Voice Paper #1

Chandrea's picture

Voice and Identity

After leaving our class lunch in the Haffner courtyard on Friday, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I have been thinking a lot lately about my choice to take a risk that day and say what I needed to say. I thought about that small window of time offered to “those who haven’t had a chance to say anything.” This sentence has been repeated every class and I found it puzzling each and every time. Whenever I heard my professor say this, I would stiffen up, look around the room, and silently do a roll call and mark off all my classmates who contributed at least once to the discussion. You spoke, you spoke, you spoke. I would come to same realization even though deep down, I already knew what was wrong. I hadn’t spoken.

Maybe this statement was simple and insignificant to my peers and my professors, but I always felt this intense pressure to speak, even when I had nothing to say. I can’t seem to make up my mind about whether this opportunity given to me to speak up was helpful to my learning or disturbed it. On one hand, I finally had the chance to say something useful, to contribute to a class discussion. But on the other hand, I was still in the process of organizing the thoughts going through my mind about what we were talking about. I felt rushed. I felt incompetent that I just wasn’t getting it as quickly as my classmates. Tomkins describes this feeling as one “of total effacement (and invisibility) when someone else is doing all the talking and you can’t think of anything to say would come over me very strongly sometimes… I am feeling smaller and smaller, less and less substantial… I feel if I don’t move or say something soon, I’ll just disappear” (Tomkins 64). As I debated with myself about whether or not I should speak up, I thought: What reading was that from? What theory are we trying to understand? How does this relate to me in real life? Do I agree with what’s being said? Will my contribution be useful to the discussion or is my statement going to be overlooked as the conversation continues on at a rapid pace?

Admitting my fears to the class about being viewed as a student who was incapable of keeping up with the conversation and also being able to withstand the academic rigor of an educational institution like Bryn Mawr College made me feel extremely vulnerable. I had already expressed my concerns about this with a few of my classmates, but to say it in front of all of my classmates who may not have known me personally was a risky decision. Saying it in front of other professors who hadn’t seen this personal side of me was equally terrifying. Nobody wants to reveal their weaknesses to others, but my weakness was already so visible to the class. If I didn’t speak up, I felt like people were looking at me, waiting for me to say something. I’m sure I’ve even had moments where I just felt like I had nothing to say, that my classmates had better articulated what I meant to say anyways, so why even bother? As Paulo Freire says, “A dialogical setting does not mean that everyone involved in it has to speak! Dialogue does not have a goal or a requirement that all people in the class must say something even if they have nothing to say!” To this statement, Ira Shor replies, “For them to feel pressure to speak even when they have nothing to add creates a false democracy, a fake moment of discussion” (Shor & Freire 102). Why feel the need to say anything? I’d just be saying something for the sake of hearing my voice echo through the room.

As I make my way through this 360 I notice a recurring theme of the formation of one’s identity when discussing and defining voice. I realize that some of my issues with speaking up are rooted in my uncertainty around the person I was, am, and will become. I grow increasingly frustrated that I can’t see my own potential to thrive successfully as a student at Bryn Mawr. I’m always being reassured that what I say is important, but I never believe it because I think that the person complimenting me pities me. My lack of initiative to use my voice is one that concerns Cook-Sather’s idea of how voice is a representation of presence, participation, and power. Because I’m not speaking up and participating, my presence is virtually non-existent and thus, I lose the power that I could potentially use to make changes in the way that I’m being taught (Cook-Sather 363).

What is difficult about defining voice is the understanding that identity is constantly changing and can never be fully formed. I may feel sure about one aspect about my identity one day but I may struggle to pinpoint another aspect of my identity the next. It’s scary to know that we can never really be sure about who we are. I would like to think I know who I am, since I’m me, but I really don’t. I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to put my finger on it. For example, in our E-Sem I felt like I could own up to my socioeconomic status as a part of my identity but this year, I can’t seem to understand if I fit the identity of a Bryn Mawr student. And what we choose to accept and reject as individuals is an equally important issue to think about.

Voice and identity go hand in hand. If I’m not sure about who I am and how others perceive me, I feel less inclined to take a risk and speak up. I personally think that what I say is a reflection of the person that I am. This is certainly a contestable statement but I can say that even if I want to take back what I say and revise it, then this further proves my point that we’ll never be sure of who we are. We are constantly learning and changing our opinions, and we’re also constantly changing as people.

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