Posted in social justice

Political Correctness & the Importance of Understanding

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We don’t need “political correctness.” We need understanding, dialogue, and action.

First: What is political correctness?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary political correctness is: “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.”

I think an important thing to point out here is that identifying factors such as sex and race have become inherently political. This is a problem in it of itself: people’s mere existence has become controversial to the point where whether or not one believes it important to respect them is a question of politics.

Why are people offended?
Derogatory comments with histories rooted in oppression are ignorant of systems of inequality. I don’t condemn calling anyone names or insulting anyone based off of an identifying factor, but calling someone a cracker for being white does not bring back hundreds of years of stolen people, slavery, and lives lost. It is not because non-whites are “special snowflakes” who need to be treated better than everyone else. It is because history and oppression exist and those without privilege are forced to interact with that fact every day, whereas those with privilege can opt-out if they please. The simple fact is that power and history impact our lives today and the connotations that come with the language that we use, and I believe it is our responsibility as humans to be respectful of that and each other.

“Ok, so we stopped saying the offensive thing. Why isn’t that enough?”
The concept of “political correctness” I believe is a result of people wanting to be respectful but not understanding why things are or aren’t offensive. It is a whole phenomenon in which people tailor their vocabulary to what others tell them is the “right” way to speak without actually understanding why people feel that way and what the issue are that they are facing.

Nobody wants to be told what to say and what to not say, especially without an explanation, so this inevitably invites backlash. The problem is absolutely the people that people use offensive language, but the problem is also that some people who know better than to use it still don’t know why they shouldn’t be using it or know what struggles people that language affects are facing today. Many “allies” of various communities are in a space of being compliant, not in solidarity or in understanding.

Yes, “my friend who is a part of a certain community told me it offends them so I will no longer say that word” is an important, if not crucial, part of the puzzle. However, if it doesn’t go one step further, people aren’t actually learning why it’s not okay, why it’s hurtful, why it’s offensive- nothing is really going to change in the fight towards a more just society.  

I am not calling on the oppressed to educate the privileged, but the privileged to take a proactive step in educating themselves. If you really care about the person who told you not to say the word, figure out why they don’t think you should be saying it. Chances are, there’s a reason rooted in history and oppression that you either were never taught about or never understood the reality of. That history might be jarring and uncomfortable but sitting with that knowledge is what brings us together as people of different backgrounds and experiences.

The concept of “political correctness” does not invite dialogue, but rather ends it. It is never fun to have a conversation with someone or have someone else tell you why they think something you said is offensive, but when we call out our friends and ask them to challenge us, we grow. It’s okay to ask questions you think sound stupid, just try to ask them to Google or a friend and in a sensitive way. As long as everyone is coming from a place of respect and willingness to be educated, this dialogue is beneficial.

Dialogue is also important because not every term is a black-and-white “do not use” situation. There is a lot more grey area even within communities about how they want to be labelled and spoken about. For example, the term “queer.” I have friends who see it as an inclusive blanket term for the LGBT community, and also friends who don’t think anyone should use it to describe someone without that person’s explicit desire for them to do so. One of my friends who is very against the use of the word explained to me that it is because she grew up in a rural area in which queer was used as a slur to her when she was younger- it brings up very bad memories for her, and she’s not okay with people using it to describe her. On the other hand, many see it as a reclaimed term that serves as a helpful way to be all-encompassing of the community, and use it to be more inclusive than the LGBT acronym itself can be. Point is, we don’t necessarily understand people’s experiences and the language they prefer until we take a step further, until we ask questions and seek to understand the social injustices around us instead of simply following guidelines in order to be able to label ourselves as “not racist” or “not homophobic”. These waters aren’t always easy or straightforward to navigate, but they’re worth it. Not just to make others around us happy with us, but in order to be able to move towards creating in a society that truly treats people justly and equally based on identifying factors.

I believe most of us care about others, and thus, we need to understand the significance and context of the words that we use and don’t use. This education and dialogue elevates “political correctness” to understanding, solidarity, allyship, action, and eventually, change.

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Posted in social justice

Telling Diverse Mental Illness Stories & “To the Bone”

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TW: This post includes potential spoilers from the Netflix movie “To the Bone” and discusses aspects of and types of eating disorders as well as mentions depression, self-harm, substance abuse, and other mental illnesses.

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The other day, I caved and finally watched the new Netflix film “To the Bone”. As one could reasonably expect, it isn’t the worst movie ever depicting eating disorders but it’s also not perfect. I believe one of the most valuable conversations to come out of it is regarding the importance of telling different kinds of stories about eating disorders. “To the Bone” is just the latest in a long line of similar stories about eating disorders that focus on a white, dangerously thin, conventionally attractive, teenage woman who has been diagnosed with anorexia. This may capture a certain demographic that struggles with eating disorders at high rates, but does not paint a comprehensive picture of what it means to have an eating disorder. The vast majority of people who suffer from eating disorders are diagnosed either with binge eating disorder or OSFED/EDNOS, which contains eating disorders other than anorexia, bulimia, and binge. According to NEDA, three times as many people are diagnosed with binge eating disorder than are diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia combined. Still, typically binge eating disorder is either used as an offensive punchline or completely nonexistent in media. Further, people of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, genders, socioeconomic statuses, and ages suffer from all kinds of mental illnesses. Where are the stories about binge eating disorder? Where are the stories about the people who aren’t white, aren’t teenagers, aren’t dangerously thin? Why aren’t these stories told?

