confront the assumptions in tonight’s question.

“How can we use the values of our liberal arts education to heal divides in our nation and world?” I think we cannot put our liberal arts education to real use if we don’t start by seeing and second-guessing our assumptions. Historically, and even in the writing of this prompt, the liberal arts seem arrogant. Are we assuming too much? Until we confront our assumptions–examine each and decide whether or not it can stand–we are not ready to engage in civic action.

First, let’s examine the assumption that everyone wants these divides to be healed. There are clear divides between the fire station as it exists in the community and our college, up on the hill. But, since I started, my presence has created new divides in the firehouse itself. I’m the only one of us not from Pennsylvania. I’m the only woman. Not long after I started, the guys found out I was a politics student. I knew I was the only one in the station with my political views, but I value honesty, and so I was honest. We had arguments about Benghazi, and emails, and conspiracy theories. I told them I thought there was no way Trump would win. I heard a lot about that after the election.

Despite all our differences, the guys have let me in and we all get along. But we are firmly divided along political lines. We talk about politics in the station, but none of us is going to heal this divide and it seems no one really wants it to be healed, because we would each rather coexist with this divide than change our political beliefs. I find some of their views morally outrageous. They think I am an out-of-touch leftie. Sometimes, I wonder if I am. In electing Donald Trump, our country and our friends chose the candidate campaigning against intellectual elitism, against unity, and indirectly, against the values of the liberal arts. The changes people have experienced in the United States and the world have been a long time coming but the nationalism, racism, and separatism that define the world’s current divisions have been, in part, reactions against ideas that the liberal arts values, and against the condescending assumption of liberal elites that they know best. For us to assume that divides must be healed before different people can coexist is a critical mistake. If we demand that these divides be healed before we engage with people different from ourselves, we are walling ourselves in.

We have examined the first assumption of the question (that everyone wants the world’s divides to be healed), and it is up to each of us to decide whether or not that assumption can stand. The second assumption of the question is that we are owed a special ascendancy because we are students of the liberal arts. How can we–distinguished from others by our prestigious education, which we are lucky or talented or rich enough to receive–use our values to alleviate the disunion? It is dangerous to assume that if we only find the right strategy, stringing together the right parts of what we have been taught, we will be what is needed. If we allow this particular assumption to stand, we fail to live up to our liberal arts values by failing to face the world’s discrimination, exclusion, and inequality of opportunity. In the words of bell hooks, an academic and activist whose life’s work has been to challenge assumptions, “If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice, have recognition for difference without attaching difference to privilege.” We students are in this room because, somewhere along the way, we were privileged enough to attain an expensive liberal arts college education. When we graduate our experiences here, in our classrooms, in our labs, on our sports fields–these will have shaped our educations and they will set us apart. We will be different from the 68 percent of Americans who did not have a bachelor’s degree in the 2014 census. Our educations may allow us to do things other people cannot do. But we must not ever forget that the differences between people–whether it is the degrees we have, the colors of our skin, or the bathrooms we wish to use–do not make us better than each other.

The third assumption in the question is that we are the only people with liberal arts values. Our fire station is full of misogyny. But at the same time, the guys are committed to making sure I succeed as a firefighter. They encourage me to take leadership roles. Last year, when I told our Chief that I was applying for a Forest Service training program in California to get certified in fighting wildfires, he did everything he could to help me train for the fitness test. The crew I trained with in California made the news, and for a few weeks Chief kept forwarding videos he found online of me training in California, because he was proud of me. The guys encourage me to be the best firefighter I can not because they have read bell hooks or even because they spend their free time thinking about workplace discrimination, but simply because they believe a woman can do the same physical job just as well. They believe this even though they laugh at rape jokes in my presence. The complicated thing about values is that other people can share your values without sharing all of your values; other people can share some of your values while also having values that are completely antithetical to other things that you value. People do not have to be us to be good people. People with liberal arts degrees are not the only people with good and useful values.

Civic engagement is indeed at the heart of the liberal arts. From its beginning in late Classical and Hellenistic Greece, the liberal arts education was formed around the subjects considered obligatory for a free person who would participate in civic life. I argue that before engaging in civic action, we must challenge our own assumptions, and that this is best done by getting an outside view of our world. If divides are going to be healed, anyone can lead the way. Let us be open-minded. Our liberal arts do not preordain us to heal the world, but they may be our best tool in civic action. Let us remember what we have been taught. We can take note of opposing views without compromising our own values. We can listen to what others think without forgetting or abandoning what we think. We will not necessarily be the people who heal our divided nation and world. Let us have faith, and remember that our values are strongest when tested by the challenge of reckoning with our assumptions.

