So I Hear You Care?

Sheila Suarez

A reflection from student staff member, Sheila, about the work that creates empathy.

As a social work major, I spend a lot of time thinking about empathy. Social work is a profession centered around the idea of empathy when working with individuals in need. Social workers are encouraged to find the strengths of a person and empower them to use them, while being understanding of their life experiences and point of view.

The concept of empathy is often gendered as a feminine trait, and perhaps that’s why the field is dominated by women. According to Wendy Chin-Taner, a writer for Cultural Weekly, “Empathy hinges on emotional labor. To have empathy, we have to be able to practice active listening, be reflexive, self-critical, and be able to act on constructive criticism. In our culture, women are more readily expected to practice these skills and are socialized to do more emotional labor, which is why intersectional feminism is at the forefront of social justice allyship.”

Personally, I agree with Wendy, I believe that the amount of women in social work has to do with the history of women being socialized and encouraged to be the caregivers and show intense emotions, like empathy. There have been countless passionate and driven women throughout the history of civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and social justice movements. What sets apart these women, though, is their use of radical empathy, a topic I’ll discuss later.

Empathy & Emotional Labor

According to Suzannah Weiss from Everyday Feminism emotional labor is defined as theexertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations.” While, social workers are not the only ones that have to use emotional labor in their profession, they do understand the drain that comes from emotional labor and it is discussed frequently in classes and professional development.

As someone who works in the food industry, I know the necessity there is for servers or those working in retail need to have extreme control over their emotions when working with guests, in order to make sure the guest feel welcomed and taken care of during their time at the restaurant especially when they have a concern or complaint. Having empathy for another person (especially during a busy night at a restaurant!) can be challenging because you have to connect with someone else’s feelings and experiences, causing yourself  to have deeper understanding of your own feelings. It’s important to note that societal and gendered expectations often place a greater burden on women to do the work of emotional labor. As FEM author, Anya Bayerle states, Women are also frequently expected to appear empathetic and concerned for others while simultaneously suppressing any emotion that could be used to dismiss them as irrational or hormonal.” Often the emotional labor I practice at work is not just an industry survival skill but one that is expected of me because of my gender.

But, I want to move beyond just expectations and that’s what brings me to radical empathy.

Radical Empathy

While emotional labor is something that people often already have experience with, managing emotions in a classroom, workplace, or family setting; a newer concept is radical empathy. The first time I heard about “radical empathy,” I was confused, and oh so curious.

In recent years, I have lived my life following one tweet… yes you read that right. A tweet! I know what you are thinking… “but Sheila you don’t even have a Twitter!” ( it’s a confusing story about tumblr and screenshots, that’s not the point).

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This tweet, by this person I don’t know, changed my life.  “Don’t become who hurt you.” Based on some of my personal experience, I would have liked to become a hardened person, but I decided I wanted to be the person to lift up others. My hurt and pain does not need to become someone else’s trauma. It took a lot of emotional labor out of me to remember that in moments where I feel like I am being attacked or hurt personally, that the person doing whatever is making me feel uncomfortable might not be doing it knowingly harming me.

That they might be a person, just like me, who has dealt with trauma, has things about themselves they do not like, and has never had someone ask them “what is wrong?” instead of “what is wrong with you?”

Radical empathy is tough to define. At Stomping Ground, a summer camp that focuses on radical empathy, they define it as “actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others. To fundamentally change our perspectives from judgmental to accepting, in an attempt to more authentically connect with ourselves and others.” There are a few Ted Talks (see the links below) about what empathy is and how it impacts our ability to make connections with other human beings.

Radical empathy has had a huge impact on my life, shifted how I view the world, and how I interact with others. In the future, when I am a social worker, I believe it will allow me to better connect with my clients. It is not so much about putting yourself in the shoes of another person because you will never truly understand that person’s life. Radical empathy is more about striving to be with a person while they feel the feels, making sure that we understand our own judgement and challenging them so that we might accept everyone, actually where they are.

The real point is… Do you care?

 


Additional Resources for Learning about Radical Empathy:

Peter Laughter’s – Radical Empathy Ted Talk Video

Paul Parkin’s – Reimaging Empathy Ted Talk Video

Brene Brown’s Empathy Bear – Empathy Video

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Finding Community & Fostering It

Sheila Suarez

A reflection from student staff member, Sheila, about why finding and fostering community is important on a college campus.

What does perfect community look like?

