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Navigating College Rejections

May 1 in America is “Decision Day” for incoming college freshman and as May 1 quickly approaches, many students are excited to submit their decisions while others are struggling to decide.

A few weeks ago, you likely began receiving your college decision letters. The day finally arrived and in your hand you held the answer to all your dreams: A golden envelope with your name beautifully written across the front (or in most cases, an email telling us our decision could be accessed via the school’s portal). Inside the envelope is the most important document of your life: your college acceptance letter! You’ve done it. You got into your dream school! All the hard work paid off! All the nights of crying at the table as your dad tried to teach you how to do Algebra really was worth it. You unfold the letter and in big bold letters it reads:

“Dear Student,

We are so sorry to inform you…” Well, you know the rest.

That’s it. You’ve been rejected from your dream school. Nothing matters anymore. 

At least that is how I felt when I got rejected from my dream school. At least for a little while. A part of me felt that my hard work for the past 12 years of my life wasn’t really worth it after all. The hours of studying for tests and taking advanced classes. What was it all for if I didn’t get into the school of my dreams? Didn’t I continuously tell myself in high school I was working so hard so I could attend any college I desired?

I know I’m not alone in this experience, which is why I reached out to other students who didn’t get into their dream schools. I spoke with Hayley Y. (22) and Gracey D. (19) who both experienced a college rejection from their dream schools. We also got some extra advice from student Sydney H. (18) Here’s what they had to say. 

How did you feel after you learned you’d been rejected from your dream school? 

Hayley: I actually developed this weird complex where I started to put down my own achievements because I felt like I had failed. For example, I got into the University of Michigan (where I ended up going), and even though the acceptance rate was around 26% and probably lower for out of state students, I kept bemoaning that “It’s easy to get into UoM!” Because compared to Dartmouth, which has an acceptance rate of around 9%, it seemed like it was. But this was really harmful and made me feel like I was going to a place I hated. I had put so much on Dartmouth as being the place where everything would change that when I didn’t get in, it felt like a defeat to go somewhere else. I sulked for two years. I finally learned to let go of those feelings of failure and accept and even celebrate what I had achieved at UoM!

Gracey: I immediately felt disappointed, like everything I had worked at didn’t matter. It was really difficult for me to think at that time.

Tiffany: I also felt that all my work in school was for nothing. I think many students put this pressure on themselves during high school to go above and beyond in every category in order to get into a great school. And then when you don’t get into the school you thought you would, it feels like you pushed yourself for no reason. You did all the work but didn’t get the reward you deserved. And I think that’s really difficult for students to accept. 

Did receiving this rejection letter change your course of action for your college decisions? How so? 

Gracey: I decided almost immediately after it happened that I didn’t want to give up on my dream of going to University of Florida. I always envisioned myself going to a big university after high school, but I decided to go to Valencia for a year in between so that I could try my hand at transferring into UF.

Tiffany: When I was rejected from my dream school the first year, I decided to apply again the following year. Both times I received a rejection letter which was very discouraging but it led me to another school that offered me a much better financial aid package. It also encouraged me to take a gap year which I really enjoyed as it allowed me to work and explore my options.

Why do you think it was so upsetting for you to be rejected? Was it expectations you set for yourself or did your family expect you to get accepted? Was it because it was your dream school, etc? 

Gracey: UF has been my dream since very early on in my educational career. I have visited and stayed on campus multiple times and really enjoyed the curriculum and the school as a whole. When I found out I didn’t get in, I felt like I didn’t do enough to get in, I started to think and reflect on all the things I could’ve done better.

Tiffany: I definitely think for me it was the expectations I put on myself. Throughout high school I made sure to stay a top student and in my mind, I thought this automatically meant I’d end up at a top university. Because of those unnecessary expectations I put on myself, I was embarrassed when I didn’t get into my ‘dream’ school. 

Do you think students should have a dream school when applying to colleges?

Hayley: Having a dream school is totally great! It gives you motivation to apply to colleges and can help make you excited for the future. What’s important is that you don’t put so much of yourself into your dream school that you don’t make space for other opportunities. Your SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and where you go for college do not define who you are as a person, much less determine your self-worth.

Tiffany: I think it is great to have a school you want to go to because it has a program your interested in or offers unique opportunities. But I think it can be harmful when students are pushed by themselves or their parents to get into a top university and consider that the only school they want to attend.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself after you found out you didn’t get into your dream school?

Hayley: That you aren’t a failure for not getting into your dream school. It’s okay to mourn the loss of that path, but it’s important to remember that there are other paths you can travel down, new people you can meet. You did your best and even though you didn’t reach that goal, you should remember that you still tried everything you could within reason. 

Tiffany: Don’t let yourself sulk too long. You did your best and you got accepted into the schools you were supposed to get accepted into. College is only four years of your life. The college you attend does not determine what you will achieve or do with your life.

Finally, what would you tell all the other students who didn’t get into their dream schools this year?

Hayley: My biggest advice is to give yourself some gentleness. Sure, you may have been able to write a better essay, have a higher SAT/ACT score, get better grades. But be kind to yourself – recognize your limitations and what else may have been going on when you were applying. When you don’t feel great about yourself, one thing that I find helpful to ask yourself is this: what would you say to your best friend if they were in your position? You may find yourself being a lot kinder that way.

Sydney: A college rejection isn’t a reflection of your worth as a person. You are so much more valuable and important than a college rejection. Honestly, the college itself is missing out because it doesn’t have YOU there. You will be able to have a successful and happy life wherever you decide to go because you deserve success and happiness.

Gracey: You’re going to end up where you are meant to end up. Don’t fear what you don’t know, a rejection isn’t the end of the journey. Take a step back and realize you have options. This is what I did, and I just got accepted into UF as a transfer a few weeks ago! I think that getting rejected at first was the best thing to happen to me, I ended up where I’m supposed to go.


As students who all received rejections from their dream schools, we hope that Decision Day becomes something you are excited for instead of something you dread. No matter what school you commit to, know you have achieved a great thing in seeking a higher education and that you will do great things at whichever school YOU decide. Whether that be a community college, state university, or an Ivy League school.

Stay tuned for more articles on college life! Next up: A Guide to College Transfers by Gracey Davis.


This article was written by Tiffany Leveille with contributions from Hayley Yu., Sydney Hubbard, and Gracey Davis.

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#MenToo: The Stigma Surrounding Male Survivors

TW: Sexual abuse and domestic violence.

On December 22, 2021, The Zach Sang Show, a popular show on YouTube posted an intimate interview with Disney+ star Joshua Bassett. The “Set Me Free” singer touched on topics from his new music, his near-death hospital stay, friendships, and more in the nearly two-hour-long interview. 21-year-old Bassett also discussed the sexual abuse he experienced as a young child. 

“I was five, so f— if I know what’s going on. This person was of course saying, ‘You can’t tell anybody’ and I’m thinking… If I tell, I’m gonna be in trouble.”

Bassett continued by revealing he was sexually abused frequently as a child by a family member and as a young teenager was groomed by an older man.

Despite all of the trauma and pain Bassett discussed, his main focus was on his journey to healing. 

“Recently I’m really looking at it in the eyes and what’s really happened and how it’s affected my life. And how it’s f–ed with me. I’m angry… Like, I should not have been [abused], that is not okay.”

For many children, the idea of telling an adult is a real struggle, as they fear they will be blamed for the abuse or not believed. Unfortunately, some comments on the video and his Instagram only reinforced this fear. Many people, particularly men, left comments rooted in homophobia and machismo. 

