In thinking about ‘passive empathy,’ I have been wondering about the difference between sympathy and empathy, which has often left me uncertain. Many seem to use the words interchangeably, skewing the lines of both definitions. I believe this is not simply the case for 20 something undergraduates, rather this is an affliction many throughout academia succumb to and/or overlook in the contexts of research.
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This past summer, I acted as a Teacher's Assistant in a class for high school sophomores on European History and the Holocaust. The teacher and I envisioned the course to include aspects of history, literature, media, and discussion to really engage the students to critically think about the Holocaust. In the class, we used MAUS as a tool to get students to directly engage with a personalized history of the Holocaust, told through the life of Art and his father Vladek (and Anja). During the class, we very much emphasized that the students should feel empathy, which we defined as "putting yourself in another person's shoes," for the the victims and survivors.
This week, when I was talking to my friends, we were talking about how our feelings have changed about Bryn Mawr as we became sophomores . Do they feel belonging to the Bryn Mawr culture. I asked them, " Do you feel that you belong to Bryn Mawr?". One of them, X replied, " I think belonging is a very big and serious word for me. I haven't found any place where I belong to except my home because there are no people who love and care me like my parents do. I like this place, where I have some happy memories with friends that I want to hold on to. There are things in this culure that I don't agree with , so I'm not completely part of this community and accept everything about this culture.
There has been much discussion in the past few days about Beyoncé's loss and Beck's win at the 2015 Grammys, which occurred this past Sunday. The award "Album of the Year" was forecasted by many critics and music fans to be won by Beyoncé, who dropped a surprise digital album (simply titled "Beyoncé") complete with music videos for each track in Winter 2013. Her influence on music this past year because of her album drop has been monumental -- as she states in a recent song with Nicki Minaj, " changed the game with that digital drop, know where you was when that digital popped I stopped the world; male or female it make no difference I stop the world" (Feeling Myself, 2014).
Recently my university’s dinning center decided to change the name of the ‘Black History Month’ dinner to ‘Soul Food’ dinner. Upon the unveiling of this change the editor-in-chief of the university’s paper contacted the Black Students League (BSL) for a response to the name change. As a co-head, myself, along with the rest of the executive board, were unsure how to address this situation.
Recently there have been discussions about the closing of the Perry House and where a new “Perry House” will reside. These conversations have brought up the possibility of changing the name of the building and what will reside in this new multicultural center. Some ideas have been to name it after Robert Washington, the first black professor at Bryn Mawr or for the professor to at least have a strong say in the books that will be purchased and existing books that will be moved to this new location.
When I was a freshman, I met a upperclassman living in my building. Every time when I happened to see her and wanted to smile to her in the hallway, she pretended not to see me and didn't smile to me with a serious face. I thought that perhaps she treated everybody like this because her own personality. However, one day, I saw she waved to another freshman in our dorm with a big smile. Then, I comforted myself that maybe she and that girl were close friends.
My assumption was proved to be wrong again when I gradually found out that she was really nice to almost everyone in the dorm except Chinese students.
Last semester, I was abroad, so I felt a bit disconnected from the Bi-co. I would occasionally get the bi-co news over facebook and through my friends, but I was generally unaware of the daily happenings of the bi-co. A couple weeks into the semester, I received some news that I found distressing. I heard from a friend that some students decided to put up a Confederate Flag and a Mason-Dixon line. Since I was abroad, I don't know what the full story and I'm not really sure what people's reactions were, although I can guess that many people were angered.
When I first came to Bryn Mawr last year, I was still under the naive impression that I was entering an informed, enlightened, forward-thinking environment of the Bi-Co where things like racial equality were common sense and actively practiced. However, my idea of the Bi-Co as a liberal haven (and not just a white liberal haven) went out the door within my first month at this school. I witnessed and heard about many occurrences of microaggressions and slightly more overt racist commentary and actions, but the piece that shocked me the most was a story I was told by my roommate.
When I was in fourth grade, my mother sat me down and warned me of a word. So evil, she told me not even to say it by name, the n-word. She said this word was one of the worst things to be called. Briefly eluding to its dark history and severe cultural implications, she told me not to simply laugh off the use this word. After our talk, I am not sure I fully understood the word and it’s sorted past, but I felt a fear begin to bubble up inside me as the implications of my 'blackness' began to dawn on me. All of a sudden, discrimination was a reality that my skin would never let me hide from.