“You are so nice.” Emotional Intelligence in Our Professional Lives

by Kati Csoman, Dean of International Programs

I often hear this from people, which may seem like a compliment at first.  However, my experience is that “You are so nice!” is sometimes a veiled assertion about my abilities as a woman in a position of leadership.  “So nice” is code language for the perception that I may not possess the wherewithal to make tough decisions or to have difficult conversations.

Throughout our lives, many women are socialized to be nuanced and respectful in our interactions with others.  We are often expected to be indirect in our speech so as to not appear to be too forceful, too opinionated or too discomforting.  We are taught to play nice.  But being genuinely nice is not a gender-specific attribute, nor should it be perceived as coming from a place of weakness.  My idea of the concept of being nice is that one is authentic and strives in all interactions to understand the authenticity of others.   Simply put, know who you are and how it is that you can interact with others as they are.

Practicing emotional intelligence in the workplace appears to be vastly undervalued.  Too often, the inability to engage in honest conversation acknowledging someone else’s feelings or perceptions is misappropriated under the guise of “professionalism.”  It does not make us less effective in our work if we acknowledge the humanity of someone else.

Image result for mr rogers senateThe most influential practitioner of emotional intelligence was Mr. Fred Rogers, the renowned and respected child psychologist and famed television host of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”  And one of the best examples of Mr. Rogers in action was his ability within six minutes to recover $20 million dollars in funding for public television at a U.S. Senate hearing in 1969: https://youtu.be/yXEuEUQIP3Q.

Among the many profound ideas that Mr. Rogers expressed in his testimony was the idea that “feelings are mentionable and manageable.”  Emotional intelligence requires great discipline as we overcome our own egos to become deeply introspective and to be in control of our thoughts, feelings and reactions as we interact with others.  You can be steadfast in your convictions.  You can be persistent in achieving your goals.  At the same time, you can acknowledge someone else’s opinions or way of wanting to do something.

Too often, strength is perceived as loudness and forcefulness.  Strength can also be expressed through calm and measured action and interaction.  I believe deeply that if we could engage in more open dialogue in professional settings about how we feel about behavior, actions, and decisions, we might more readily address interpersonal conflicts that are often at the root of ineffective relationships in the workplace.  It is naïve to think that emotional intelligence should and can be dismissed from our professional lives.  We are human.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” (The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember)

 

Faithful, Academic, and Queer

By Quinn Westlake ’17

(In this article, I use ‘queer’ as an adjective for people or persons who identify as LGBTQIA. This is a personal reclamation, not a heterosexual faux pas.)

My crowd of friends tend to waiver between queers and academics. Naturally, a lot of my closest friends are academic queers who I engage with regularly. As friends, we talk about personal lives and issues and beliefs. I am unabashedly Muslim and it intersects with my own work often, so I enjoy speaking and having conversations about it. Once it happens for the first time, I can see horror or confusion or disbelief underneath the surface, not necessarily because I am Muslim, but because I am religious. I rarely have to perform the placating “Islam is not a religion rooted in terror, I am not a self-hating misogynistic homophobe, etc.…” with my friends, but what I end up feeling compelled to do (if it isn’t asked of me) is explain my own religiousness. To this day, it still throws me off how unattached to one another religion and academia are perceived. Being queer and religious is even less common in academia, and being queer, trans, and religious in academia means you may as well be a Sasquatch. Religion gets dismissed as a homogeneous ‘opiate for the masses,’ but viewing religion as a homogeneous entity rather than an individual experience is a lazy analysis. Elitism, projection, and interrogation abound once I casually convey my faith.

Elitism can emerge quite easily out of academia. I have had professors and peers treat me poorly or lesser once they heard I was a person of faith. The reason for this, I personally believe, is that religion is viewed as an action of the under-educated working class. Conceptually, religion is putting your faith into something bigger than yourself and that faith and energy you put in comes back in love and support. This concept is unprovable by anything other than the faith itself, and the individual experience. It is a feat, it is effort, and it is hard to fathom once someone feels like they have more than an adequate understanding of the world around them. To put faith in anything other than academia and tangible fact is foolish to some academics. Hypocrisy abounds.

