Katie Kilichowski, Staff Writer
Oneonta is an accepting and welcoming campus to people of all backgrounds including different ages, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and all other diversities among students and faculty. Students can feel safe at our university because diversity, in all aspects, is encouraged.
In order to encourage the openness that the university is known for, there are many programs and events to inform students about all types of diversities. Many of these programs are created by Kate McMichael of New Student Services. These programs are made to inform students on the different types of people in the world and to encourage an understanding of how to respectfully speak about things that may be sensitive to certain people. Students can learn more about how to navigate the current world we live in.
“People always [either] walk on eggshells or do not care at all about what they say. I want to create a middle ground for people,” McMichael explained.
Last week, McMichael held a program open to all students called Sea of Words. The Sea of Words program had the goal of learning about the power of words and how there are ways to use words without being offensive or causing a negative reaction. This is where the middle ground idea emerged.
To create a safe space, all the students introduced themselves and did a few ice breakers. The first activity was to write words that hurt you. The words were anonymously put in the back of the room to create the “sea” of words. The next activity was to walk through the sea and read the words and phrases that had the power to hurt people in the room. Although it was confidential, every person had a reaction to the words written. Everyone was silent, taking in the impact of the words that read “fat,” “retarded,” “faggot,” and more negative terms.
It was astonishing to see how much words, even words that were never used against the person, could hurt. As everyone gathered to reflect on the sea of words, there was a distinct mood change. Some said the sea of words made them “speechless,” “sad,” “shocked,” and perhaps most importantly, “aware.” Everyone in the room was made aware of the power that even one word can have on another person.
As McMichael explained it, “Language is like putting toothpaste back in the bottle,” meaning that words are powerful and once they come out, they can’t be put back in. Words can be hurtful, but people should not hold back or be afraid to speak up.
“You cannot learn without making mistakes. The key idea is to learn from the mistakes,” McMichael said, establishing the middle ground.
There are words that should be avoided, but there are ways to say things without being offensive. Even if something comes out as offensive, whether it is intentional or unintentional, people should be conscious of how others receive their words. There is no reason why people should not learn about or address topics because they are sensitive to others.
Everything should be open to be discussed and in order to be discussed, there needs to be a middle ground that is appropriate to the current world. To create this middle ground, people can have reactions to offensive things, speak up and be vocal about certain things, have conversations to learn, and be assertive when a point needs to be made. The real world is complicated and ignoring difficult situations or getting angry about them will not be effective. Learning and dealing with them is the most effective way to confront problems.