Let’s talk about Jack Wright…

Recently, TikTok star Jack Wright also came out with allegations of sexual abuse against another popular TikToker Sienna Mae. In a YouTube video posted by Jack, he reveals how this has been a recurring incident. He didn’t speak out publicly until his friend posted a statement and video evidence of Sienna’s actions while Wright was asleep. In Jack’s video entitled “what sienna mae did to me,” he states he did not want to ‘make a scene,’  because he felt “No one would believe a male. Especially in that type of situation.” He says other men have also come forward with allegations against Sienna. 

After Jack published his video, there are still a large number of people who do not believe him and are taking Sienna’s side. The comments on his videos are especially disheartening and nasty, bringing in things like his character, legitimacy, and even his sexuality. A lot of these reactions are deeply-rooted in homophobia and victim-shaming. Such behaviors and responses make it harder for men to come out with their stories and speak their truth in the future. 

What about the Johnny Depp situation?

Trauma, psychological or physical, can be inflicted by anybody towards another person regardless of sex or gender identity. While the stats may vary, one such phenomenon that’s usually overlooked is the domestic abuse faced by men from their respective partners. Due to the severe stigma surrounding this topic, most men don’t report it and sometimes even fail to recognize that they are being domestically abused.

If the gender roles were reversed, society is more open to believing a female victim and to “cancel” a male abuser. This stigma surrounding male victims of sexual and physical abuse is prevalent everywhere, including on social media.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s public situation is an example of why it is difficult for men of domestic abuse to come forward. Social media was flooded with opinions that “men can’t be abused by women” and that a man should be able to protect himself from abuse.

In 2020, phone recordings were released in which Heard admitted hitting Depp. Ryder and Paradis (Depp’s ex-partners) both provided statements in Depp’s defense.

Johnny Depp has strenuously denied all claims that he was violent towards Heard. Although we may never know what truly happened during this relationship, the response that “Men cannot be domestically abused” needs to be re-evaluated. This rhetoric that men are “too strong” to be abused or that a woman cannot be an abuser is harmful, as it invalidates the experiences of many men who have been abused. 

1 in 3 men will be sexually or physically abused by a romantic partner in their lifetime (cdc.gov).

Why is it so important for men to come forward?

During the #MeToo movement, many female celebrities came out with their stories of sexual assault and encouraged other women to do the same. But there were far fewer men, particularly young men, who were included in the movement. Joshua Bassett’s and Jack Wright’s choice to share their experience with their followers and the world shows young men (and all survivors) that they can share their stories too and that their experience is valid. 

Just as female survivors looked up to celebrities such as Gabrielle Union and Lady Gaga who shared their stories of surviving sexual assault, men need those role models too. Many women during the Me Too movement expressed that seeing powerful women openly admit they have been sexually abused helped them feel less alone and encouraged them to share their stories. This is why it is crucial to include men in the Me Too movement. All survivors of abuse deserve the same respect and space to say “Me too.” No matter their gender.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault please visit the sexual assault hotline here.


Written by Shoeb Khan, Madhumitha K, and Tiffany Leveille

Original Graphics by Tiffany Leveille


Sources

Zach Sang Interview with Joshua Bassett:

Jack’s video: 

https://people.com/music/joshua-bassett-gets-candid-about-surviving-sexual-abuse/

https://www.buzzfeed.com/larryfitzmaurice/joshua-bassett-sexual-assault-comments

https://www.rainn.org/articles/tips-talking-survivors-sexual-assault

https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/what-to-say-when-a-friend-discloses-sexual-assault/100012520

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/men-ipvsvandstalking.html#:~:text=before%20age%2018.-,Intimate%20Partner%20Violence,intimate%20partner%20during%20their%20lifetime.

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How to Have Tough Conversations the Right Way

Have you ever gotten into a heated argument with a friend or family member that left you enraged? Perhaps the argument resulted in tears or shouting. Maybe you even feel you can no longer talk to that person anymore. I (Tiffany) have definitely been there. It can be frustrating when someone disagrees with you so much. How could this person you are so close to disagree with you so strongly?

Source: Inthewriteblog.com

Today, wherever we go, it seems that arguments are inevitable. At family gatherings relatives find themselves in a political debate that results in shouting rather than discussion. At school, you have likely encountered disagreements and even fights with friends over your different perspectives on a variety of topics. Social media is yet another place where arguments on topics such as abortion, sex education, politics, and mask mandates run rampant. Many times when encountering a major difference between friends, family, or strangers on the internet, our fight or flight response is triggered. We scream our opinions over our opponent in hopes they hear us or we drop the conversation all together in an attempt to salvage the relationship. But this frequently creates an even bigger divide and leaves us feeling misunderstood and angry.

Source: Vox.com

But, what if you could have difficult discussions effectively? Where both parties feel heard without making personal attacks? 


Here are our top 8 suggestions on how to have tough conversations the right way:

Tip 1: Discuss your goals & boundaries for the conversation.

Once you begin to disagree, lay out your goals for the conversation. Let that person know your boundaries. For example, you may say things such as “I will not tolerate name-calling or personal attacks and WILL leave the discussion if you do.” Here are some more examples: 

“Before we begin, I do not want to discuss x,y, z, right now.” 

“I really want to hear your side of the story, but you must listen to my side in return.”

“I just want to let you know I don’t feel comfortable talking about x or y right now.” 

“My goal is not to change your mind, just for you to hear me out.”

Tip 2: Empathize and listen to the other speaker(s).

Remember it’s a conversation, so it’ll be a lot easier to reach an agreement once you try to listen to the other person. Similarly, you would want to be empathized with- so reciprocate.

Tip 3: Listen to understand NOT respond.

Oftentimes when we engage in discussions where two parties have opposing views, we become so focused on telling our side of the story that we forget (or simply no longer care) to listen to our opponent. But we have to remember that the goal of conversation is to not only share, but also listen to the other participant. Unfortunately, that goal is often lost in the crossfire of a heated argument. 

Tip for next time: Take a deep breath and try to listen to the other person’s perspective even if you know you will not agree with them. Listen with the goal of understanding that person and where they are coming from. Your conversation will likely end on a better note than if you both keep talking over each other. You may even realize you CAN have tough conversations without damaging your relationship.

Tip 4: Don’t hesitate to ask for a break.

We’ve all misspoken during a debate or said something we wished we hadn’t. One of the biggest fallacies we can commit is speaking passionately rather than logically. While passion and emotions aren’t always a bad thing, they can often blind and control us. Remember this is a conversation and you respect the other person.

Tip 5: Ask questions and allow others to ask questions

In order to understand another person’s perspective to our best ability, questions are essential in our understanding. Asking your opponent why they believe what they do or how they came to a certain conclusion can be a great way to better understand them and their beliefs. After you ask your questions, allow them to ask you questions too!

Tip 6: Don’t make it personal. (No personal attacks).

I CANNOT emphasize this enough. Many arguments are unsuccessful because we lash out when we feel attacked. When someone starts questioning or denouncing your beliefs, it can feel as if they are attacking you. You may respond by belittling a friend or even calling a family member rude names. It is important to remember that when we become angry, we cannot resort to personal attacks. If you feel the need to belittle your opponent (or they belittle you) you have every right to take a step back from the discussion and take a break. Personal attacks are also a lazy way to get your point across and will likely be used against you in the discussion.

Tip 7: Remain firm on your beliefs and feelings but also avoid any biases.

To elaborate on this, it’s important to have an open mind during any difficult conversation. Be willing to concede to some points if needed, but also keep up with your arguments.

Tip 8: Keep trying.

Having tough conversations is not something we can learn to do overnight. If you have an unsuccessful conversation, try again after you’ve taken a break. Let yourself calm down and clear your thoughts before going back into the issues. Try implementing these tips and ideas of your own that would help prevent fights and keep the conversation civil. 

