Editorial: Peer education and activism

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Last week, The Herald’s editorial board urged our peers to “be generous” in speaking with other students who may not have as elaborate an understanding of issues of power and identity as their own. This week, we aim to expand on that notion, explaining why it is necessary and how it will prove crucial to advancing inclusivity on campus. In particular, we want to argue on behalf of educating each other, even if doing so is burdensome.

Educating others on issues of power and identity does not come without a price. Carrying out that process of education can be exhausting, and some argue that it is not their job to educate the public about what it means to be marginalized. Aspiring allies — students who are not marginalized in a certain regard but want to help peers confront that marginalization — may hear the mantra, “educate yourself.” Others are afraid to ask at all, concerned that a poorly worded question could offend or spark rebuke.

Without a doubt, explaining marginalization — especially in the context of lived experiences that may include trauma — is exhausting. It requires empathy, generosity and energy. Simply identifying with a historically marginalized group does not require that one educate others about marginalization. But those who proclaim a desire to change the world must put forth the effort to change it, and educating others is an essential part of that effort.

In considering why we must educate each other on cultural issues and how to go about it, we must recognize that students seeking to learn about these issues may not have been able to do so prior to their time at Brown. The same way students step onto campus with different levels of understanding of math or writing, so too do students come to Brown with different knowledge of inequality and oppression. For some students, power and privilege may be wholly new subjects because, while some topics are taught in schools and otherwise treated as indispensable, others — such as the understanding of marginalized identities — are widely treated as fields of study not central to education. This is a shame, but it is part of our reality.

What’s more, the extent to which people are educated about issues that do not pertain to their identities may correlate with privilege. For example, as the New York Times reported last year, certain elite New York high schools, armed with financial resources and Ivy-educated teachers, offer extensive programming about “identity, privilege and power.” Programming of this kind is much harder to come by in public school districts, where funding is less plentiful and teachers with top educations more scarce. When we do talk to people whose backgrounds differ from ours, we should remember this difference and approach disagreements with generosity. Open conversations can only take place on a foundation of goodwill. 

We live in a historic time. We are on the precipice of real change — inside and outside the walls of this campus. As students with the privilege of studying at an institution as elite as Brown, we have a duty to enact change in this world. But in the face of this change, our student body is divided, and it is divided by fear — fear that if you ask a question in not exactly the right way, you’ll be told to “educate yourself.” This is a university. We are all here to educate ourselves. Part of that is learning from each other.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial board: Emma Jerzyk ’17, Joseph Zappa ’17, Andrew Flax ’17 and Caroline Kelly ’17. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.