DO YOU COPY?: We need more classes that explore empathy

Daniel Brount is a senior creative writing major and writes "Do You Copy?" for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Daniel at djbrount@bsu.edu.

My four years of classes at Ball State have taught me plenty about my major and helped prep me for my future career, but it wasn’t until this semester that I took a class that taught me to be a better person.

Residence hall directors Danielle Badgett and Michael King are teaching an honors colloquium this semester: “The Right to Exist: Social Justice Journeys 2001 to Today.” Our class topics have ranged from being Muslim in the U.S. to the female voice in leadership to transgender representation to slacktivism.

Daniel Brount

Learning about these histories, movements and modern-day activism has been important. But what is most important in this class is the strive for empathy.

In college, we take all sorts of classes related to our majors and all sorts of gen eds. Any honest student will say a lot of those lessons abandon their memory once the course ends. But there are some things that stick with us, some things we need to learn and never forget.

Empathy is one of those things.

Growing up gay in an unusually diverse high school, I have always considered myself extremely empathetic. But gay or not, I am still much more privileged than most. And just because I went through a personal struggle in discovering my sexual orientation, it doesn’t mean I understand the pain everyone else feels.

Our society acts as if each privilege a person has is a piece of armor that prevents the tarnishing of their character just a little bit more. Besides my sexual orientation, I am privileged in almost every other way. I have so much armor that I have grown almost oblivious to the pain those less privileged than me feel. That suit of armor includes a helmet, and looking through the eyes of that helmet has left me with tunnel vision.

Looking back, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mistaken giving sympathy for sharing empathy. I would feel sorry for others’ struggles, rather than trying to feel with them. Acting like I understand everyone else’s feelings all the time would be minimizing the profoundness of their emotion. But trying — using my experiences to bring myself closer to their emotions — is worth so much more than feeling bad for a person.

I value having a course that has increased my awareness and education about several social justice movements, but I value it so much more for teaching me to try to understand both sides of these issues.

Over the past year, Ball State has faced its own issues of diversity and tolerance. And like many universities, we have taken some steps forward and some steps back. Having courses that examine empathy, understanding, and allyship is important not only to better students as they move into the world, but also to foster a more accepting and safe community.

If college is about preparing ourselves for the future, it shouldn’t only be about preparing for a career. It should be about teaching ourselves to be better people. I’m graduating Ball State as a better, more empathetic person thanks to this course and it’s one class I’ll never forget.

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