5 Pieces of Advice I Wish I Would’ve Heard As A Freshman in College

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[Ed. Note: This is a guest post from Amanda Newman. Amanda  is a senior in the University of Utah Department of Modern Dance. She’ll graduate in May with a diploma she hopes will say “Bachelor of Fine Arts in Modern Dance Grounded in Social Justice With a Generous Helping of Public Health and Community Engagement.]

I recently had the opportunity to attend the University of Utah’s Women’s Leadership Summit during Women’s Week. A gathering of intergenerational women and their allies who can think and act for themselves and want to talk about it? Yes, please. I’m in.

The Summit was encouraging. It was supportive. It was altogether…nice. But, in the words of a fellow participant, “Where are the complex conversations happening?”

Don’t get me wrong—I am grateful there’s a community of women supporting each other at the University of Utah, but does supporting female leaders have to look like smiling and nodding with buttoned lips so we can all tie a bow around the experience and go home? What if supporting women leaders looked a little more like challenging each other to honor the complexity in our identities and in our intersections? What if it looked like striving with each other to learn, lead, and live authentically from that place of complexity?

To that end, here’s what I wish was said to all the bright-eyed, future leaders at the Women’s Leadership Summit. Here’s what I wish a strong female leader had said to me when I was a freshman.

  1. You have a voice. It is powerful. Use it. But learn also when your voice is too powerful and learn when not to use it. If you’re the only one talking, figure out why. Learn that part of having a voice is learning to listen, to witness, to make space.
  2. Relearn the definition of privilege. It’s so much more than your parent reminding you at sixteen that, “Driving is a privilege, not a right.” Really look at your identity, your history, your surroundings, and own up to the ways in which you are privileged. Also recognize  the ways in which you are not. Unpack all of your knapsacks. Realize that no two stories of privilege or the lack thereof are the same.  Identify those who will help you learn and relearn and keep learning how to push against systems of privilege and oppression.
  3. Learning should be a little bit scary. To clarify, you should never feel unsafe, but if you’re feeling a bit challenged, confused, shaken, or uncomfortable, you’re probably doing it right. Resist the urge to brush all of that under the rug. Name your discomfort. Check your fight or flight response. Stay in it.
  4. Make a habit of taking stock of who’s in the room with you. This is especially important for those of you who will go on to run for student government, to lead student groups, or to plan campus events. Ask yourself, “Who’s not in the room? Whose experiences/opinions/ideas haven’t we heard?” Then invite those people to the table—not as spokespeople for their group but as individuals who view the world through eyes different than your own.
  5. You. Are. Worthy. Learn to discern those who disagree with your perspective from those who disagree with your worth. There’s a big difference—you’ll feel it. Don’t allow any professor, advisor, classmate, friend, lover, family member, or stranger on the street make you question the simple fact that you. are. worthy.

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  1. Well done Amanda! Looks like I owe you some fro-yo!

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