Overall, tough conversations will always be hard to have, but they are necessary and inevitable. We hope these tips and tricks help you work through difficult arguments and inspire you to stand up for yourself, others, and your opinions!


Resources to help you have tough conversations:

Watch this video!

Source: Vox.com
By Amirah Khan and Tiffany Leveille
Edited by Tiffany Leveille
Title graphic by Rachel.

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Aboriginal Australia

This history of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within Australia, is not one that is widely spoken about in international circles. Many people, including Australians, are unaware or ignorant to the injustices that the indigenous inhabitants of what is now known as Australia had to, and still have to, endure as a result of a violent, destructive colonization. As neither one of us (Miriam nor Lucy) are Indigenous Australian, we consulted heavily with Jaida Conway. Jaida is an Arts Law student, studying at The University of Sydney and majoring in Indigenous Studies. She also topped the state in Aboriginal Studies for her Higher School Certificate in 2020, and is, herself, Aboriginal, being a Gamilaroi woman from North West New South Wales. She has a wealth of knowledge on this topic, both from personal experience and from an academic perspective, and we are so grateful for her help.


The Colonization of Aboriginal Peoples

Aboriginal peoples have been living in Australia for over sixty thousand years, making them the oldest culture in the world. Their culture revolves around Country, including the lands, skies, and waters, and their role in taking care of it. “We had intricate systems of land management, ceremonies, languages that were continual and based [off] an oral system of passing down [which varied from place to place]” says Jaida. However, many of these incredibly rich and diverse cultures were destroyed and irreparable after the British arrived in Australia in 1770, followed by colonization beginning in 1788. In school, we were always taught “Captain Cook discovered Australia.” While we were also taught about the Aboriginal people, a lot of what we were taught was quite superficial, focusing mainly on Dreamtime, the Aboriginal religio-cultural worldview and beliefs. But this really painted all Aboriginal people under one brush, and failed to acknowledge the hundreds of Aboriginal groups within Australia, and the differences and discrepancies between them. We were also taught about the Stolen Generation (which we will focus on later in this article), so we were aware of the oppression that the Aboriginal peoples faced, but not to the extent of the systemic ethnic cleansing and mass destruction of culture that took place. The British began to inhabit Australia in 1783 as a penal colony to send convicts on the First Fleet. While many of the Indigenous population were killed from the introduction of unfamiliar diseases to which they had no immunity, many were also massacred by the British colonists. The aim was to exterminate Aboriginal cultures and assimilate the indigenous peoples into what the British deemed to be their more “civil” culture. In fact, Anthony Forster, one of the South Australian colonists said, “The native would be sooner civilized if their language was extinct.” This history continues to impact Aboriginal people to this day.

Assimilation

One of the most evil decisions made by the government was removing lighter skinned Aboriginal children from their homes as a means of assimilation to “make Aboriginal peoples white.” These children were taken either to white families or boys and girls homes. This has since caused many Aboriginal people to be either unaware of their ancestry or just never seeing their families again. This has caused an immense amount of intergenerational trauma.

Statistically, according to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey from 2010, thirty-one percent of respondents above the age of fifteen experience high or very high psychological distress. This is two and a half times that of non-Indigenous Australians. These rates are undoubtedly linked with the trauma associated with the Stolen Generation, which resulted from colonization, and caused a further loss of culture and language. Barngarla man, Howard Richards, who was taken from Port Lincoln to Adelaide, described his experience as a victim of the Stolen Generations in an interview with Ghil’ad Zuckermann by saying:“I’ve gone through all that, and come out through the other way, I see that as part of my life, since I’ve survived that and lived through that, and I looked at it in a positive way, so even for my children, they’ll say ‘that’s my life, and that did happen.” Howard’s description demonstrates not only an immense resilience, but also shows that this trauma has been something unfortunately accepted as part of his story. He continued by talking about his experiences as a lighter-skinned Aboriginal man, which is a contributing factor to why he was selected to be taken away. He said: “I’m first-generation from Traditional [full-blooded Aboriginal people]. My mum and my grandparents and my aunties and all of them [are black], and so when I see myself, I see myself as a black man.” This touches on the white-passing issue which many Aboriginal people face today, which we will explore later on in this article.

In recognition of the extreme damage caused by the colonization of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, two national weeks in Australia have been established: NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Week. While well-intentioned, these two weeks can come across as tokenistic due the fact that we are being told to focus on Indigenous Australians and celebrate their communities for only two weeks out of the year. Proper acknowledgement should actively occur every day. However, given that these weeks are organized by Indigenous communities, it is a time to also listen to these communities. It is also a time to focus on the issues affecting Aboriginal peoples and how to move forward.

Reconciliation Week, on the other hand, founded in 1996 is both a time to celebrate Aboriginal culture, as well as a time to find ways to reconcile with the Aboriginal communities and offer support. It is a time to really listen to Aboriginal stories with empathy and understanding. This week in particular is extremely significant because since 1998, the day before Reconciliation Week starts, it is National Sorry Day, which is commemorated annually in honor of the victims of the Stolen Generations.

How has the government commemorated the loss of Aboriginal cultures and lives?

In recognition of the atrocities inflicted upon the Aboriginal peoples in Australia, the government has attempted to rectify the damage in some small and few ways, especially within the health and education systems. Even more recently, our national anthem changed from “for we are young and free” to “for we are one and free”, as a way to acknowledge the long-standing history of the Indigenous Australians. However, in a larger scope, the government has passed legislation such as Native Title and the Uluru Statement from the Heart. These are a means of attempted reparation, to make up for all the negative impacts colonization and the subsequent government has had on Aboriginal people. Native Title is essentially an act by the Australian Government which recognizes the Indigenous Australians’ rights as the original custodians of Australia. It is important to note that there is a difference between rights and ownership. They have rights to access and use the land, but not necessarily the ownership over it. So while it may seem like a step in the right direction, it is still denying the original custodians ownership of the land which was forcefully taken for them. The Uluru Statement from the Heart, however, is a different story. Upon consultation with over a thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives from across Australia, a statement was developed in acknowledgement of the original custodians of Australia, and was finalized and read in 2017. According to Jaida, “Amending legislation like the Native Title Act by listening to Aboriginal peoples, or implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was made by Aboriginal peoples is the best way forward.”

Some important general knowledge:

  • Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that does not have a treaty with its Indigenous people
  • The Indigenous flag is privately owned by a non-Aboriginal company (there are currently funds being raised to have it fly on the harbour bridge alongside the Australian flag all year round as it is “too expensive” and so doesn’t have government funding.)
  • The Indigenous community is incredibly diverse there are over 500 different clan and nation groups across Australia.  
  • Amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples there are over 250 different languages, many of which are dying.
  • They make up nearly 3% of the population yet around 30% of the prison population 
  • Their culture is at least 50,000 years old and some argue closer to 65,000

Racial Ambiguity and Jaida’s Personal Experience…

Due to the forced assimilation, many Aboriginal people are white-passing or are ethnically ambiguous. Jaida says, “As a white-passing Aboriginal person, it is really important for me to acknowledge my privilege. I do not get seen as Aboriginal unless people ask or know my background, allowing me to escape a lot of negative stereotypes based on my looks.” She stresses that culture is “not defined by percentage of Aboriginality”, explaining the offensiveness in questioning purity, considering the nature of the Stolen Generations where there was categorization based on whether they were fullblood, half caste, quadroon, octoroon etc. Given the racist history of such a classification, as well as the forced assimilation, it is no surprise that asking someone “How Aborignal” they are is offensive, just as it is no surprise that there are “white-passing” Aboriginal people. Jaida continues, “For me personally, my identity as Aboriginal has mainly been invalidated by non-Aboriginal peoples who don’t understand what it means to be Aboriginal or the experiences of the Aboriginal peoples.”

