I took a lot of different courses in college. I am an English major with an emphasis in creative writing, and I ended up adding a psychology major to my plan as well. I have always been really interested in story telling and people, and I thought marrying the two subjects would make for a really good novel someday.
Each major had its own requirements to fulfill to earn the degree, and some were significantly more exciting than others. One I remember signing up for and not being excited about – really at all – was an English theories course. It was the last one of its kind that I needed, and the only available option for that particular quarter was English 307: Culture. “Culture” is so nebulous. To me reading it a year ago, “culture” meant the little projects you did in high school French class, or the presentation you did on your family heritage in middle school, or food, dancing, the like – all of which is by no means uninteresting.
But the class was at 4:30 pm… and it was four hours long.
Luckily, it was only once a week, but as a sleep deprived college student, I was certain as I added it to my registered courses that I would reliably fall asleep in every class session. I planned to sit on the back end of the middle desk cluster and keep myself occupied with other homework so that I could at least try to stay awake. I just needed to pass the class to get the credit and then I could move on.
Little did I know that this class would have me on the edge of my seat through the entirety of every session.
There were only about 20 students including myself in the class, and the professor, a small Indian woman with long gray hair and a voice that held so much power in such a calm and confident tone, began to explain what we were really going to learn about.
Rather than “Cultural Studies,” she called her class “Margins and Centers.” This course is by far the most valuable of all of the courses I took at the University of Washington. Our first lesson on the first day covered the basics of how we would have discussions and what we would look for in each piece we examined over the quarter.
Growing up, I tried to be as neutral as possible. I always sat in the middle of the classroom, I never wanted to be first, I didn’t want to argue or disagree with anyone because I didn’t want to stir up trouble or hurt peoples’ feelings. I didn’t like being uncomfortable, and if I ever did anything that I thought made someone else uncomfortable, I would get horrible anxiety. I believed that the best way to please everyone was to be quiet and supportive, but never to speak out or disagree.
This belief was completely shattered in English 307.
Dr. Anu Taranath, our incredible professor, began to explain how that kind of belief was just as hurtful as being abrasive and argumentative. Some topics make us uncomfortable, and often times people will either walk on eggshells around the heart of the topic in order to preserve feelings, or they jump at the opportunity to argue their side of things and still missing the heart of it.
So how do we have real, genuine, productive conversations, especially on difficult topics like racism, like white privilege, like sexuality, gender, religion?
We have to find the Brave Space. Believe it or not, there is a place in the middle of “walking on eggshells” and “argumentative.” I think I always knew it was there, but as we discussed what this “Brave Space” meant, I really began to understand it.
If we don’t take the steps, if we don’t have the conversations that make us uncomfortable, if we turn a blind eye and pretend that everything is just fine, how are we supposed to expect progress and change? The truth is in the Brave Space. I was terrified as I looked at the little line graph in my notes. The Brave Space was entirely new territory, and I worried whether what I had to say had any real value to the conversations my classmates were having. But if I had to choose one thing to have learned throughout my entire college experience, it would have to be that my voice is worth being heard. Finding the Brave Space in English 307 led me to find my voice, and I learned as I discussed real world issues with my classmates, suddenly unafraid to open up a dialogue with friends and family.
It was so freeing.
By no means was it easy to plunge into the Brave Space and out of my comfort zone, but the value of taking the leap was unparalleled. My opinions changed, my questions changed, my writing, my life changed when I started living in the Brave Space, and now, looking back, I can’t believe I stayed quiet for so long or through so much.
Being brave is not easy, but if it was, then everyone would do it.
It’s time to take the leap. It’s time to be Brave.