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On Still Not Having All The Answers

khinchey's picture

Reflecting on this 360 has been an almost daily part of my life since the semester started. I came into this course cluster with many preconceived notions about myself, the professors, the course content, and how it would all play out. Most of the ideas I had constructed were not immediately proved wrong and therefore this semester has involved a constant exercise in adjustment. I knew that the courses would feel very personal for me but I had confidence in my ability to operate as an academic within our dynamic. As a sociology major I spend a lot of my time deconstructing oppression and dissecting cultural structures, often these structures play out in my personal life as well. I did not expect to be so triggered by classroom discussions, texts, and group dynamics.

Today in my final meeting I spoke about my role as a leader in the classroom. This 360 has changed the way I see myself in the classroom. I realized for the first time that leading classroom discussions and speaking with authority was not as well received as I assumed it was. Being called out directly by my classmates for silencing others was painful but I felt confident in my ability to acknowledge this privilege, explore it, and then do the work to change what I could.  

I so deeply connected to what Hummingbird wrote in her self-reflection, “… I had never thought about white privilege (or class privilege) in the context of my classroom interactions. I had spent my entire life attributing my sense of comfort in the classroom to personality. To have it re-attributed to an entitlement stemming from privilege, to have it re-attributed to an assumption that I will add to the classroom and that my addition will be valued because I have shared it in the right way, was paralyzing for me.” I feel much more insecure and apprehensive than I ever have before about moving into the next semester. My paralyzing experiences came not just from a realization of the time and space I took up and my privilege but also as a result of the unexpected invisibility of being a McBride. I wrote and spoke of this in our zine and in class so I won’t beat a dead horse by expanding on that pain. I will instead just continue taking on the role of advocate so other McBride’s don’t experience the same thing.

My insecurities as an academic are reinforced through the narrative that I “don’t belong” in the Bryn Mawr community with my non-normative timeline and my inability to succeed as a student in my first go at college. This 360 helped me come to the realization that I speak so firmly and directly because of these insecurities. This 360 showed me that I connect to the texts through primarily the lense of personal experience because I do not think other Mawrtyrs take me seriously as an academic. I had no idea how using my personal narratives would build walls around not only me personally but the work I was contributing to classroom/online discussions. Hummingbird spoke directly to me about this conundrum,

“What I really struggled with in this class was hearing your experiences and the way you used them to respond to readings. I wanted to critique the reading, but didn't have my own experience, and I worried that in critiquing the reading or your reading of the reading that you would read that as a critiquing of your experience. And that's something I didn't mean – your experience is true to you, I can't change that or take that away from you. So I know that I sometimes hesitated to respond when you shared because I wasn't sure how to both validate your lived experience and also offer a different reading of the text.”

I feel regretful that my coping mechanism caused restrictions on my collaboration with the other 360-ers. While I am not sure how else I would have worked to make myself feel like I deserved a seat at the table, I do wish that I had made it clear that I wouldn’t have taken critiques personally and instead was trying to open up conversation.   

            While much of this reflection reads as a negative experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have learned so much about the world and grown so much personally. Identity Matters revolutionized the way I think about how a classroom can operate and how far my classmates can (productively) push each other’s limits. The conversations about listening and representation have changed the way I interact with my family, my dad especially. I am more willing to validate his lived experience without quickly dismissing parts of it as a result of confusion due to his cognitive challenges.

            I also appreciate that I am walking away from these courses with so many unanswered questions. I have learned to become comfortable with not having all the answers and even more comfortable with constantly changing my idea of what the answers are. My insecurities about deserving my Bryn Mawr education often have pushed me to seek out concrete truths about the world around me so that I will feel “smart enough” to be here. Anne linked me to a piece about not having all the answers in her comments on my first paper. I think it is an appropriate way to sign off from this class and it has been something I have worked to become comfortable with throughout our experience. Thank you all for challenging me, listening to each other, and teaching me so much about myself.

“People in our culture, by and large, tend to presume that someone, somewhere knows what is "right," and that each individual's task is either to be that particular someone or to work as hard as they can to learn from that someone what "right" is…

 Wanting to be "progressively less wrong" rather than "right" is, however, by itself a tough pill for many people to swallow. This is not only because of the words (we could, perhaps should, come up with something that sounds less negative), but because the underlying ideas themselves are alien and disturbing to many people, who have the feeling they know how to be "right" but have no idea at all how to be "less wrong," and for whom the whole thing sounds defeatist, to be settling for second best...

The key here is the increasing realization that highly sophisticated and effective organizations can, and do in fact, emerge from the interactions of large numbers of independent but closely communicating creative elements. They don't depend on people knowing in advance what is "right," but rather on people having confidence in the creative potential inherent in groups of people sharing different perspectives and ideas, in exactly the same sense that they have (or should have) confidence in the creative potential inherent in all individuals, themselves included.”


-Paul Grobstein