Invasion Day vs. Australia Day

As we continue to acknowledge our country’s past, January 26th otherwise known as Australia Day and Invasion Day is something that always comes up. It was on the 26th of January in 1788 that the first fleet set foot on Australian soil, claiming its land through horrific violence for the British, despite it not being theirs to claim.    

“For me [Jaida] it is a day of mourning – the beginning of the end. It is important to remember what really happened and undergo an experience of truth telling.” There have been urges for a date change for many years since its official standing as a public holiday in 1994, protests have been held annually for many years and have increased in numbers, expressing great need for a change to our national day‘s date to no avail. Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman described the date as a day when “A war was declared on the first people of this land… that war has not ended.”

“How are we gonna come together as a nation and reconcile if the day of our nation is the beginning of our genocide?”

It is evident that while Australia has come a long way, there is still an even longer way to go in recognising and supporting our First Nations people. Better acknowledgement of and active listening to Indigenous Australians is key in making these necessary changes. We hope that we have shed some much needed light on the issues that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have faced and continue to face in today’s society, and we would also like to thank Jaida, especially, for her overwhelming amount of help in developing this article.

Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.


Written on stolen Gadigal, Darug, and Gundungurra land.

Jaida Conway is a first-year Arts-Law student at The University of Sydney, majoring in Indigenous Studies. She topped the subject, Aboriginal Studies, in the completion of her Higher School Certificate last year, and is a Gamilaroi woman from North West New South Wales.

By Miriam Itzkowitz and Lucy Burrell.

This article was edited by Tiffany Leveille and shortened for clarification.

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A few months ago, I was sitting with my date at his formal (Australian prom-equivalent) when he asked me the most unanswerable question: “Where is your hometown?” It seemed straight-forward enough, but he didn’t mean “Where were you born?” or “Where did you grow up?” No, he meant “Where are you from?” i.e. where I am indigenous to. You see, my Chinese date could name exactly where in China his family originated from going centuries back. I, on the other hand, have never had such a luxury.

Miriam Itzkowitz (left)

I have been asked this question in many forms previously… “What are you?”… “Where are you from?”… “What’s your background?” While none of these questions are immediately problematic, it has always caused me a huge identity crisis. Let me explain.

I come from a displaced background. I’m a Jew. I can name the subsequent towns and cities my family lived in as a result of exile from historic Israel and Judea, but I can’t pinpoint our origin city on a map. I can’t say I’m from those subsequent towns. My connection to those places is non-existent, and besides, my family was never considered to have “belonged” there. They were othered. They were forced to flee. They were murdered in the Holocaust. But even while living in those towns, I doubt my family would have had an answer to that question either.

I am Middle Eastern-presenting. Not specifically Jewish. I am often mistaken for Arab, or more specifically Lebanese. That being said, however, I am often mistaken for a range of ethnicities, including Italian, Greek, French, Iberian, South American – I was once even asked if I’m Druze! Ethnic ambiguity aside, my unknowingness of my hometown or place of origin has always put a huge damper in my identity.

Despite being an Ashkenazi Jew, I don’t really look it. Due to forced assimilation, many Ashkenazi Jews appear more European than Middle Eastern – I came out an anomaly. In the Ashkenazi community, I have always felt “othered”, with many people often asking me if I was from another Jewish sub-ethnicity, usually Sephardi or Mizrahi (or ignorantly, “Israeli”). While there isn’t anything inherently offensive about this line of questioning, it has caused me to feel isolated from my own community, and feel like an intruder in another.

Looking how I look has also caused me to face anti-Semitism, both on the level of direct hatred for being Jewish, but also on a level more specifically pertaining to Ashkenazi Jewry, where people don’t peg me as such.

I have grown up my entire life in Sydney, Australia. I went to a Jewish day school, I was (and still am) an active member of Jewish youth groups and my synagogue – I haven’t known much outside a Jewish world. However, I still participated in extra-curricular activities outside the Jewish community, which opened my eyes to anti-Semitism. So has university. Members of my baseball team once joked about being Nazis. I went on a camp once where a girl told me I have a big hook nose. One of my ex-boyfriend’s friends told him to be careful around me (while we were still together) because I may steal all of his money. This is typical anti-Semitism which many Jews face on a day-to-day basis. But there is also a unique hatred to Ashkenazi Jews, which I have been exposed to, as someone who doesn’t look Ashkenazi. Unfortunately, part of the territory of being Jewish is constantly being roped into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whether or not you want to. In instances where I’ve been roped into it and am able to pass for Middle Eastern, whether that be Middle Eastern Jew or Arab, I have been exposed to others, usually people who themselves are removed from The Conflict, refer to Ashkenazi Jews as “white Europeans who colonized the land.” I have always found this offensive and confusing, especially as it further begs the question, where is my hometown? Where am I from? When I am told Ashkenazi Jews are white Europeans, those who are saying that are not talking about me. They’re talking about a warped perception they have of Ashkenazi Jews to which I do not conform. “I’m not talking about Jews like you”, they say to me…

I have grown up in Australia, to where the Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders are indigenous. Like the Jews, they too, have suffered at the hands of colonizers and forced assimilation, many also consequently being white-passing. Like the Jews, many have lost their native language. Sadly, though, there are some ways in which I’m envious. Many (not all) Indigenous Australians still have an idea of where they come from. Many Indigenous Australians can name the clan they come from. Jews can’t, and in this way, I’m envious. Many Aboriginal groups lost their culture, however, and in that regard, I am grateful that that is one thing that has not been lost to the Jews. Anywhere you go in the world, you will see Jews practicing almost identically to each other, demonstrating the strength of and bonds to our culture. Irrespective, no one would question where an Indigenous Australian comes from, no matter his or her skin colour or appearance, so then why does this happen to Jews?

My family was murdered in the Holocaust for not being white. When people tell Ashkenazi Jews to “Go back to Europe,” I find it almost laughable as we only ended up in Europe in the first place as a result of being exiled from our indigenous homeland. We wouldn’t be welcomed “back” to Europe with open arms. But I still can’t name my hometown in historic Israel and Judea. It bugs me to no end that I will never possess that knowledge which seems so integral to my identity and who I am. Without it, I feel a sense of permanent displacement. But then again, my almost four thousand-year-old culture is practiced similarly all around the world. While I may not have a physical place that I can call my homeland (besides a general region, of course), I can always rely on the homeliness of my culture to provide me that closure and sanctuary for my identity and indigeneity. That, is my home.

This personal essay was written by Miriam Itzkowitz.

Original title graphic by Rachel.

Categories
Personal Stories

Societal Standards & the complexity of teen life

Every society has a set of standards to which it is expected that its members will conform. A common occurrence in my life is having that fear inside about what they will think if I am unable to accomplish those standards. This crippling anxiety inside occurs when I sit down and try to relax or when I’m watching a series or a movie. It escalates to the point where nothing makes sense and I have the feeling that whatever I do, it is not going to amount to anything. 

It is common in Indian society for people to have certain expectations and the worst part is that it is always gender related. My mistake in this process is being a progressive-thinking person. I was very open-minded in every aspect, which was not liked by some people. The question which always ran in my mind was, “Why are these few people affecting my mental process?” If I had the answer to that question, everything would have been better, right? Or what if we lived in a society where people just accepted everyone for who they are? Wouldn’t all of us be living in a less toxic, safer and a more inclusive environment by now?

