It's an abnormally hot, October Tuesday. I sit in the corner, as I normally do, in all of my classes. As most of my classes are discussion based, we always circle up to create a more inviting space. Even in this circle, I find a corner.
This is a gender and sexuality course so we are discussing something along the lines of reproductive rights. I open my mouth to speak, but the voice of another student brings any sound to a halting stop. After they've finished their thought, I try once again to voice my opinion but find my voice muted by the control of other students.
After a few rounds of this, I give in and raise my hand. Still, it seems everyone is called on but me.
It is Friday of that same week and a student enters the writing center where I work weekdays. Her body language tells me that she is scared. I ask if she's there for an appointment to find out she is my client.
She comes to the center for help brainstorming and creating a thesis. As she speaks her ideas, she is so well spoken. Even her less developed thoughts are so eloquently spoken. Yet, she stops every so often and doubts herself. Most of her thoughts are followed by a, "but I don't know."
I try telling her that her ideas are outstanding. I tell her to stop doubting her abilities because she is exceeding expectations. Her chin drops to her chest. I see her trying to make herself small and suddenly tears begin to form.
Two weeks have now passed and I can't stop thinking about the tutoring session I had with that young woman of color. Just writing about it makes my eyes well up. I realize now, we are the same. I sat there telling her how much her voice matters, how intelligent she is, but we both know that's not how others see us. I am fooling myself by thinking my one-hour session with her will change over a decade of societal silencing.
Each time I mention how I constantly feel walked over by those around me, I am told I must take more control. I am told that I must make my voice heard. Every time I voice frustration the blame is put on me, but I refuse to believe that I alone can make my voice matter.
It has taken years, but I have pushed myself well beyond my comfort zone. I have made an extrovert out of a die-hard introvert. And what has that gotten me? Yet, when I make myself larger, when I turn my "thinks" into "knows" I am told to make myself smaller. I am told that I am being too abrasive.
I don't think my experience is uncommon. For generations, voices of many communities have been unheard and ignored. The story I told of my tutoring session is not limited to one occurrence. Week after week I see the same hesitations transpire. Even in my classes that preach about all the voices that go unheard, the ones that emphasize inclusion, I still observe myself and other women of color placed on the back burner.
More than anything, this is for the women much like me. This is for the women that scream but cannot be heard, the women that continue to doubt their own worth. I am listening. I hear you. You do matter, even though you might be told you do not.