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The Power of Listening

By Tessa Seaney

Growing up, I was never truly aware of how lucky I was. I grew up in a small farming community where the faces looked like mine and everyone knew everyone. The community has grown over the last 22 years of my life, like most of those in Colorado, but the small-town feel is still there. It is important to note that I grew up in an upper middle-class community and never felt that I did not belong. This all changed in the fall of 2017, when I started classes at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Fort Lewis has a larger and more diverse student population than my hometown. This diversity brought with it conversations that made me uncomfortable about my privilege and pushed me to find my biases.

These conversations taught me that to highly engage and support communities I do not specifically belong to, I need to just listen. I need to leave my own personal assumptions and biases at the door and truly listen and learn another’s experience. In all my classes I learned to stop and check my own bias in conversations with my peers. I never truly understood how hard this new way of thinking could be until the summer of 2021 when I attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Durango, Colorado. This was not the first rally I had attended but that night in Buckley Park I will never forget. As the rally began and the speakers shared their stories, I remember feeling the heartache for these individuals as I did each time before. As the second speaker stood up to talk, I remember her saying “to our white allies here today we thank you for being here, but we need to tell you something.” She went on to share that some of the white individuals in the park had called the police to ask them to be present at the rallies. These individuals had asked the police to come so that they would feel safer at the rallies. The speaker then asked us to no longer ask the police to come to the rallies because to those speaking the police were not seen as protectors.

I still tear up thinking about that moment to this day. As a small-town white female, I was taught that the police were there to help and protect me. When an officer is nearby, I feel safe that if something were to happen, they would help me in times of need. This is my own bias and privilege. I learned in that moment that I had to set aside this belief to truly listen and understand what the Black community faces every day. I learned that even though having the police at the rally may make me feel safe, it would make those I am supporting feel unsafe. I was not at those rallies to feel safe. I was at those rallies to learn from those who have a different experience from my own. I was there to be pushed about my beliefs and I was there to listen. This came at the cost of feeling uncomfortable on a Friday night for two hours, but that is very little compared to how often the speakers at the rally felt uncomfortable in their daily lives. Since that night I have been even more aware of how important it is to set your own personal assumptions and biases aside, especially when it causes you to feel uncomfortable. It is in these moments that you give space for those around you to share the true experiences they have faced. It is in the uncomfortable space that you learn and grow.

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