Some quick background: I am going to pursue law, and to do that, one must enroll themselves into CLAT (common law admission test). I applied for CLAT, and another private law college, and during that time, everyone used to say that I would surely get into the private school. That was the first time I felt pressure to show society that I had accomplished something.

The day of the interview came and I became so nervous that my mind went pitch black. I did not answer any of the questions properly. I just shut my laptop and cried. I could not breathe. When I told my parents, my father told me there were so many other options, but the only thing going around my mind was: “How am I supposed to tell people that I did not get into the university?”

As every teenager can relate, it is very hard carrying that burden in the family, especially in my case.

I come from a family where my cousins are either much older than me or way younger, so it only makes sense that I am kind of like the middle child there. I never felt I fit in with either side of the family because I cannot act like my older cousins or my younger ones. But I always wanted to fit into my family somehow. The main reason I was so desperate to fit in was because in school I genuinely did not know if anyone liked me. I only had a handful of people whom I was comfortable with. When the lockdown was imposed, I wanted to reconnect with my peers, but after a while I stopped trying.

I used to envy when my other batch mates would hang out with their groups, and sometimes I even felt lonely and ashamed to tell other people I didn’t have that. I had a complicated high school experience. Although I can’t deny there were happy moments, incidents of bullying always made me feel a hole inside. I thought the feelings I felt were normal, and I never reached out to someone.

I could not move on from the fact that I got rejected from the university and at times I was completely burnt out. I would either sleep, binge watch a series, or have a breakdown about the fact that I did not want to move forward and prepare for my next objective (CLAT). There were sleepless nights where I would have anxiety and stress about what would happen if I did not get into any college. I had to endure all of this just because I put the expectations of society in front of me. I put the unrealistic standards of society (which is pretty normal and generalized to other students as well) in front of me, and it resulted in me having a negative mindset.

There are so many other things as well, starting from how you look to what you wear. Everything is always questioned by people. Especially by your family members. For example, I am a person who strongly believes that makeup is not a necessity for myself. All I want is to feel comfortable in my own skin, but spoiler alert- the others will make sure you don’t. From constantly wearing makeup every time I go out, to eating less than what is necessary to make sure I reduce my weight, this lockdown has been an eye opener to so many things around me. I just realized that at the end of the day, people are always going to judge you for every action and step you take. But it is completely up to you whether you put yourself first, or the expectations of a judgmental society.  

This is my complicated teenage era that I went through and am still going through. But everything to me was a learning process. I feel that because of this I changed myself for the better every day. Now it feels that everything around me is clearer: I have my family and my handful of friends. Numbers do not matter anymore. There were times when I felt like giving up. Times when pushing people away was normal. But one of the biggest mistakes I made was not reaching out to anyone about it. So, if you are reading this, I encourage you to reach out to a person whom you trust and love. Whatever the situation, feelings are yours, you have the right to feel that certain way, and there is nothing stopping you from reaching out.

Written by Ann.

Edited by Miriam Itzkowitz and Tiffany Leveille.

Graphics by Tiffany Leveille.

Categories
Articles

How the Ocean Set Fire

As we scan through our social media feeds, it is clear that environmental issues are becoming an inevitable crisis. Every day, our environment faces many problems, many of which appear to be posing more risk over time, bringing us closer to a real emergency. As the current generation, it is becoming increasingly vital to promote awareness of these issues and reduce their negative impacts.

If you are caught up on what’s been happening around the world, you would know that on Friday, July 2nd, the ocean was literally “ablaze” in the Gulf of Mexico. A gas leak broke out from an underwater pipeline, managed by Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, causing a ring of fire to churn on the ocean’s surface at 5:15 am local time. This pipeline connects to a platform at Pemex’s flagship, Ku Maloob Zaap oil development, which is the country’s most important. Images of the bright orange flames, resembling molten lava, quickly filled up all social media feeds, along with pictures of ships trying to put out the fire with water and nitrogen. People also called out its resemblance to the Eye of Sauron, known from the ever so popular The Lord of the Rings. Dubbed as the “Eye of Fire” due to its circular shape, the fire took more than a whopping five hours to put out, finally ending at 10:30 am local time.

Pemex has stated that there was “no oil spill and the immediate action taken to control the surface fire avoided environmental damage.” Having said so, the company is investigating the cause of this leak. This incident comes as an inevitability, resulting from relying on underwater fossil fuel pipelines inherently, jeopardizing ocean life and everything else that depends on it.

Why are pipelines present underwater in the first place?

Natural gas and crude oil can be found in deposits under the sea bed, and because the fossil fuel deposits can be found offshore, deep under the ocean floor, there are offshore drilling rigs. Pipelines funnel fossil fuels from drilling platforms to onshore facilities on land, where the crude material is refined and shipped. This industrial exploitation began in 1897, but in the 21st century, drilling has moved further into the ocean, threatening different kinds of marine wildlife. The drilling discharges affect ocean biodiversity, and the pipelines pose a threat to the survival of coral reefs. 

This “Eye of Fire” has gained local and international criticism. Greenpeace Mexico, a branch of the non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over 55 countries, accused Pemex of causing “ecocide” in the Gulf of Mexico, citing the toxic properties and climate impact of methane gas. It blamed the rupture on aging, poorly maintained infrastructure and raised concerns about the harm leaked methane could have caused to marine life.

Can we ethically claim this incident as a freak accident?

There is no possibility that this type of incident cannot occur again. Gas leaks are something that has happened innumerable times in the past. Especially if you take the case of Pemex, this isn’t the only accident. They have a long history of terrible and deadly accidents. Greta Thunberg wrote on her Twitter, “Meanwhile, the people in power call themselves ‘climate leaders’ as they open up new oilfields, pipelines, and coal power plants – granting new oil licenses exploring future oil drilling sites. This is the world they are leaving for us.” Voices of discontent and negative comments come from supporters of a tightening global effort to save the environment. While community action alone couldn’t have stopped the fire in the Gulf of Mexico, this should be a sign for our governments and authority bodies to be working alongside our communities, not against them. 

Pemex said the fire took more than five hours to extinguish. Angel Carrizales – the head of Mexico’s oil safety regulator ASEA – wrote on Twitter that the incident “did not generate any spill.” However, he did not explain what was burning on the water’s surface.

There is reason to be fearful of such events since we are not sure as to what the company was trying to do, the unmistakable sign that, as humans, we do not care enough about our planet. We have to understand that the disaster is not natural; a corporation and its greed caused it. 

As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez called it, ‘the eye of fire’ wasn’t the first time the ocean was on fire, and it most certainly will not be the last. Oil and gas leaks have occurred numerous times in the past 50 years, often related to oil tankers catching on fire and releasing crude oil into the ocean. Perhaps the most famous oil spill also happened in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater crisis in 2010, after an explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil drill.

Corporations are significant entities globally, and we have to acknowledge their enormous impact (negative and positive) on all our lives. The concerns of overly corporate-led globalization and its contribution to environmental issues increase, especially since the climate crisis has received much more media coverage. There are countless examples where corporate involvement in various issues could contribute to environmental problems. Therefore, we must hold corporations accountable for the problems caused by them. 

Unfettered capitalism is an issue that has been long affecting the lives of everyone on this planet. The world’s top firms cause approximately two trillion in environmental damages, according to a census done in 2010. These companies estimate that around one-third of their profits would be lost if they were made to pay for the damages they have caused. This is a significant reason why companies are not made to pay reparations.

What we can do as Gen Z :

We were made to believe that recycling a little and not using plastic straws can save the world. Even though that is a part of cleaning up the planet, it plays a minimal role if you compare it to the damage giant corporations have caused in the name of profit. As the future generation, we have to take charge of the movement.