In one of my favorite TED talks, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the dangerous of a “single story”. Adichie speaks from her perspective as a Nigerian woman and her experience with the American single story of what it means to be African. Her bottom line is: “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” Mental illnesses are no different. Show eating disorders as white, young, starving, and pretty over and over again, and that is what it begins to mean to have an eating disorder.

There has been a growing movement demanding diverse stories in books, film, and television; demanding for people of color to create and headline movies and TV shows, for LGBT characters to be more prevalent and less dead, and for the general inclusion of more diverse characters as main characters instead of punchlines and sidekicks. People are demanding for media to stop adhering to inaccurate stereotypes and to challenge preconceived notions. This challenge should also apply to the media depicting mental illnesses.

Anorexia in the way experienced by characters like Eli is in some ways “glamorous” as far as eating disorders go. She simply doesn’t eat, and as a result, is dangerously thin. This is not the reality of eating disorders for most people who suffer from them, but it is the sick “goal” for many. This is a problem because people who are slipping into a bad place or who are already there may aspire to be like Eli and may think that they aren’t sick because they don’t look like or act like Eli. It perpetuates the idea that only people who are so thin you can see all of their bones need help. It prevents both people who are struggling and people who are afraid their friends or family are struggling from gaining a more fully accurate depiction of what eating disorders look like. The ability of a film about eating disorders to achieve it’s goal- to expand the conversation and awareness to help guide people towards recovery- is severely hampered by the single story that is created in these depictions.

To be fair, diverse stories are explored a little bit in the inpatient facility during “To the Bone”. There is one woman of color who is gay and is alluded to suffer from binge eating disorder, as well as one man, who seems to serve the purpose of the romantic subplot more than creating a different narrative. There is some insight into characters who struggle with binging and/or purging, mentioned mostly in passing. The film did not completely forget that all people with eating disorders aren’t the same, but regardless, the efforts to showcase diverse experiences are minimal and arguably rather ineffective.

This is not just an issue with depiction of eating disorders. The image of the someone who abuses substances is male and low-income. The image of someone with depression is a middle-aged women who never gets out of bed. The image of someone who self-harms is a white teenage girl who wears black all the time and listens to heavy metal. We are not getting the full picture of mental illnesses that exist or ways they are experienced, not even close.

For the sake of people who have struggled with these illnesses and those close to them who would like to help them, it is imperative that we begin to tell different kinds of stories about mental illnesses and expand upon the single stories we have created. 

Posted in applying to law school

Getting a Head Start: Law School Applications

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Boston College

I am no expert, but I received some insightful advice and learned some important lessons along the way. Here are a few tips for getting a head start on your law school applications:

Start to narrow down your list of schools you’re applying to. Arguably the most important thing when narrowing down your list of schools is balancing being open minded about where you might apply with also making sure not to waste your time and money applying anywhere you wouldn’t consider going. One of my mentors told me I didn’t have enough safety schools (the two I labelled my “safety” schools were definitely pushing it) but I made a calculated decision to do it that way. First, I thought about what I would do if my safety was the only school I got into. Would I really want to go there, or would I just decide to take another year, retake the LSAT, and re-apply? I also considered that I was applying earlier in the cycle, in October. I decided that if I had not been accepted to any schools by the time the February deadlines rolled around and I wanted to fire off a few more applications, I would at that time. That way I wasn’t wasting my time and money in October applying to schools that I wouldn’t need to have applied to and didn’t really want to attend anyway. On the other hand, I added a one particular school last minute kind of on a whim, and ended up highly considering it as an option once accepted. 

Get to know the schools you are interested in. Of course, it’s always important to do your research on each school. Read about their clinical programs, journal offerings, and talk to as many as people as you can. What is this school known for? Who are the most notable professors in the areas you are interested in? What are some of the weaknesses of the school? One way I recommend getting to know schools better is to follow them on social media and read some of the articles they post. Many schools will post articles in which any faculty is quoted as well as post about notable accomplishments. Having a better understanding of who the faculty are and what they are contributing to society helps when it comes time to answer the age-old “why this school?” question, and will help you get a better sense of if it is somewhere you see yourself. As an added bonus, reading articles meant for the non-legal mind that concern legal matters is informative and interesting!

Start brainstorming and writing your statements. I spent a lot of my free time over the summer trying to write my personal statement. I ended up not settling on a topic until September, at which point it was very much stressing me out. I think the best advice about a personal statement I received was that the most important thing is to make sure the reader learns something substantive about who you are as a person and what your journey to this point looked like. Also, decide if writing a diversity statement is right for you. Do your research and understand what are appropriate topics for a diversity statement. It is important to remember that the point of a diversity statement is not simply to talk about difference, but to connect that back to your potential as a student and lawyer. What about this part of you will enable you contribute in a unique way to the law school community?

