Acknowledging The Experiences Of Others

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By Nathan Volke
Councilman, District 3

In my short time in office, the unwelcome and persistent issues of bullying and racially motivated incidents in our schools keep coming up in the news and our local discussions. These incidents are not limited to a single geographic area or feeder system. This is not a Chesapeake or Arundel or Severna Park or Southern problem. The problems are county-wide and, frankly, country-wide. And the issues are bigger than what is happening in the schools. Dr. George Arlotto, the superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, pointed out in a column last November that students are only inside school facilities for 19 percent of the week. The other 81 percent of the time, they are in our community. While schools may be part of the equation, the biggest factor is us.

Some people have suggested we need legislation or new public policies to address these issues. To some degree, they may be right. Policies and laws can address parts of these problems. But, similar to realizing that we cannot just expect our schools to fix the problems, another solution is to look at ourselves and our community.

Throughout my life in this community, I have gotten to know thousands of people in Pasadena and Anne Arundel County. The overwhelming majority of those people are hardworking, generous, kind-hearted people. There are certainly some who are bullies, racists and bigots, but they are the exception, not the rule.

This could be the point where you think, “You’re right, I am not a bully, racist or bigot, so there is nothing more for me to do.” But just as important as ensuring that each of us lives by the golden rule in our own lives is acknowledging that there are people in our community who have been affected by experiences of bullying, racism and bigotry, and that it is a very real problem. And if it is a problem for even a single person in our community, then it is a problem that our entire community should be concerned about solving.

That brings me to my own experience over the last few months. In that time, I have had a chance to hear from people who have been bullied, harassed and targeted by racist acts in our community. It has opened my eyes in new ways to these problems. For me, it has been especially impactful to hear from people who attended Chesapeake High School, where I went to school, like many of you and many of the people coming forward and bravely sharing their experiences. Those experiences — mine and theirs — were very different, but they are equally valid.

After hearing from those who have been bullied, assaulted, and made to feel less than others — directly from their perspective — it is impossible not to acknowledge the very real problem they have experienced. That acknowledgement can lead to validating and empathizing with those experiences. That validation and empathy can open up new avenues that lead to understanding. And that understanding can lead to change.

Many of the presenters at the acceptance and inclusion meeting conducted by the Anne Arundel County Public Schools last month at Chesapeake Middle School discussed these exact themes. The first step is a willingness to listen to and acknowledge the experiences and perspectives of others that are different from our own. For yourself and our community, I hope you will take that step, too.

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