Multiple organizations are taking a step to raise awareness about climate issues. The Sunrise Movement, Earth Guardians, and Zero Hour are examples of organizations of young people taking a stand for the better. Many Gen Z organizations all over the world are taking action. This goes beyond posting about it on social media. For example, The Green New Deal proposal would play a significant role in reducing the effects of climate change. Many politicians have been trying to push it ahead and need support, which Gen Z can provide. 

Raising awareness and self-educating is one of the first steps we can take as the youth of today. From protests and petitions to putting pressure on the government to take action, Gen Z is ready to fight for their planet’s future. Gen Z has the power to change the fate of our dying planet, and we must take it. If you wish to take action now, some links to websites to visit and petitions to sign are given below:

https://act.nrdc.org/sign/global-climate-action-190906

https://www.sunrisemovement.org

https://www.wwf.org.uk/fight-climate-change

https://instagram.com/ourrevolution?utm_medium=copy_link

This article was written by Rakshitha Raghunandan and Akanksha Pai

Edited by Amirah Khan

Graphics by Rachel

Sources:

https://www.inverse.com/science/ocean-on-fire-pipeline-burst

https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/fire-offshore-pemex-platform-gulf-mexico-under-control-2021-07-02/

https://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/07/07/ocean-fire-exposes-weak-regulation-mexicos-oil-gas-sector/

https://newrepublic.com/article/162909/gulf-pemex-fire-pipeline-community-action

https://screenrant.com/lord-rings-sauron-eye-reason/

https://www.rechargenews.com/transition/greenpeace-slams-mexican-climate-climb-down-under-amlo/2-1-565866

https://futurism.com/oil-company-ocean-fire-history-death-accidents

https://www.ucsusa.org/take-action/climate-accountability

https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/on-the-climate-crisis-more-of-the-same-wont-work-we-need-a-revolution/

https://www.globalissues.org/article/55/corporations-and-the-environment

Categories
Deaf & Sign

Deaf Perspective: A Quiet Place

This post may contain spoilers.

‘A Quiet Place’ from writer and director John Krasinski, was released in 2018 with its much-anticipated sequel ‘A Quiet Place Part II” released in May 2021. Both films follow Deaf protagonist Regan Abbott and her family’s attempt to survive alien creatures that hunt by sound. Many in the Deaf Community praised the movie for its portrayal of deafness and the casting of Millicent Simmonds, a Deaf teen actress.

In the Write interviewed three Deaf people to learn more about their perspectives on ‘A Quiet Place’ film, and the importance of Deaf representation in the media.

We interviewed Kellina, Elisa Prell (38), and Kelly Acevedo (23). Here are their perspectives:

Kellina
Kelly Acevedo

What did the movie A Quiet Place mean to you as a Deaf person? Why do you think it was so important to the Deaf community? 

Kelly: “It was significant to me as a deaf person since it was representation and more importantly, acknowledgment. I believe the Deaf Community can agree for the most part that it is nice to accurately see a deaf person depicted in a movie. Lately, there has been a rise in representation of ethnicities, genders, and religions, but disabilities have still yet to be more represented. ‘A Quiet Place’ was a step in the positive direction.”

Elisa: “As a deaf person this movie meant to me that we were finally being seen and acknowledged. I think it was so important for my Deaf Community because we felt supported and portrayed in a good light where we could feel more comfortable to show our deafness.”

Regan, the movie’s protagonist, is played by Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds. Do you find it important for Deaf characters to be portrayed by Deaf actors and if so, why is it so important for Deaf actors to play these roles?

Elisa: “I find it very important that she was Deaf in real life because it gave us credibility that we could be taken seriously, and that we too can act with a lead role just like anyone else. Also as a Deaf person, I could relate to her on a deeper, more genuine level.”

Kelly: “I love the fact that the deaf protagonist was actually played by Millicent Simmonds, a young deaf actress. She was able to embody her character perfectly. While a hearing person can learn sign language for a role, it does not compare to the authenticity of a deaf person’s use of sign language or speech. This is why it is very important for deaf actors to play these roles, since they understand and are actually part of the Deaf culture.”

There are very few major films with Deaf actors, but A Quiet Place made a Deaf person the main character. What was this like for you as a Deaf person? Did you feel represented or proud that the Deaf community was being showcased in the film?

Image courtesy of imbd.com

Kelly: “As a deaf person seeing a deaf protagonist, it was surreal for me since I grew up very mainstream with no Deaf culture. I did not have access to sign language as a child. There were many scenes within the movie where I greatly empathized with Regan and felt her struggles. I used to feel alone in this ‘hearing world’.”

Elisa: “I felt emotional about it in a good way. At times I feel the need to hide my deafness, but when I see a major film lead with a Deaf actor, it gives me hope and bravery to showcase my deafness without feeling ashamed.”

Regan’s cochlear implant in the movie plays a large role in the film and is actually used to deter the ‘creatures’. Some have interpreted this as Regan’s deafness and cochlear implant being her superpower. What are your thoughts on this? Did you appreciate that Regan’s cochlear implant was so integral to the plot and symbolic for those in the Deaf community who have cochlear implants?

Image courtesy of reddit.com

Elisa: “I could see the cochlear implant being her superpower. I know not the entire Deaf community uses a cochlear implant and some may look down on it, but in the movie when they showed her using it and not using it, I think it portrayed it as a powerful tool you could use if you wanted to but didn’t have to. I love how it showed her using sign language as well with her family when she couldn’t use the cochlear implant. I think so many people misinterpret the cochlear implant as a hearing aid but when you get to see it closely you see it’s more than that, which it is.”

Kelly: “While I am a cochlear implant user, I cannot speak for the validity of Regan’s cochlear implants deterring the creatures (they are fake creatures after all), I do appreciate the directors making her cochlear implant an integral part of their survival in the end. It was symbolic to me because you can visually see Regan’s moods throughout the movie change for the better. You see how her self esteem and confidence grows. In the early scenes, she dislikes putting her implant on and blames herself for her little brother’s death. It was beautiful to watch how Regan discovers her implants actually save not only her life but the ones of her mother and brothers, and proudly use them to save her family after the death of her father.”

What was your favorite part of the film’s portrayal of Deafness? Do you think they presented Deafness and the Deaf community in an authentic way?

Kelly: “My favorite part of how they portrayed deafness was by actually muting the movie during certain scenes in order for viewers to see Regan’s side. In all honesty, I at first thought there was something wrong with my implants because I couldn’t hear a thing! It was also an eye opener for my family who watched the movie with me.”

Some people in the Deaf community mentioned that they enjoyed that the American Sign Language parts of the film provided captions, because everyone in the theatre had to rely on reading the captions, not just Deaf individuals. This is also why certain films like Parasite were received well by the Deaf community. Do you wish more content creators and films provided adequate closed captions?

Image courtesy of deseret.com

Elisa: “Yes I definitely feel all content creators should provide closed captions everywhere. We still have trouble seeing closed captions on social media like Instagram. On Youtube, you have to choose closed captions to create your videos and at times many creators don’t because they don’t realize how much it is needed for Deaf viewers. During the pandemic, closed captions were a great need in conference calls like Zoom. Even calls from your cell phone I believe should have automatic closed captions.”

Kelly: “I really appreciated the use of captions in the movie since I rely on them heavily. I believe captions should be included in all movies and videos in order for all audiences, both deaf and hearing, to enjoy them to the fullest. Captions are necessary for deaf people as well as people learning a language. I never watch YouTube videos and do not follow content creators since they fail to provide adequate captions for the most part. In my household, nothing gets viewed without captions, and it’s not just because of me. My parents are Mexican immigrants who learned English after coming to the United States 25 years ago. Up to this day, they like learning new words and understanding the script. Due to all of this, I never go to movie theaters and I wish they could provide captions on the screen instead of handheld devices that never work.

