Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All About Community - Connecting, Trusting, Improving

Today, I was woken up by a crashing sound coming from the direction of my laptop. I immediately jumped up and felt the cover since my eyesight is so bad. It was untouched. It turns out that the shelf above my desk had shifted while my roommate was leaning against it. It still gave me a big scare, though. Since I was already up, I decided to be productive and work ahead on our reading assignments.

In class, we worked on our public speaking skills. Dr. Jennifer Madden came in and addressed all the concerns we could ever have about speaking in front of others. I really liked her style - she was confident but she communicated that she cared about our input. After we had covered the general rules for public speaking, she told us that we would have to improvise a speech after lunch. With that hanging over our heads, we went out and tried to enjoy our break. I ate spinach pizza at the Ratty (the smaller dining hall) with Selene and Lydia, and made my own dessert combining cookies and ice cream.
When we returned, we split into small groups to present improvised speeches. Soon it was my turn. I decided to give my speech on my Action Plan, which is a plan to improve our world that could start with our local community. The Leadership Institute expects us to put this Plan into place once we're back at home. We will present a speech on the final day of the class to students, faculty, and some parents.

My group was facilitated by Dr. Madden herself, which was awesome because she had constructive criticism that was very to-the-point. I learned that I do need to project my voice, but that I actually have that down pretty well. My lack of emphasizing certain words and of variation in tone contributes to the impression that I don't have enough volume, when in fact that's not the worst problem. 

The worst problem was that I wanted to do too much. That's always been a problem that I've had; it's very difficult, but very rewarding. I brought all my brainstorming ideas together and put them together into one plan that ranged from presenting an art project on the gender spectrum to educating younger children to voter registration to gender issues being represented on the ballot.  The most important piece of information that I came away with is that I really need to narrow down my Plan to make it strong, focused, and attainable. I have a good idea, but I'll need to work it out some more. I'm really glad that I made that speech, though. The feedback and the experience together was invaluable.

After class, I learned more about the ropes course which our class is participating in tomorrow. My RA, and other students who had already gone through it, reassured me on the fact that it wasn't too physically taxing, but that we would all come away from the activity feeling more empowered and more united as a community. I can't wait. The only thing that makes me a little bit apprehensive is the fact that there will be lots of mosquitoes and ticks. I'll be sure to wear long pants and serious shoes.

I did a bit of homework with classmates Bianchi, Diana, Lydia, and Selene. I learned something new - not only is Bianchi from New Orleans, but her family is originally from Honduras. I never would have thought that, because she doesn't look like the stereotype of people from Central America. I'm very surprised that there are so many Spanish speakers here at Brown - there's quite a lot! Apparently, there are also strong Colombian and Portuguese/Brazilian communities which exist in Providence. I also met some of the girls down on the first floor - Heidi, Ashley, and Natalie - through my Women and Leadership classmates.
Lupe and I went to check out the ballroom dancing activity at 6 PM. The instructor never showed up, and we began to doubt if the activity was even intended to have an instructor. We were under the impression that this would be a beginner's class, not just a gathering in the ballroom. After almost 45 minutes, we decided to eat at the V. Dub instead.

At 7:30, we had a workshop with the Women and Leadership class led by my RA (who is also our TA) and the RA for the rest of the class which is on the first floor of the same dorm. We sat down and laid out the basic community rules that we have written down for each and every group activity we have started at Brown. Initially, I was a little bored because every time the same group of people had met, we wrote down these rules and everyone contributed the same kinds of words, like trust, open mindedness, and "one mic". Later, I saw how important these rules were, how important it was that we went over them several times, and how much they were valued in different settings.

We did several activities, all involving trusting the group with very controversial topics and issues that touched home for a lot of us. For one, we held hands in a big circle and were asked to step forward (still holding hands) if we heard a statement (such as "I have thought about suicide") that was true about us. I felt that everyone participated honestly and to the best of their abilities. Our hands became sweaty with the tension and nobody broke the silence throughout the activity. By the end, several girls had shed tears, and several more had supported them. The interesting thing was that although I stepped forward upon hearing statements that would have scared me if I had said them myself, by having 22 other people involved with the same dilemma at the same time, this problem was eliminated.

To finish off, we wrote out something about ourselves that we would prefer communicating in an anonymous setting. The RAs read the statements aloud while we listened in an almost magical silence. I was shocked at some of the heart-wrenching experiences that people have been through. I feel so much closer and so much more trusting of everyone in the class now that I've been through the Diversity workshop. I also know that I will consider people's backgrounds and feelings even more now. I'll always remember the feeling of being connected to everyone else in that room. I feel like I've really spent 2 months here, not three days. It's crazy how much information I have to process and how much I've grown since I've gotten here.


  1. Irene,

    Love the photos—really.

    I’m reading with great interest all of what you’re describing about trust and I just can’t imagine a group of guys in a similar situation. A bunch of guys sitting around being honest about themselves? Not going to happen. Guys are never going to reveal their own flaws, fears or insecurities. And if they mention something that’s happened in their life, they’re sure to embellish it. [That’s a nice way of saying they’d lie through their teeth.]

    When I first started reading your blog I was afraid that by the third or fourth line you’d be revealing what you did with your roomie’s body. A roomie can steal your boyfriend, wear your clothes and even scribble suggestive things about you on the walls in the restroom⎯all with complete immunity⎯but when a roomie touches your laptop, blood will be spilled (especially if it’s a Mac). Glad to hear it was a false alarm.

    Something that surprises me, Irene, is that for someone who’s as passionate as you are about some issues, you’re still a mild mannered and quiet speaker.

    Usually, the more you speak in public the more you become comfortable speaking before friends and strangers alike. I don’t know why people have such fears but it’s the most prevalent fear that people have.

    I always helps to believe in what you’re saying but there are plenty of people (bankers, Wall Street types, televangelists and politicians) who can speak well without actually believing in what they’re saying.

    One of the reasons we asked our ILC members to speak before the School Board, before the alums and before their City Councils was to help build that confidence and make them feel more at ease with public speaking.

    Before many of the ILC interviews we sent out tips to our applicants about how to comport themselves to maximize their impact with the panelists. Some even read the suggestions and applied them to their interviews.

  2. I'm really not afraid of public speaking, but it's not my best skill. I always need to practice, and now that I know exactly what to improve, I'm going to work at it.

    Yes, specific tips help a lot. I've heard over and over that I need to speak louder. But when I ask people if they can hear me and if I'm projecting enough, they usually say think for a bit and say yes. That always confused me. Now I know that a deeper problem is my lack of verbal emphasis, so I'll work on both.

    I would hope that there are at least some guys who would be honest in a group activity like that.

    I was very, very relieved that nothing happened to my laptop! She kept on saying sorry. I was just glad that the screen wasn't cracked or anything. All is forgiven.