As I have experienced, many academic queers have an extra level of abrasion regarding religion. I’m not going to say it isn’t understandable, or pretend like the religious fervor of others can’t cause trauma for individuals who are queer. What I will say is that once that trauma is there, it can turn a person off from something for a lifetime. At the same time, I think that once someone maintains an unwavering ideology, not questioning or challenging it for years, that person tends to blur the line between personal boundary and fact. This isn’t to say that someone has to revisit their trauma to not be dismissive, just that perspective is key for empathizing with another person and understanding why the opposite of what gets them through the day is necessary for that other person. I try not to project onto other people that my personal dogma is the just course; I expect that to be returned.

Existing as someone who is a non-binary queer Muslim is as genuine as it is difficult and it is this genuine self that keeps me able to feel at home with myself. Entering college while maintaining that authenticity was one of my more difficult endeavors, and while there are still people present who make it all worthwhile, there are still pressures and demands that I must tear apart my identity in order to come across as a legitimate academic, a legitimate queer, a legitimate Muslim, and a legitimate trans person. Feeling authentic at times feels like an act of emotional labor that I could crumble under. Community, however, keeps me from doing so. Surrounding myself with people who do know the difficulties of being authentic, who don’t interrogate my intersections, or demand to know why I am all of these identities while ultimately accepting me as none of them. Surround yourself with people who understand your struggles, people who do not treat your identities and the way they intersect as character flaws. Those are the people that help you maintain yourself, physically and emotionally. Those are the people to keep in your crowd.

Fight like a Woman

“What is this?” yelled the freshman student. I was a graduate student, barely older than he was. calvin

“It’s a B minus,” I replied.

“I am not a B minus student!” he insisted.

I did my best to convince him that, yes, he had earned that B minus. But when he announced he would bring in his father to yell at me, I chickened out. I cancelled office hours and handed him off to my supervising professor.

Chickening out worked that time. Unfortunately, though, confrontations are inevitable in the professional world. Here are a few hints about workplace confrontations and how to get through them without increasing everyone’s pain and suffering.

  1. Define each issue as a problem that has to be solved by both of you.

If you’re in a confrontation with a boss, keep calm! (Have you ever gotten so nervous you cried? You want to avoid that.) Start with “I understand there is a problem and I’d like to help solve it.”  Acknowledge your mistake, if you made one. State how you plan to solve the problem, or ask for help coming up with a solution.

If you have to have a confrontation with a peer or with someone who works under your supervision, do the same thing, but ask for the collaboration a little differently: “I have a concern that I’d like your help with.” This is particularly helpful if the person you are talking to is in an emotional conflict with someone else. “I want our working relationship to be good, so I’d like to talk to you about how best to address this problem.”

When you define a disagreement as a mutual problem, the stakes are automatically lower, and everybody can negotiate to a compromise without feeling they’ve “won” or “lost.”

  1. Keep your cool.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get pulled into the emotion of a workplace spat. If you are angry or upset, go away for a few minutes and get yourself together. Like it or not, women who lose their temper in public also lose their authority (even more than men do).  This is a bit easier to do if you:

  1. Listen more than you talk.

Listen to the feelings and/or thoughts of the other person. You don’t have to agree with them or share their point of view, but you should validate it.  Use “I hear what you’re saying,” or “What I hear you saying is…” That may seem clunky, but reflecting back what you think you’ve heard is a good way to help the other person know you’re paying attention to them.

  1. Ask, “What do you want?”

Often, people who are dissatisfied don’t express their feelings directly. Asking this question cuts through the white noise and gets to action faster.  It also suggests that the questioner is interested in helping the other person. It also stops passive-aggression if you use it right, and :

  1. Say what you want, clearly.

You should use “I want” when you want something. A “want” statement is stronger than a “feel” statement. “I feel that I did a lot of work on this assignment” is a less effective message than “I want you to review my grade.” You can follow that up with a “think” statement: “I think that we should look at the statistics more closely.”  Try not to pose your statements as questions. Only ask a question if you really have one.

Moral: Straightforward talk solves most problems and prevents others.