To further discuss the importance of Deaf representation in TV and film, we talked with Kellina, a young Deaf woman, to learn about her perspective on Deaf U and Switched at Birth.

When thinking of TV shows or movies that include or aim to represent the Deaf community, what shows or films come to mind?

Kellina: I think of Switched at Birth and Deaf U.

Out of these shows and films, did you feel that they accurately portrayed the Deaf community or provided an authentic portrayal?

Kellina: On Deaf U, one intersection that felt abandoned by this series was race. There wasn’t diversity [in the students’ backgrounds].

A common issue is TV shows and movies casting hearing actors as Deaf characters. What is your opinion on this?

Kellina: This is something that needs to change in the film industry. I notice that a lot of actors can’t act well for deaf characters.

What would you like to see filmmakers do better in films/TV shows that include Deaf characters?

Kellina: I want them to do more reality TV shows and become more involved in the Deaf community instead of making it up. I want filmmakers to go out there and find someone new in the film instead of finding the same actor. I get tired of seeing the same actor in multiple movies.

What are some ways that hearing people could make films and shows more accessible for the Deaf community and better represent the Deaf community in media?

Kellina: I am not an actor but I know eye contact and touching are important for accurate Deaf representation and making sure that the filmmakers are educated enough to create a show about the Deaf community. I highly suggested the filmmaker be part of the Deaf community and ask a lot of questions.

You can learn more about Kellina and her mental health business she is launching in the fall of 2021, at her website kellinaempowerment.com.

This article and interview was written and conducted by Tiffany Leveille.

Graphics by Rakshitha Raghunandan.

Share your thoughts on ‘A Quiet Place’ and ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ with us on Instagram @inthewriteblog.

Categories
Articles

Performative Activism and social media’s role in it

What is performative activism?

Performative activism refers to feel-good measures in support of a cause that have little practical effect other than to give the ‘activist’ a feeling of satisfaction that they have contributed to the cause.

It thereby requires minimal personal effort from the ‘slacktivist’. It includes things such as liking posts or pages on social media, reposting pre-existing content on stories or a charity organization’s request for support, signing internet petitions, wearing a ribbon, or even joining an organization but not actively contributing. It is also referred to as slacktivism – a combination of the words ‘slacking’ and ‘activism’. This was initially coined in 1995 by Fred Clark to refer to small activities by young people to affect society on a small personal scale. However, the term has developed a negative connotation to criticize online activism that lacks real commitment to a cause.

How social media plays a role in performative activism…

There are approximately 3.96 billion social media users worldwide, nearly double the number of social media users in 2015. The average person has 8.6 accounts on various social networking sites.

Recently, social media sites have taken up a more political and social context, revealing a rise in conversations about social and political issues such as MeToo, BLM, LGBTQIA+, StopAsianHate, climate change, gun violence, march outs, and more. Social media has become the forefront of so many movements even in countries that do not have freedom of speech. Thereby helping to create extensive communities to fight injustice. Social media has revolutionized activism in ways previously unthought of and given rise to a greater facilitation of civic engagement and collective action. It is a great platform for spreading a wider range of ideas, perspectives, and experiences. However, this has also led to a considerable amount of performative activism.

It’s trendy to go to protests…

Online ‘activism’ has now become a part of mainstream culture. It is considered being “woke” to go to protests and marches and to post pictures of oneself and their sign. It is now expected of every person to post or repost infographics on their stories or like several posts speaking about each specific issue. However, a mere hashtag or story repost is not a movement and frequently does not facilitate true change. The obligation to either “use your platform” or get “cancelled” leads to an abundance of performative posts. However, many times this dilutes the message instead of benefiting the cause by transforming it into a “disingenuous and passive protest that is usually limited to reposting digestive quotes and viral videos.”

So, is slacktivism causing more harm than we realize?

Pros of Performative Activism

The most evident benefit is that performative activism is the easiest way to spread and access information. An increasing number of people are becoming more progressive since the access to information and the ability to spread information has increased exponentially. Regardless of the size of one’s platform, everyone can participate in sharing information. It serves as a call for action and to show social solidarity for oppressed groups. A study published in 2015 studied how social media is a critical periphery in the growth of social protests.

Cons of Performative Activism

It is clearly discernible that performative activism is composed of inadequate efforts which tend to substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplement them. It is now possible for people to seem concerned over issues merely by liking a post which requires minimum effort and support. This gives rise to the question of whether this actually accomplishes anything or if the person has even actually read and understood the cause. Engaging in online activities that seem to support a cause but not being educated about the issue or carrying out actual productive actions in addition to reading the posts is insufficient.

With so many people posting on social media, a lot of the support for issues ends up feeling impersonal and ingenuine. It is far too easy to post or re-share something and then look away from the problem. As social media activism has grown, it has diffused individual responsibility to take action, leaving the real work to committed individuals who are personally affected. It also desensitizes us to brutal violence through the viral videos that are spread, sometimes without trigger warnings. 

A novel occurrence is the creation and circulation of Instagram infographics. These make use of strategies borrowed from consumer marketing with aesthetically pleasing colors and graphics, while providing information in a concise manner. They serve as an important tool to introduce people to social justice issues and in a way humanize serious matters without triggering anyone. However, this also leads to a further set of issues regarding whether people actually read them and go ahead to educate themselves beyond. It also leads to the question of whether such serious and tragic issues should be produced in an “aesthetic” package.

What role do corporations and influencers play?

Another important thing to address is the phenomenon of “influencers” and corporations faking activism. Over the last year, we saw several influencers setting up “impromptu” photoshoots in the middle of protests and rallies. Such actions come across as attention-seeking and shallow. It is disheartening to reduce such significant civil rights and humanitarian issues to an opportunity to get content and likes on Instagram. With corporations, it is not uncommon to find corporations making limited-edition merchandise or to change their social media handles in support of different causes. While it is obvious that these are essentially money-making businesses, it is definitely disheartening to see movement taglines written alongside other sponsorships, raising the question of “what are the intentions of these businesses?”

A study about the nature of slacktivism conducted by Kristofferson, Kirk, et al. studied the effect of the social observability of an initial act of token support on subsequent prosocial action. Researchers asked people to either join a Facebook group, accept a pin, or sign a petition for a charitable organization. They were then asked if they would like to donate or volunteer. It was inferred that the more public the initial depiction of support was, the less likely they were to offer their money or time. The ones who confidentially signed a petition were more likely to contribute than those who joined the Facebook group. This can be attributed to our tendency to be liked by others to be seen as inherently good. To our brains, others seeing us support a cause is essentially the same as actually supporting a cause. This plays into a rather interesting phenomenon called symbolic self-completion.

How can one turn slacktivism into activism?

When engaging in online activism, it is easy to pass on real opportunities to help, and settle for easier options. Performative activism is a complex issue that is harmful and dismissive of serious issues, but activism online has the potential to create change if done properly.

