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Submission: UCLA must listen to, have compassion for black students’ experiences

(Daniel Alcazar/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Daily Bruin Staff

Oct. 14, 2015 7:40 a.m.

Dear UCLA,

We need to learn to listen.

There was one thing that I couldn’t get out of my head after reading freshman Caterina Kachadoorian’s thoughts about the response to the “Kanye Western” party last week: We need to learn as a campus how to listen to and learn from fellow Bruins who are hurting.

We need to learn how to have compassion. When black students share their hurt and disappointment with something like the “Kanye Western” party, too often we respond with the way we see things, and it’s usually accompanied with criticism about how incorrect we think the black point of view is. But there’s an issue with this because we are implicitly saying that we understand the black point of view, when in reality, many of us don’t.

Our responses are shaped by our experiences, which are shaped by our identities and privileges – or lack thereof – in our society. Those of us in the majority who have certain identities have a hard time imagining what life is like without these identities – and privileges – because we don’t know anything else. In my case, I’m a Chinese American, heterosexual, male, Christian, resident assistant, sociology major, fourth-year undergraduate at UCLA, and every part of my identity has shaped my experiences up to this point, so it’s a challenge for me to understand what life is like for someone who does not share the same identity as me. Put this way, it’s obvious that this is a huge challenge for all of us, especially on a campus that’s as diverse as UCLA is. But in reality, we are far from acknowledging the extent to which this challenge affects our everyday interactions with people who are different from us.

Let me illustrate this with the example of mental health. On our campus, we are getting better at recognizing the pain in things that maybe 10 or 20 years ago, people wouldn’t have taken as seriously, such as depression. If people tell us that they are depressed, most of us wouldn’t respond with “What do you mean you feel depressed? You have so much to be happy about. You’re at UCLA, you have your whole life ahead of you. Get happy.” We are starting to understand that depression isn’t something that you can just snap yourself out of or think happy thoughts and have it all go away. We understand that those of us who have had the privilege of never having to fight significant depression will never fully understand the experience of our fellow Bruins who are deeply depressed.

This is an awesome area of advancement for our campus in regards to mental health – though there is surely still more to grow in this area – but this level of compassion and understanding goes out the window with matters of oppression and race. When minority students tell the rest of campus about the ways that they have felt emotionally and physically hurt, our first response is to get defensive and tell them why we think they’re wrong. Isn’t there something wrong with that? We’re implicitly saying that their pain isn’t real, that what they feel is invalid because we can’t see the campus or the world the way they see it. We don’t treat these situations with even remotely the same degree of compassion as we treat other issues like mental health. We don’t have that same posture of acknowledging that we lack understanding of where people are coming from or what they’re experiencing.

Instead of invalidating their pain, why can’t our response be to listen and learn about it? Why can’t the first things we say be: “I am so sorry that you feel so hurt by what has happened. I care about you and your well-being, but I have no idea what any of this feels like or what it means to be a black Bruin. Can you help me understand where you’re coming from? Could you show me what it’s like to be a black student at UCLA, in Los Angeles, in America?”

I think this is something that we all need to learn, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with whatever hurt people are experiencing. We need to grow in listening and understanding issues before we use our voices to share our thoughts about them.

And if after fully learning about and engaging with the plight of black people in the United States, from slavery and Jim Crow all the way to the current age of the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration, we still think that black people shouldn’t be upset or hurt, then that’s our prerogative. But I’m willing to bet big money on the fact that if we were to all fully learn about the strife of black Bruins, there would be no denying the reality of racism on this campus and in our country.

Tang is a fourth-year sociology student.

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