Let’s be honest. We might never reach anything close to perfect. But I do wonder, what can we do to continually create and build better community? Something that is always on my mind is wondering where we can find community, and what makes it feel as good as home. I remember when I first got to UMBC, settling in to my dorm, my roommate saying the bare minimum to me, and not knowing anyone who understood the culture where I came from. I felt alone. I did not know that in a few weeks, I would learn about clubs and events at Involvement Fest. During Involvement Fest, I was able to find organizations on campus and meet active student leaders. There, I was able to start to build my UMBC community. 

giphy (2)According to U.S. News, there are several reasons why being active on your college campus is important. U.S. News reports that involvement helps students to feel connected to the school, feel as though they have a community, discover their passions, and it gives them opportunities to build their resume with experiences. After all, we are all here to get a job in the future. 

These factors are all important, and students know they need them to be successful, especially first-generation college students. According to Cia Verschelden, the author of Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization, “when students belong in a place, they have, or begin to build, social capital, defined as the connections, often informal, that they need to get inside information and to gain access to resources, such as tutoring or on-campus jobs.” By having these connections, relationships, and communities, all an important part of a college experience, we have access to valuable resources. One of the biggest reasons I want to foster community is because I do not want anyone to feel alone here. No one has to experience that feeling on this campus.

On UMBC’s campus, the Women’s Center is my home. Since last semester, it has been one of the places where I have tried to foster community. The Women’s Center is that older next door neighbor who asks you to cut their grass but will teach you life lessons you can not get anywhere else… and give you snacks. The Women’s Center has fostered my self-love and a sense of belonging. I’m not sure I can thank them enough. Also, the people here help me gain a sense of community and challenge me to be a better advocate for everyone.

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The Hispanic Latino Student Union (HLSU) had their third meeting of the semester this past Wednesday. As a Hispanic student, a group that makes up 7% of the campus community, I have been going to their meetings for over a year now. HLSU is also a place where I feel at home on campus. HLSU is like being with my favorite cousins that I see during holidays. They really know how to get the fun going, and their mom always lets me sleepover. HLSU is always my reminder that there are people who share my same cultural background. With them, I can be understood.

facebook_1520368691470I joined Lambda Theta Alpha, Latin Sorority Incorporated (LTA), initially because I wanted to meet others who understand what it is like to be a first-generation Latina college student. LTA are my sisters. We fight about why no one washed the dishes, but when someone makes popcorn, we are all down for spending a Sunday watching Disney movies. With the help of this organization, I have learned how to use my voice to be a leader in the community.  

If you want to build community during your college experience here are some pro-tips!

  1. Reach out! UMBC has this handy dandy spreadsheet with the e-mail address for every member of student organizations’ executive boards. You can get in touch with the group leaders, and from my experience, most groups are always welcoming to new members and would love to hear from you.
  2. Go to those meetings. Most groups have a set time they meet (i.e. bi-weekly, monthly). Head on to myUMBC and follow them to check out the meeting times. If you can’t make it, I am sure someone will reach out and let you know when they are just hanging out.
  3. Stay in touch. I know, us younglings love our technological things. How hard is it to stay in touch? Sometimes, very. Just do your best with your busy schedule to let others group leaders know you are interested in joining in on whatever events they have planned!
  4. Follow your passions! Do something because you want to! Not because that is where your friends hang out, not because someone told you this is the spot, but because you feel passion towards it.
  5. Know when the space isn’t for you. I mean this with straight respect. Sometimes places are not the fit for you, or sometimes the space wasn’t created for someone like you in the first place. Know which spaces are for you, know which spaces are not. Respect group members enough to let them have their space and continue searching for your best fit.
  6. Be yourself! Know that when you find the right community for you, that people will care and want to be around you, your authentic self. Do not allow who you really are to hide behind who you think people want you to be because if want real strong community, you have to be willing to show yourself.

Finally, remember fostering community is work. Let me say it again. Fostering community is work! That is why all my meetings go on forever!

While, the Women’s Center, HLSU, and LTA are the places I found my community at UMBC, these spaces are not for everyone as they try to fulfill what they want from a community but there are many groups and clubs on campus. To help you get started, here is a list of over 300 clubs and organizations that are active on UMBC’s main campus.

Let’s hear that one more time…

 

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A reflection from student intern, Sheila, about the subtle moments of life, both good and bad. 