  • Online activism can be used to initiate important and difficult conversations surrounding social issues.
  • We can use social media to advertise or spread news of campaigns or charities which can increase civic engagement.
  • Instead of talking about how much you don’t like social evil, talk about why you care about the cause and why others should too.
  • Social and political issues are bigger than any of us and sharing your perspective and contributing to the conversation is a lot more beneficial than spewing or reproducing the same random information for the sake of seeming woke.
  • To avoid spreading misinformation on social media, ensure any infographic or content that you share has been reviewed and is from reliable sources 
  • To go further, one can join or start an organization that supports your cause. Really put yourself out there and volunteer your time and money selflessly to see long-lasting improvement.
  • The most important step one can take is to self-educate. Read books or articles, listen to podcasts, watch video essays, take classes about the cause, and listen to the people who are most affected, to get more informed about the issue you care about. Then, take action.
  • Consider your own personal beliefs and values and self-evaluate your stance on important issues to tackle any internalized bias we may hold. 
  • Even taking small steps and allowing ourselves to participate, learn and be held accountable is beneficial and these are the attitudes that we must bring into social situations.

To conclude, while online activism is a powerful tool, it becomes an issue when people post to appease their conscience and then relapse into a state of “I’ve done my part.” It is important to not stop here and continue to educate ourselves and be mindful of the little things in our everyday lives that go against our morals. All these things are capable of greater change than a single post or phase on your social media.


Written by Madhumitha K.

Edited by Tiffany Leveille

Graphics by Rachel

Sources:

https://blog.thegovlab.org/post/a-new-vocabulary-for-the-21st-century-slacktivism

https://nonprofithub.org/social-media/what-is-slacktivism-does-it-help/

https://zora.medium.com/why-your-instagram-story-is-not-enough-f41af495e99f

https://firstmonday.org/article/view/3336/2767

https://livewire.thewire.in/politics/performative-activism-online-black-squares/

https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/12614/10947

https://dailybruin.com/2020/06/10/second-take-performative-activism-fails-to-prompt-meaningful-long-term-systemic-change

https://callhub.io/slacktivism-to-activism/

Further reading about corporate activism: 

Further reading about symbolic self-completion:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/674137?seq=1

Study- “The Critical Periphery in the growth of Social Protests”

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143611

Categories
Articles

Are your depression punchlines really that trendy?

Trigger Warning: This article discusses mental illness and suicide. Mentions of eating disorders.


Conversations about mental health have come a long way since the last century. According to mentalhealth.gov, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

The way we approach mental health and mental illness has most certainly changed with the evolution of technology and media resources. The topic has been more approachable in today’s generation, more so than our parents’, or even grandparents’ generation.

Today, thanks to social media and increased mental health resources and knowledge, conversations about mental health and illness have become less taboo.

It is no longer considered abnormal to openly show emotions or discuss topics such as anxiety and depression. The stigma that was previously associated with it in the older generations is slowly fading. Being diagnosed with depression or PTSD will not lead to being labelled a defect (in most cases). With the present pandemic, there has only been a growth in awareness created around the topic. Content creators, influencers, singers, and many other celebrity personas have been more open in talking to their audience about mental health and illnesses. But along with this surge in awareness, the romanticization of mental illness has also increased.

There is a very thin line between normalizing the discussion of mental health issues and romanticizing it. Unfortunately Gen Z and Millennials seem to have blurred the line. While the internet is a great place to discuss issues regarding mental health and is a powerful stage to break stereotypes surrounding mental illness, it has also led to trivialization. At times, it is glorified as something which is ‘beautiful’ and ‘deep’.

Communities on social media can be found describing mental illness as ‘tragically beautiful’. Although this may have started as a way to make people with mental illnesses feel included, it is erasing the struggle that those with mental health issues endure. It portrays mental illness as ‘edgy’ and ‘cool’. People with mental illnesses can feel invalidated.

Do you think posts like these glorify suicide and mental illness?

What are some examples of mental illnesses being glorified online?

Eating disorders are also being glorified on various social media platforms and blogs. Such websites are referred to as ‘ pro-anorexia (pro-ana)’ and pro-bulimia (pro-mia)’ sites. This is a huge problem as some believe that being thin and ‘skinny’ is the only way one can be beautiful and that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice and not a serious mental disorder. Living in the culture today, excessive workouts and fasting are the new fads.  Under the pressure of being thin, more and more people are developing eating disorders.

Mental illnesses in TV and film…

Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why tells the story of high school girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and details the aftermath of her leaving 13 tapes accusing different individuals as ‘reasons’ for her death. While the show did start conversations about many serious issues, Hannah’s decision to record tapes was highly controversial. Many viewers felt the show failed to discuss depression and PTSD accurately and appropriately, and instead focused on her ‘revenge’ tapes. This can influence young minds by giving them a false depiction of what suicide is – only about 15 to 38 percent of people who commit suicide leave notes and 90% of those who’ve died of suicide had an underlying mental illness, according to NAMI.

The TV show Friends was America’s favorite sitcom in the 90’s. A running gag in the show is Monica’s obsession with cleanliness. Monica was described as ‘high maintenance’ but does everyone with OCD just start obsessively cleaning ? OCD is more than just being a neat freak and is characterized by excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions), but does not equate to being a ‘neat freak.’

Mental Health and Music

Music is another medium that romanticizes mental illness – with rappers rapping about depression and addiction to Billie Eilish with lyrics such as “I wanna end me” in “bury a friend,” & Lil Uzi wailing—

“She say I’m insane, yeah

I might blow my brain out (hey),

Xanny, help the pain, yeah

Please, Xanny, make it go away.” In “Xo Tour Llif3”

Do you think Billie Eilish’s music and videos glorify mental illness?

The portrayal of depression as hauntingly beautiful or suicide as poetically tragic is dangerous because it encourages impressionable teens to desire these grave illnesses. The growing number of fans claiming to be depressed or anxious in an attempt to emulate their idols poses a grave threat for those truly struggling with mental health to be recognized and taken seriously.

Even the world of art isn’t spared by this wave of romanticism. All of us have heard the phrases ‘Mad genius’  or ‘depressed artist’, there is a general misbelief that an artist makes better art if they have a mental illness. While art can be a healthy media to cope with one’s mental illness it does not mean that all artists are mentally ill. 

A prime example of this is Sir Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch painter famous for painting the starry night and cutting off his ear. He suffered from Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia but  there is no solid scientific evidence that mental illness leads to deeper artistic ingenuity. It is not a ‘desirable’ thing to have in order for a person to be artistic 

“Mental illness should be normalized but not as in “everyone has one,” but as in “you are not alone.” We as a society should bear in mind that destigmatizing mental illness shouldn’t cross the line into romanticizing it.” – Jackie Reyes

Written by Rakshitha Raghunandan and Shoeb Khan

Edited by Amirah Khan with final edits by Tiffany Leveille

Title graphic by Rakshitha Raghunandan

Sources

https://www.pinerest.org/mental-health-awareness-blog/

https://ibpf.org/a-helping-hand-an-essay-on-the-importance-of-mental-health-parity/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5479084/

https://explorehealthcareers.org/mental-health-breaking-the-stigma/#:~:text=Among%20the%20older%20generations%2C%20mental,t%20believe%20in%20mental%20healthcare.

https://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2018-11-15/student-life/the-struggles-of-talking-mental-health-with-older-generations/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2773356/

https://www.bupa.com/newsroom/news/baby-boomers-brushing-off-mental-health-issues

https://medlineplus.gov/olderadultmentalhealth.html

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-mental-illness

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health

https://feminisminindia.com/2018/06/27/romanticising-mental-illness-social-media/

http://www.collegiatetimes.com/opinion/glorification-of-mental-illness-worsens-cultural-stigma/article_ee290ca8-d154-11e8-8f43-6f787c05d16a.htm

https://cphswolfpack.com/opinion/gen-z-romanticizes-mental-illness-and-its-not-good/

https://dailynorthwestern.com/2019/10/13/opinion/buonomo-billie-eilish-romanticizes-serious-mental-illnesses/