Learning to Listen, and Listening to Learn

By: Maria-Evengelica Telfort, Suffolk University

The first week of The Washington Center’s Inauguration ‘17 seminar has been one of the most influential, productive and captivating weeks of my life. I know there is more to come next week, but I can’t help but reflect on how this week has changed me and some of my views on the 2016 election.

I’m probably your typical 22-year-old: outspoken and passionate when discussing the well-being of my family, friends and me. As a result, it can be hard to shake off pre-conceived beliefs about President-elect Donald Trump and America’s future over the next four years.

I gained insight into how to bring the conversation about politics to the dinner table on the first day of the program. Before we watched “Bring It to the Table”, I had my mind made up about the conservative side of politics, and I thought there was no way a short film would change that. Now at the end of this week, I’ve become more understanding, and my willingness to learn from the point of view of a conservative is extraordinary.

I’ve met conservative students who have demolished my idea of what a conservative is; and because I allowed myself to be more open, I’ve been more tolerant of their views.

I still have a lot of fears of what the Trump presidency will provide especially in terms of health care for women; education; and potential discrimination toward Muslim, Black and Latino citizens. The rhetoric of the campaign was disgusting and shameful; and it is very hard for me as a Black woman, an older sister and a daughter of a strong Haitian-Cuban woman to tolerate such hateful words.

How Trump decides to proceed in bringing Americans together will be a sight to see especially as he accuses the media of reporting “fake news.” In addition, the expected confirmations of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and Jeff Sessions, who has a record of racist views, as Attorney General, will set a tone for his presidency.

The role of the media, Congress and NGO’s will be very important for the next four years; we must wait and hope for the best at this point. I hate not having a clear idea as to where America is heading, but I hope that my generation will mobilize to start having more conversations with each other, both liberal and conservative, to make the changes that matter.

I surprised myself so much this week. I always had a hard time articulating my words especially when there was clear emotion behind them. For example, Prof. Michael Eric Dyson and Prof. Greg Carr criticized how little they thought President Obama did for blacks and minorities during his eight years in the White House. I immediately became defensive and completely ruled out anything they had said about him because of what President Obama means to me. Fast forwarding to the end of this week, I’ve learned to be a better and more understanding listener. I know this skill will help so much at home and within the classroom with students who do not believe in the same things.

That skill also will be beneficial in the professional world, where I will encounter individuals who I won’t understand or agree with; but just because we might have different views doesn’t mean I can’t learn from them. That is the beauty of being a better person: we are always learning.

During this seminar, I believe my greatest academic opportunity would have to be access to great speakers from different points of views. I’ve had the pleasure this week to encounter Lawrence Korb, Barbara Slavin, Dyson, Carr and many others. The amount of knowledge I encounter every day is overwhelming and exciting, and I am completely blessed and grateful for the opportunity to challenge myself and my beliefs.

The purpose in becoming a great human being requires the courage to want to know more, even when that means questioning your own attitudes and beliefs. Being in a new environment and the history that I’ll experience in the nation’s capital will be so valuable to me everywhere I go. To say I was in Washington D.C. during this shift in power and at this moment in history will be forever engrained in my mind.

Once I get back to Suffolk University, where I am pursuing a Master’s in International Relations, I feel very confident as to how I will bring the idea of civil discourse to the classroom. For one, I know that I am a little more open-minded about listening to conservatives. I will be more willing to ask questions and to better understand their experiences; I hope they will do the same for me.

I think it would be a great idea to also bring a panel of representatives from the campus community to speak to the students about coming together as one so that all voices will be heard. The goal would be to show everyone that they should not be scared or hesitant when speaking out about something that matters to them. In terms of the next four years, the goal ought to be big: to make sure that we all strive for the best because we deserve the best.

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