 

A little while ago I asked someone for their life story. This is a random thing I do whenever someone new starts working at my restaurant (#serverlife), to see if they can stay on their toes. The response I got back was that this person was only 18 years old, and that they were too young to have a life story. I proudly said, “I am not too young for anything…. Only to rent a car for a good price … and I can’t run for president.”

Someone asked why I couldn’t run for president, and if you didn’t already know, it’s because you have to be 35 years old to run for the president of the United States.

Overhearing the question, my boss turned around and started laughing. He thought I couldn’t run for president because I wasn’t born in this country. For those who don’t know, you have to be a natural born citizen of the United 

 

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My “Bro!… seriously?!” face

States to run for president. I was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland…  (aka in this country).

He laughed and asked me if that was racist.…

I said, “Kinda…”

If you didn’t know what a microaggression is, that was one.  

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).”

Some people do not see microaggressions happening because it can be so subtle. These are statements/actions that we hear or see every day– but no matter how common, microaggressions still have underlying meanings attached to them.

Another Example!

“Shalia. Sheyla. Chalia. Shayla. Sheila.”

These are the ways my name has been spelled and/or pronounced over my 22 years of life.

If you know me, saying my name wrong is one of the most hurtful things you can do to me.

On my first day of class, I walked in five minutes late because I had to go to the bathroom. When I finally walked in my professor yelled out “Sanchez!” as I confusedly looked for a seat. I realized the professor was speaking to me, hoping that I was the person that missed attendance and that their class wasn’t going to be only the 12 people currently seated.

Now, back to my original point, people have called me a bunch of different things in my life but I had never gotten “Sanchez” before. I corrected my professor, as I always do with my first name, and took my seat.

It wasn’t until 2 hours into our 2 and half hour class, I realized there was no one named Sanchez in my class. There was no one else with an “S” sounding last name in the whole class, actually.

Why in the world did my professor call me Sanchez?

Why would people continue to pronounce my name wrong after me correcting them for months?

Why do people continue to tell me I am pronouncing my own name wrong?

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My reaction when some tells me I am pronouncing my own name wrong. Like… what?

Recently I have noticed when these things happen more and more often.

When I face microaggressions, I challenge them! I fight for myself! I question why people believe these things to be true of me but the real question is… why I constantly have to fight these things? Some folks will tell me not to bother, that people don’t know better and I can’t let these tiny moments in my life impact me as much as they do.

I want you to know: I hear you. I don’t want these tiny moments to hurt. But it doesn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have to deal with these things, I shouldn’t have to correct my professor or my boss, I shouldn’t have to waste my energy worrying about someone seeing me in a different light because of how I look. It gets tiring, sticking up for myself and challenging people.

While writing this blog, I spent my free time thinking about two moments. Knowing that these people did not intend anything negative by their words but it still filled this week with many headaches and moments of disheartening doubt. Why would anyone care what a queer latina women would have to say? Would they even believe what I wrote?

With all the personal demands I face during a week, I needed to take care of myself after thinking about why these moments in my life deeply impacted me repeatedly for the past week. This is where I talk about one of my favorite things in da world!

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Self-care!

I actually wrote another blog about it last year. If you like to read it, here is the link 🙂

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Me getting my hair did 🙂

Self-care sounds simple, it is taking time to care for yourself but often times folks have a hard time finding that time. This is very important for people who have marginalized identities, the energy it takes to live in a world that sees you as the other box is tough and annoying. Personally for me, trying to make the world a better place for me, people who share the same identities as me, and those who don’t; without any self-care makes me tired and an overall meanie.

I have been lucky enough to be in the Social Work department, were often professors remind us of self-care and work in the Women’s Center, which was one of my self-care spots on campus long before I started interning here. The Counseling Center also offers many resources to handle academic and personal stresses, as well as the Peer Health Educators from the Health Education Program at the University Health Services. The Mosaic Center has been great about supporting me after I talked about the microaggressions I faced.

If you are reading this and think you need support, please reach out. There are people reaching out to help you too.

Making myself feel awesome and unstoppable is powerful always helps me feel better.

Self-care looks different for everyone. There is no one way to do self-care.

Watching Netflix, taking a long shower, going dancing with your friends, being alone with a good book or eating those tacos you have been thinking about all week.Those tiny moments of self-care can keep you from feeling burnt out and help motivate you throughout your day.

This is how I deal with microaggressions, I take care of myself! That hour of Netflix comedies is enough for me recharge and continue to ask people, “what did you mean by that?”. *evil laugh*.

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