Spring 2022. Fifteen of us sat around connected tables in a first-floor Kresge classroom. Some of us reporters, illustrators, some fact-checkers and copy-editors, all of us staff members of City On a Hill Press, as our media advisor Susan Watrous began our first class of the quarter with a discussion of The View From Somewhere.
The book by Lewis Raven Wallace explores truth in the context of journalism and challenges the historic ideal of “objective journalism,” the so-called “view from nowhere.” Objective journalism is often heralded as the best practice in reporting truth without bias. However, this long-standing approach neglects the influence that manipulative rhetoric and systemic oppression have on political debate and reporting.
For the last decade of my education, my classrooms have been the sites of what I am hesitant to call ‘debate.’ Conversations full of what-about-isms and false equivalencies were reflections of the political wars and power grabs on the T.V. The ubiquity of these ‘debates’ beat down my heart and calloused it to the point of disengagement.
Every morning of eighth grade, my teacher wrote out a current event topic on the board and asked us to discuss it. Without any kind of formal structure, thirteen year olds were flinging opinions around the room with unwieldy, at times destructive, force.
Finding a community here at the newspaper gave me a second wind. I can trust the productivity of a debate here, where our hearts are moving in the same direction, even if there may be disagreements on how to get there.
One year after sitting in that first-floor Kresge classroom, I found myself around another set of tables, this time in the Student Media Press Center. Again, fifteen people gathered to begin a class. This group was made up of members of the editorial board, and we were discussing a speech by Valarie Kaur. She reminded us to breathe and push, in the difficulty of our labor, to build a better nation.
We turned the discussion towards journalism, to our responsibilities and intentions as we serve as story-tellers, artists, and community-members.
We grounded ourselves for the quarter in the desire to focus and to care, to give time and attention to our work. It was a unanimous goal to have the courage to show up with our whole selves.
If I may address the staff directly, here’s the thing:
I think you’re all smarter than I am. You open your mouths and words come out that my brain doesn’t articulate as quickly or as clearly. You make such insightful points. You speak and it’s intelligent and nuanced, and funny when appropriate.
And yet, you’ve made me feel like I have value in this space with you regardless. You open your mouths and love comes out and my brain is invited to engage. Your insightful points coax unification. You speak, and it’s with humility, passion, and a sense of responsibility.
You make me want to be better. You make me want to participate again.
And it’s because I trust you.
Trust encourages people to be brave in the face of risking failure. Trust inspires people to be creative. Trust cultivates spaces for learning. Trust holds us while we’re scared and uncertain.
The panic we’ve so often felt growing up, that I felt for all those years in other classrooms, is the result of broken trust. Once trust is broken, I have felt few options other than to retreat, to isolate. And isolation breeds a hardened heart.
You’ve softened and strengthened my heart.
Toni Cade Bambara said, “the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.”
The fight for truth and progress can be scary, even for those who are leading the charge. Leaders have to be vulnerable. We all come from somewhere, and acknowledging that means we can recognize each other for our differences. We are drawn in by the gaps of individual experience, and use our communal knowledge to visualize the bigger picture.
Vulnerability is scary. But it’s also the grounds for building community. That’s where we’re supposed to exist –– a culmination of our “somewheres.” And let me tell you, that’s irresistible.
Thank you for bringing me back to life — wherever you go, I wish you the same joys of rejuvenation and inspiration.