Attending the Imagining America National Conference was an excellent experience. Doing so allowed me to connect with like-minded individuals who came from a variety of backgrounds about social issues. Through my interactions with other conference attendees I was able to learn about others’ life experiences and tell them about my own. Ultimately, the common thread in all these conversations was empathy. Even though we couldn’t completely relate to every aspect of each other’s lives, we made efforts to truly understand each other.
Here at UMBC the pursuit of academic achievement often distracts members of our community from practicing empathy. This was especially clear to me in April and May when the civil unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray was happening in Baltimore. I witnessed numerous people make light of the situation or dismiss those involved as “thugs”. This was disappointing to me because as a resident of Baltimore City, I am aware of the underlying issues that led to this unrest. Because I have this personal experience, I knew the assumptions made by certain members of the community were completely false.
I also came to the conclusion that just as there were underlying causes for the unrest in Baltimore, there is a hidden cause for the lack of empathy present at UMBC. A lack of personal exposure to other cultures and backgrounds before attending UMBC creates an environment in which those groups are often looked at as the “other”. As a result, stereotypes dictate the ideas held about these underrepresented groups and they are often reduced to being seen as a set of characteristics rather than being seen as people.
I believe that as members of this institution, we all should realistically evaluate how stereotypes and biases shape how we treat others. After this self-reflection, we should take steps to change any negative behaviors that may result from our preconceived ideas. By doing this we can become more empathetic to those who aren’t like us and become better global citizens.
Contact the author, Jasir Qiydaar, at firstname.lastname@example.org.