Empathy in Academia

I feel like so often, especially in academia, emotionality is pushed aside in favor of reason. Imagine my surprise when, the first day of Black Feminist Thought, we engaged in an activity designed to cultivate empathy. I was so moved by the experience of opening up and having Porshai share a story about herself with me that I almost cried. I am excited that we started this course with a focus on empathy because I believe that empathy is essential to the way I learn. I can best understand subject material (from psychological principles to literature) if I put myself in the shoes of the person or people that I am learning about and talk about how these facts impact me or others emotionally. I don’t believe that learning emotionally makes a worse student, but sometimes I feel that way when I struggle to stay focussed on classes like economics or mathematics. Making empathy the focal point of our first class gives me high hopes for the semester. I feel that this focus will build a safe learning environment and encourage sharing and helping, rather than judging.

Outside of class, our first readings in Black Feminist Thought have me excited about the potential of this class to make me a student more well-versed in the complexities of oppression and privilege through the writings and creative work of black women (whose work is too often left out of mainstream education). The Combahee River Collective says “If black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression (237).” Though I am not a black of color, as an agent of social change an understanding of the marginalization experienced by black women is essential in understanding areas of social justice that need my attention. One striking area that has already been brought to my attention in this course so far is academia (in Staring Down the Spooks and A Wha’ Dem A Go On Wid?). These pieces showed me that I can be a better feminist and better ally to black women by advocating for more tenured faculty of color at this school and by speaking up against stereotypes of black professors in predominantly white spaces where these professors may not be there to speak up for themselves.

I am hoping that this course will allow me to better conceptualize the diverse lives of black women (that vary by location, class, etc.). My goal in this course so far is to actively decenter my whiteness (while still remaining conscious and critical of my position) and instead engage empathetically and intellectually with the writing and creative work of black women.

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One thought on “Empathy in Academia

  1. Excellent response, Kate. I look forward to watching you grow towards becoming an even more empathetic feminist and ally. I agree with you that emotion can play a crucial role not just in the academy but in the world.

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