Several weeks ago, I attended a discussion about the issue of sexual violence on campus. About 20 students and administrators gathered to share their insights, concerns and suggestions on how we can better address this topic and begin to reshape our community into one where this is no longer a problem. Initially, I decided to attend the talk not because I was passionate about this issue, knew any victims of sexual violence, or even perceived this as a serious problem at CMC, but rather because I just didn’t know much about it at all. I’m not saying that I didn’t get what sexual violence was, simply that I didn’t understand how it affects our community, what people who had endured such an ordeal have to deal with, or what exactly we as a school were doing to combat this problem. In other words, I went to get information. It was this simple step of getting informed that transformed my perspective on sexual violence at CMC, and while still far from the most active person in speaking out against it, that discussion helped build an empathy that will influence how I approach this topic in the future.
I provided this anecdote as an illustration because it speaks to a significant (and current) concern in our community. I just as easily could have chosen one about the lack of diversity at CMC, gender-neutral housing, student acceptance of homosexuality, or any number of prominent social issues we are currently dealing with. The point I wanted to make with this is that as I learned more about sexual violence, I was able to better understand the problems around it, and this new awareness substantially raised my empathy for those who have encountered it, either directly or indirectly.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an intimate discussion group or Ath talk for every pressing social issue our campus faces. There is, however, an incredibly powerful means of communicating information about these topics: the news. Now, many CMCers (and 7C students in general) consume a healthy amount of news on a fairly consistent basis. Most however, vastly underestimate the effects that news has in their lives.
One basic yet illuminating definition of news is, “information not previously known to someone.” When I attended the sexual violence discussion, much of what I heard was news in this exact sense. I had been blind to many aspects of that issue simply because I was uninformed, and by virtue of this new information, I became more aware of and educated about the topic than I had been before. This new awareness instantly enabled me to become more attuned to its presence in our community, and sure enough, I started noticing it more. It wasn’t necessarily that more incidents and conversations about the issue began happening immediately after that talk, just that I was paying closer attention (this has been called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, for those who are curious). Naturally, as I came to see that this was indeed a real issue, my empathy for those affected by it grew immensely. That leaves one final step left in this process: taking action to solve the problem. For me, this step is far from having manifested itself to the fullest extent, but for many others, their actions are already in full swing.
This final part could not have been realized without the earlier steps. Had I not gone to that discussion, I would have remained far less empathetic; less empathetic because I didn’t understand the issue, and not understanding of the issue because I was uninformed. For meaningful change to occur, people must first get informed and educated about the issue. And the most universal institution by which to accomplish this task is news media.
Thus, for news publications and consumers alike, here lies both an unparalleled opportunity and a weighty, inescapable responsibility. The opportunity is that spreading this information has the ability to foster positive change across an entire community, or at the very least, skyrocket the level of empathy within it. On the other hand, if it misinforms its audience, it can also ultimately damage the community. To take a quote from Voltaire (or Uncle Ben for those Marvel fans out there), “with great power comes great responsibility.” For news organizations, this tension is between the power to inform people and the responsibility to inform them well. At the same time, we as members of the community share a similar contrast, between the power to change the status quo and the responsibility to do so well.
So, I challenge everyone out there who has ever cared passionately about an issue to take that mantra to heart. Whether we are the ones being informed or the ones informing, let’s embrace both the opportunity and responsibility that this unique situation affords us and help change our community for the best.