I believe there’s a sense of achievability that comes with being on a college campus, especially one as prestigious as this university’s. We all came to Ann Arbor with the belief that our experiences here would be life-changing; that we would, in some way, make an impact on our surroundings and be remembered by the students following after us. Ever since freshman orientation, we’ve been told that we’re the “leaders and best” because we’ve been accepted into the University of Michigan, and therefore we will someday change the world. And despite the endless hours of stress that this institution will end up putting us through, there’s a sense of invincibility, a sense of invulnerability, that comes with being a University of Michigan student.
In many ways, this type of environment suits a college campus. It helps to foster ideas and creativity, and it encourages students to take the risks that will make them better workers and thinkers in the future. It’s this type of self-confidence that has inspired great thinkers and scholars for millennia. Accepting challenges that may or may not be out of one’s league has become a crucial part of the college process, and college campuses foster an environment that tells everyone they can and will succeed at whatever project they take on. Failure is a taboo word, never discussed and never accepted.
But Icarus flew too close to the sun, and likewise, Michigan students sometimes overstep their bounds. This happens all over the campus, when students decide to talk about topics they don’t necessarily understand, arguing for or against certain positions and then taking action based on those discussions. Especially in the case of social justice, students feel that because they took a sociology course or attended a protest that they are qualified to speak on behalf of a marginalized group they may not be a part of.
In some ways, this can be a positive thing; at least people are aware of and discussing issues that really are important to the world. But on the negative side, what type of information is being spread? Is this information truly helpful to the marginalized group, or is it actually working to silence and oppress these individuals more?
I recently attended a discussion about anxiety and depression where the facilitators had not been trained to talk about the specific topic at hand. As a result, one of the facilitators inadvertently insulted a participant for the decisions they made with their body. In their defense, the facilitators were very receptive to the criticism they received from the attendees. In my opinion, the organization, who does do great things on campus and of which I am a proud member, should have been more sensitive and hired trained professionals to host this dialogue.
This type of insensitivity is also prevalent in discussions regarding sexual assault on campus. I recently heard someone running for Central Student Government talk about this topic using heteronormative pronouns, with “her” referring to the survivor and “him” referring to the perpetrator. Using this type of language demonstrates a lack of awareness, as people within the LGBTQ community face sexual violence at a distressing rate and is detrimental as it takes away the voices of the people within this community, discouraging them from seeking help.
Here at the University, we are told that we can do anything. On this campus, people have found the inspiration to become doctors, writers, movie stars and politicians. This environment has cultivated some of the best learners and thinkers of our time. As students here, we are constantly being told that nothing is out of reach and that our work will someday change the world. But we are never told that in some situations it’s not our place to speak out, that it’s OK to be quiet. Although it may be hard, sometimes admitting you don’t know enough about an issue to act on it is the most impactful thing a person could do. I will freely admit there are a lot of issues I would not be confident to speak out on, knowing that my well-intentioned words could accidentally harm someone. In this type of situation, the best course of action is to educate oneself before moving forward.
Elena Hubbell is an LSA sophomore.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Elena Hubbell is an LSA freshman. She is an LSA sophomore.