Make a timeline for your application process. There are a lot of moving parts that can take varying amounts of time. LSAC states they can take up to a month to process your transcript. Whoever is writing your recommendations probably has their own standard amount of time they ask for to write a letter, whether that be two weeks or two months. Don’t be me, who took so long to ask my recommenders that one of them came to me and asked when I was planning on asking them! Decide when you want to have your applications in by and try to work backwards from there in your planning to make sure you are doing everything with enough time. Most people advise applying before Thanksgiving, and the sooner the better, but not at the expense of your application being the best it can be.

When applications go live, make some tables with the requirements for each school. Unfortunately, schools have different requirements and preferences for almost everything. One school will insist upon a one-page resume and another school will tell you to make it as long as you want. Some schools will say up to three pages and prefer it to be shorter, some schools will say up to four pages and expect you to write four pages. One school will ask for a 300 word diversity statement and another school will ask for a two-page diversity statement. These are not things you can mess up on your application. Read the directions very clearly and do outside research on the different schools. I sent my two-page personal statement to a school that stated up to four pages, only to later find out from others that they actually expect four pages. Don’t be me. Make sure you know exactly what kind, if any, supplements different schools require. If you were on the fence about applying somewhere and then realize you would have to write three supplemental essays to really have a chance at being accepted, it might not be worth it. There’s no hand-holding in this process, it’s all on you to be organized and on top of everything.

Consider connecting with resources from your undergraduate institution. Even if you have already graduated and entered the working world, your school’s career services will likely still be able to help you. This part I was quite bad at to be quite honest. I didn’t reach out to career services until after I’d already applied. It ended up working out fine for me, but if I had to do it again, I would’ve made more of an effort to connect with these resources earlier. I often felt like I was going it alone while trying to put together my applications, and it doesn’t have to feel that way. Chances are many people are applying to law school, and they may have helpful advice about your particular circumstance and/or about specific schools you are interested in!

 

Posted in women's soccer

Women’s Soccer: More Than Just a Game

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Orlando City Stadium, home of the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)

It’s been two years since the US Women’s National Soccer Team won the 2015 Women’s World Cup. It’s also been two years since I watched the sport for the first time and fell in love with it.

As someone who never played soccer (besides for approximately half a season in kindergarten), people tend to find my close following of the sport a bit curious. Most of my friends respect my love of the sport but don’t really understand it: this is an official apology for all the times I’ve yelled at my computer screen watching a game while they were in the room.

What first pulled me in was the World Cup final. I only saw the last ten minutes, but what really got to me was watching everyone celebrate. Here are these powerful, successful women who have just accomplished their dreams- it made me emotional. Then I saw a slew of tweets about players who were involved with an organization that has been close to my heart for many years- To Write Love on Her Arms- most notably, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

Some people say that you don’t pick your favorite player, they pick you. That’s how I felt about Ali Krieger. I don’t know what exactly it was about her- her sweet, down-to-Earth, warrior-princess persona, her involvement with causes that mean a lot to me, and her incredible athletic ability- but I found myself automatically picking her out as my favorite. I’m glad, because two years later I truly believe she is one of the best defenders, leaders, and all-around people in the sport.

Women’s soccer brings to light that women can be successful athletes, people actually enjoy watching women play sports, and sports fan bases can be non-toxic and inclusive. These athletes are everything society likes to tell women they can’t be: ambitious, successful, relentless, powerful, and independent. Though they still face the continued “girl-ing” and belittling of what they do, their actions remind everyone that they are not “girls,” they are women and professional athletes. There’s nothing wrong with girlhood, but women in general are rarely allowed to outgrow the perceived innocence and naiveness of being a “girl”- and these women challenge that every day.

My father grew up playing soccer and has always loved the sport. Sometimes he watches televised games with me if he’s around. The other day he said to me: “I’m not used to women who play so well.” When Marta scored an incredible volley, he insisted that it had to be a fluke. When I told him, with much annoyance, that she is a five-time World Player of the Year and knows exactly what she’s doing, I could practically see the wheels turning in his head and his notions about gender and sports being challenged.

As someone entering law school, the USWNT fight for equal pay has been of particular interest to me. Is equal pay for women’s and men’s teams realistic or even ideal? Is the answer equally proportional pay to the money the federation is making off of the team, on a team-by-team basis? How does the USWNT pay conversation impact the domestic league and other federations around the world with growing women’s programs? I don’t have the answers, but these are important conversations that were brought into the mainstream because the players fought for their right to fair compensation.

There is a lot of focus on young girls as the audience for women’s soccer and how important it is to empower the future of the sport. However, the women’s soccer audience is not only made up of young girls. The community is inclusive and celebratory of people of all ages and backgrounds. The sport may not have inspired me to take up soccer myself (my always-injured ankles would not be happy with that), but it does inspire me every day to be healthy, work hard, and never get complacent in all aspects of life. I went through my last two years of college with quotes from soccer players about keeping a good attitude and getting better every day on my whiteboards. This sport is so much more than just the game. 

I’m so grateful for the sport that wasn’t mine to play but became mine to love. I am so glad that two years ago I watched the World Cup final and never looked back.