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Memorial U. Professor's Letter to Students: "Your ideas are important to our society"
Memorial University professor Dr. Lisa-Jo K Van Den Scott has a ritual for each of her classes. In each semester, she reads out a letter to her students.
In the letter, Dr. van den Scott reminds her students that their "ideas are important to our society", and asks: "If you do not speak up, who will?".
She penned the letter because she was "upset with the neoliberal environment which puts so much pressure on our young people."
Said Dr. van den Scott: "It makes them feel like each time they are standing up, they are standing up alone and should be standing up alone – but that is not so."
Below is her letter in its entirety:
I want you to understand what we are doing here. You are not simply completing a course. You are never simply completing a course. You are becoming educated. This does not mean filling yourself with knowledge. This means learning how to view the world critically (not criticizing everything, but evaluating and judging things for yourself). You are being trained to see how small things connect to bigger things, how power and influence works, how hierarchies and boundaries work. In short, you are learning what’s going on.
You will no longer be easily swayed by fancy rhetoric. You will no longer encounter the world passively. You will think and understand and be an example for those around you. That is what it means to be educated.
But you are also being trained in various forms of capital. Your habitus is changing. You are no longer only products from whence you came - you are now educated beings. Soon you will have a university degree. Only 25.9% of adults in Canada have university degrees. You are learning how to embody your education. This does not mean learning to think more of yourself than others without the same education, for education and intelligence are not the same thing - but it does mean that you have a responsibility to all Canadians. To your families. To yourselves.
Part of being educated means having a voice. I am trying to help you find your voice as part of your training. Your ideas are important to our society. This is a small, relatively insignificant class presentation. This is a safe environment where your words will be met with compassion. We are all rooting for each other in this room, we are supports for each other.
You all know what courage is - that it is not facing things fearlessly, but rather doing things that make you afraid because you know that doing them is more important than your own feelings of fear or inadequacy. You having a voice is more important than your fear. If you do not speak up, who will? The conversations we have shape our society. What you have to say is part of that. If you allow yourself to be silenced by fear, it is a loss for all of us.
Now, it might feel like an overwhelming responsibility - but you are not alone in this. You have supports. You have social capital. I am always available to you for the rest of your lives (or mine, depending).
I encourage you now to take advantage of what this class is offering you. You do not have to become well-spoken, confident, educated people overnight. This is a process, a journey. This class is providing you the opportunity to practice your presentation of self, to practice speaking out as an informed and critical-thinking member of society. You have three minutes to practice having a voice. This is just a brief rehearsal. I am preparing you to have a voice in the world. I believe in your capacities and potential. This can be a painful process, but I have faith that you will find your voices and speak out in the world - particularly in these times when we need educated voices of reason so desperately. What you have to say is more important than you think. It is more important than your fear, more important than your grades. You are evolving right this very moment into educated citizens with a voice. Use your voices.
Dr. van den Scott
Dr. van den Scott is Assistant Professor in Northern Sociology in the Department of Sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
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