FILE - In this file photo, UI students, staff and administrators gather at the Latino Native American Culture Center to hold a community conversation with President Harreld on October 6, 2016. Harreld and then-UI Student Government President Rachel Zuckerman held a series of discussions at the UI's four cultural centers to touch on various issues members of cultural organizations and students belonging to minority and underrepresented groups face on campus. (The Daily Iowan, Simone Banks-Mackey, file)

Soyer: All are responsible to inform ourselves and others

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Understanding others’ perspectives starts with a willingness to listen and share.

By Hannah Soyer

hannah-soyer@uiowa.edu

There’s a lot of talk among minority groups about whose responsibility it ultimately is to educate the rest of the public about issues facing each. Is it members of the minority who must speak up and inform the public, or is the public, those who may not identify with a particular minority, who must seek out such information, who must take it upon themselves to learn?

Most minority groups will argue that it is not their job. It is not the job of the person of color, the LGBTQ person, the disabled person, the indigenous person, the immigrant person, etc., to help others to understand the unique barriers facing them. Ultimately, the information is out there, especially in today’s world, in which we have access to many different perspectives and knowledge through the Internet. You may not have been exposed to such literature growing up, but that doesn’t mean it is not out there.

As someone who identifies with a few minority groups, this concept is something I struggle with. Yes, it can be exhausting to explain to new people barriers I face because I have a disability, but I know that if I want our society to become more accepting and accessible for people such as me, other people need to know the realities of my situation. Sometimes, this takes the form of me simply talking about why I need health care with a friend; other times it is me sharing a video on social media about something such as how restrictions of accessibility can lead to people being unable to access a building or location they need to reach.

I know that it is my choice to share my experiences with others in hopes of their coming away with a broader understanding of disability (granted, it is only a broader understanding of my particular experience with disability). I am incredibly lucky in that I have such a supportive family and friend group that allows me to have the time and energy to do this instead of focusing all my resources on fighting for the things I need to survive, as is the case with others.

There have also been many times in which people have wanted to hear my experiences, then not taken what I have said seriously. For example, the days following the election, when I would express my deep-rooted fear of services that I rely on being taken away, some people would say, “Oh, stop being dramatic; that’s never going to happen.” Huh. Besides the fact that if indeed this does not happen, it will be because people such as me speak out, this sort of reaction makes me wonder how I am even going to help people understand my situation if they don’t want to listen? Because I know how emotionally taxing all of this can be, I would never tell someone else who is of minority status that it is her or his job to educate the public. This is my choice.

However, the infighting continues to happen. People ask to have something explained to them, and someone from that minority gets up in arms because it is not her or his responsibility. Or, just as common, members of a minority group point out something offensive, and those to whom they point it out shut them down without even taking the time to consider what is being said. How in the world are we ever going to move forward if this keeps happening?

To me, the answer seems to lie in clearer communication and an understanding that not all are at the same place of being able to understand those different from themselves, however frustrating this can be. My hope is that those of us in positions to share our unique experiences can have the courage and grace to do so in a compassionate manner, and those of us in a position to listen can do so with open minds.

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