first amendment

Self-advocacy for emotionally-abused women

selfconfidence-smallI had an unpleasant confrontation with a staff member at my college yesterday. Up to that point, absolutely everyone, including instructors and administration, have been absolutely amazing. The atmosphere on that campus is perfect for someone like me who struggles with general anxiety and chronic fatigue: calm and peaceful.

The good part about yesterday’s conflict is that I stood my ground in the presence of a much-younger student. We (the other student and I) then talked about the interaction, discussing the law, hostile educational and work environments, even the Constitution.

Over the last few years, I have had to evaluate associations, relationships, my religion and even my marriage. I had to make some really hard decisions that benefited me, many for the sake of self preservation. I began to learn self-advocacy.

When I started college in January 2013, I was suffering from many things, the worst being virtually no self-confidence. I began the financial aid process expecting denial. I entered the college program of choice expecting to do poorly. I did my work, almost killed myself to succeed, and was told several times by professors that I am worrying too much about grades. I couldn’t help it. I had something to prove . . . to myself.

I still get failing grades in a couple of areas of my personal life when it comes to self-advocacy, but those are on my list to get through in the near future. I too often allow pride to interfere with seeking the help I need to merely survive (like going off SNAP when I couldn’t afford to do so).

I learned that there are no white knights out there. As a woman, I must advocate for myself. What is delightful is when I find other men and women who support me in my journey. There have been many (sadly, none of them my family).

grant flyer screenshotI am embarking on a new adventure: applying for grants. This is difficult for me.

It requires that I sell myself, or my need, effectively. While I have always been able to sell my skills in job interviews, I feel all anxious inside at thinking about people reviewing my life and thinking that I am not worthy of assistance.

It requires that I ask people for letters of recommendation. I am very nervous any time I must ask someone I know to do something for me. I set myself up for rejection and refusal because that is mostly what I have experienced in my life (but not always).

But not always . . . there have been people there at vital times in my life, willing to give me encouragement, even assistance, when I needed it the most. This is what encourages me. That, and the fact that I have worked very hard since starting school, putting myself out there.

When I joined the college newspaper, I interviewed two of the three deans for an article on mental health. When I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, I made a point to introduce myself and speak with the third dean that I had not met yet. These professors and administrators are there for students just like me; they are passionate about seeing individuals succeed because then the college succeeds. Whenever my instructors and professors offer assistance, office hours, and help of any kind, I make an appointment and avail myself of that. They have so much to give, so much to teach me, that I would be stupid not to take advantage of their willingness to teach and mentor me. On Tuesday, one of my English professors stayed after class to help me work through (mentally) what I want out of a 4-year university when I am ready to transfer. I feel so much more empowered.

As I have said, every single interaction on campus has been positive except for that one incident. That is life, though. Learning to deal with unpleasantness is just as important as accepting success, which I admit is not easy for me, either. In this case, this incident cannot be ignored because it involves First Amendment rights and the press. I am not alone, though. The instructor who has been teaching me journalism offered to go with me to speak with one of the deans because it is a serious issue. I am NOT alone.
I get a bit emotional thinking about this part of my new life. Denial of my experience by others has been such an integral part of my life that when people believe me and agree to stand by me I am flabbergasted. Deep down inside I know — false knowledge, by the way — that I am not worth the effort or confidence of others. That is the biggest demon that I fight. I am fighting it, though. My shield is up, my sword is out, and this shield-maiden is ready for battle (while trembling inside). Notice that my biggest battles are within myself, always.

I heard some stories yesterday from students about unethical instructor behavior and hostile educational and work environments on my college campus. Oh, I so want to help build in young women (and men) the ability to use their voices effectively and with confidence. Maybe my experiences, struggles and eventual emergence (I am still such a work in progress) can help others learn to effectively self-advocate in the future — this is the impractical part of me that wants to study law (which I will not be doing — I think I can use an English degree much more effectively).

So . . . I will be applying for grants regularly. I know that once I get through the process of applying for the first one I will have much more confidence to apply for others in the future. Applying for scholarships and grants is the epitome of self-advocacy. Yep, I can do this.

