Raising Your Hand

By Grace Wydeven

Recent student protests here at Georgetown about the renaming of Mulledy and McSherry Halls due to their namesakes’ involvement in the sale and trade of slaves have captivated students and staff alike. The sit-ins outside of the President’s office to the group demonstration in Red Square, student activists at Georgetown have proven that both actions and words can send a message loud and clear.

The word activism is often one that I have shied away from. For me, acting on issues that I am passionate about is much harder than simply talking about them with my friends, family, or any other peers who think similarly to myself. Stepping outside of my conversational comfort zone and into the unchartered waters of things that require a bit more effort or awkwardness has always been a stumbling block.

In high school I often found myself reluctant to raise my hand and participate in class. Almost every time my teachers posed questions, I had something to say, but rarely did I raise my hand and actually say what I’d been thinking. A little voice of doubt always nagged at me: did I know what I was talking about? Would I be able to express my thoughts eloquently? Would I look like a fool?

Because of my own perception of my potential shortcomings, I didn’t always speak up. I felt intimidated and silly—like what I had to say probably wasn’t valid or legitimate, so I should just keep it to myself. I worried more about what other people would think of me than I did the questions at hand.

But after seeing the passion and determination of my fellow students this week, led by many inspiring female classmates, I have begun to think more carefully about the word activism and what that means for different individuals, and in particular, females.

Coming to college and seeing women leaders on this campus, from professors to speakers to students, has implicitly taught me something I would never learn in a classroom: that sometimes I can be my own worst enemy. When I internalize stereotypes they inherently affect the way I think and act, and subsequently limit me in ways that are unwarranted and untrue. Despite my worries about whether or not people will take me seriously (perhaps due to my gender) or my doubts in my own abilities, I have learned that speaking up in new and uncomfortable situations can sometimes be the most effective way to be an “activist.”

At the root of my hesitation is the concept of entitlement. Girls are not historically “entitled” to things like successful careers, advanced degrees, or leadership roles. Instead we are taught that women have to work much harder earn such titles, whereas men are stereotypically entitled to the high-paying jobs and classic leadership roles. Because of those cultural stereotypes that we implicitly abide by, women like myself have internalized certain norms that may affect us more than we think.

But, in the words of Albus Dumbledore, “There is a difference between what is right and what is easy.” As we have seen on campus this week, the sit-ins and demonstrations were clearly well-planned and probably not easy to do, and yet because of students’ activism, President DeGioia has already decided to accept their recommendations.

So whatever your form of activism is: whether its through language, organization, speaking, direct action, or simply raising your hand, there is a way to make your voice heard if you’re just willing to ignore the voice of doubt in your head that tells you no. With courage, confidence, and disregard for what society may believe women should feel entitled to, women leaders can take their communities, campuses, and even countries by storm to activate change.