Free speech in 2014 exists because of two decades of fighting

I mentioned in my last blog post that I am writing a research paper on speech codes on college campuses. While meeting with my professor to discuss my thesis for this paper, I realized, and verbalized, how easy this paper is to write in 2014 as compared to how difficult it would have been to argue my thesis 10 or 20 years ago.

People, groups, students, and professors have gone before me, suffered, paid the price, lost careers, lost degrees, lost almost everything to see that I have the right today to express myself freely on my college campus. Additionally, court case after court case documents what the U.S. Supreme Courts thinks of most speech codes: they are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment rights of students and faculty.

I am so lucky. I have scholarly source after scholarly source, peer-reviewed and backed up by the SCOTUS to support my thesis. And yet there are still proponents of strong speech codes. This is America, so that is okay.

We all have the history of University of California-Berkeley in the 1960s to show us what happens when the government and college administration attempt to silence the voices of students: it can get heated, students are mobilized, and what “the establishment” attempts to suppress comes out like a volcano erupting. I was shocked to read that not only did the California state government get involved, but the FBI and CIA had infiltrated campus life with the goal of stopping the progress of liberal ideologies. Oh, how misguided our government can be.

You want to know what is the most amazing of all? Even today, in a global political climate with a global economy, the United States of America stands alone in protecting the rights of its citizens to freedom of speech and expression. We are alone. As ugly as it is to read anything homophobic or racist, it is legal to speak of such things without fear of prosecution. I didn’t say there wouldn’t be consequences. No one can eliminate the possibility that a CEO might be pressured to resign after supporting Proposition 8 in California, or that an anti-gay rights celebrity might be fired (though later brought back because of popular demand). This is how we deal with things in America. You have the right to be ugly, and I have the right to call you a racist or homophobic. That is my right. We can fly the Confederate Flag, the American Flag, the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and my neighbors can hate me for it and talk about me and refuse to associate with me. I have rights and they have rights.

That’s the thing about free speech: it allows the free exchange of ideas, the critical evaluation of those ideas, and the conclusion that, in some cases, we reject what some ideas represent and convey. We are evolving as a nation. We are becoming more tolerant while intolerance is common. We are more polarized while we often fear speaking up. Moderate voices are accused most of all because they refuse to buy in 100% to any ideology. When one ideology completely rules our land, there is no more hope.

I love my country, and am prouder than ever to be a part in some small way. I look forward to the further evolution of American culture. I had almost lost hope, but this research paper has changed that. As long as we can freely discuss ideas there is hope.

2013 Muzzle Awards go to . . .

I am writing a research paper on college and university speech codes and how they hinder intellectual diversity. In my many hours of online research I discovered a wonderful website and the following interesting, though sad and intellectually-painful, annual award that goes to those who, above all others, attempt or succeed in hindering free speech in America. Every year The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression hands out several of these awards. They go to conservatives, liberals, the ignorant, the scholarly; mostly they go to misguided organizations or bureaucracies who are just somehow confused about what the First Amendment really means. Enjoy or shake your head in disgust like I did — get some popcorn, though, and make fun of some silly people.

Muzzle Award goes to the Annville-Cleona (PA) School Board for pulling a children's book from the elementary school library

Muzzle Award goes to the Annville-Cleona (PA) School Board for pulling a children’s book from the elementary school library

Mamas need to not only watch out for naked cowboys in their school libraries, but stop taking photos of their kids taking baths because, according to Rep. Lamborn of Colorado those photos are “inappropriate” at best and child pornography at worst. When grandmother Maria Gunnoe traveled to Colorado to report on coal mining bringing a photo of a five-year-old girl bathing in orange water, it was reported that “Based solely on that staffer’s recommendation, Lamborn ordered that the photo be removed from Gunnoe’s presentation.” Even worse, she was questioned by Capitol Police for over an hour along with that censorship.

May we all survive the erosion of Constitutional rights in this country.