On Fighting Complacency

By: Shreya Sunderram 

Rhetorical Choices is a course that all speaking fellows have to take, to develop their theoretical understanding of the concepts we discuss. But more than that, its a place of like minded students, as enthused as you to study and take on challenges. However, its pretty fair to say that the week of the election was the first time I came to class and felt a sense of universal hopelessness. I wrote this piece shortly after in hopes of reminding myself and others the importance of our voices and how hope is most necessary in the darkest of times. A few months post election, I resurface this, with the hope that it resurfaces the unpleasant emotions of that week. It is easy to grow complacent and forget the dangers that we function under, especially when we grow used it. I hope reading this piece will break us out of comfort, and remind us of our role as Barnard students as vigilant fighters for those who cannot fight.

Reflection on the Election, and how the Speaking Program should address it.

This week has been one of the worst in my entire life, and I am infinitely grateful for the support and love of the speaking program. Just as the Pantsuit Nation facebook group has continued to give me hope and is like an online haven for me, the green couches of the 2nd floor have become a pseudo-sanctuary, where I am constantly reminded that I am valued, loved, and heard. What this election has taught me, is that, yes there is a lot of hatred and anger in this country, but there remains a lot of love and unification. In the reflection wall in the Speaking Center, all the words are of love and support, and action. There is a desperate desire to act. This week I applied to 10 internships solely on the basis that they had something to do with supporting minority groups. This week I wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton and sent it from the speaking Center, thanking her for her service and apologizing for the patriarchal forces that worked against her. I promised her that I would run for office one day, and I don’t know if that was a false promise or not but now Id feel pretty bad if I were to break it so we’ll see where that goes. Ultimately I think this rambling is leading to a thank you. A thank you to the speaking fellows program for giving me the support I need right now, for supporting me with strong women, and women with voices who are going to change the world in some way without a doubt. And I’d like to thank the speaking fellow for giving me the space to listen, for teaching and how to listen and for encouraging the listening process, and for recognizing that the only way we can undo this hatred is through listening. In teaching speaking, we teach the value of every voice—even those we disagree with. I will spend this year and the rest of my life learning how to deal with voices of dissent, and how to acknowledge the humanity in all of us. I still have faith in the world, I still have faith in the United States, and I have faith that if there is a fight for change, Barnard students will be at the forefront. I hope that we can make this right two years from now, and I vow to start working right now.


Lesson Learned

Leora Balinsky, Speaking Fellow


This past summer, I had a scarring speaking experience.

I was spent the summer participating in a fellowship that involved rigorous Jewish textual study and analysis as well as working with the Jewish community of Sharon, Massachusetts. One element of the leadership training of the fellowship was giving the weekly 10-15 minute sermon during Shabbat prayers on Saturdays. I was tasked with speaking in front of over 300 people, sharing my thoughts and extrapolations of the Torah portion of the week.


I did not spend enough time preparing beforehand, and was not exactly sure of what I was saying until the morning of. Once it was time for me to speak, I arrived at the podium at the edge of the women’s section of the sanctuary, facing a large crowd of people about to listen to me. I started speaking, and someone from the back yelled “LOUDER!!” I heeded his command, and raised my volume. Someone else yelled “NOT THAT LOUD!!” and some people laughed. I nervously continued, shaken by both interruptions. I began speaking faster and faster, feeling at every moment that all I wanted was to be away from the podium, standing in the back of my room, uttering the holy words of the apex of the Jewish prayer service in near-silent supplication, mouthing them loudly enough only myself and God to hear, as is prescribed by Jewish law.

But alas, I was stuck at this podium, trying to convey a message that I had not worded carefully enough beforehand, stumbling over my words and not finding the right ones to make my point. Finally, it was over. I returned to my seat, shaking and disappointed in myself.


After the prayer service ended, as people were mingling in the social hall, many well-meaning adults came up to me and offered unsolicited advice. Multiple people told me I had to stop speaking so quickly. One strongly suggested that I take a public speaking course.


The experience was humiliating, but truly educational. I learned two main lessons about speaking:

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice. I was very tripped up because I was not yet sure of what I was saying, or how to say it.
  2. Do not be afraid to take up time and space. Part of the reason I rushed through my sermon was because I was unused to speaking for such a long period, unaccustomed to hearing my own voice uninterrupted for over ten minutes. This was precisely what was desired of me in my role, and even though I knew that on a cognitive level, I could not shake a sense of anxiety over taking up so much time, of forcing people to focus solely on me for so long.


Thankfully, as part of being a Speaking Fellow in Training, I did have to take a public speaking class in the form of the Rhetorical Choices course. I cannot help but imagine how the incident would have transpired had I had the tools that I have now from Speaking Fellows, and the encouragement to make my voice heard that the program provides.

If a story moves you, act on it

After Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Danger of a Single Story” came out in 2009, storytelling entered the mainstream – for good reason. It is a powerful tool that has inspired me and many others (including my fellow fellows). Certainly storytelling was not a novel idea in 2009, but its recent steady rise in popularity is something I’ve often reflected upon as a writer, organizer, and consumer of stories.

But is diverse storytelling the answer to injustice?

Sisonke Msimang, head of programs at the Centre for Stories, would answer no. In a recent talk, she uses her experiences as both writer and activist to remind us that stories, while extraordinarily valuable, actually don’t make the world a better place. They have to be supplemented with a host of other things: reliable media, factual analysis, skepticism, curiosity, and perhaps most importantly, action. This talk manages to simultaneously tell a story while warning against the dangers of storytelling, all without devaluing their importance. This is certainly a complicated task, and an incredibly relevant one in this complicated moment. She accomplishes it with resounding success. You can find her talk here – it is well worth a listen.


Empathy – fueling connection

“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”

Both inside and outside of the cube today, we need empathy. Empathy is the foundation for listening. Our community needs it now more than ever.

In “The Power of Empathy,” Dr Brené Brown explores the four key tenets of empathy. We often hope for empathy, but deliver sympathy.

  • Brown believes that empathy requires perspective-taking; in the cube, what the writer holds as their truth, is truth.
  • Staying away from judgment allows for empathy to listen instead of categorizing or assuming.
  • Empathy demands feeling with people: you have to remove the layer of “otherness” or “peer tutor.”
  • Finally, empathy means truly listening and communicating to people that they are not alone. Sit with people in the allegorical cave of “stuck, dark, and overwhelmed.”

If you have a spare two minutes, I can’t recommend enough watching this video; it has shaped my understanding of fellowing.

2017 feels vulnerable for so many. The next time you find yourself in a difficult conversation, you don’t need to know exactly what to say. Empathy is a choice. Rather than starting a response with “At least…” or “That sounds hard,” know that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m so glad you told me – you are not alone.” This is our work as Fellows.

Speak Up About Mental Health

As students with schedules filled to the brim, we often


at length about our commitments, responsibilities, deadlines, and plans.


We focus on what’s coming


next: where we’ll go, what we’ll do, how we’ll act.

I think we can do better than that.


We can talk less


what we are doing and more about how we are feeling and being.


We can be less judg-


of ourselves and others for not fixing, accomplishing, and delivering.


We can use our voices to facilitate and enhance

the emotional, psychological, and social


of our environment.


I challenge you – as I challenge myself – to start a conversation about mental health. Let’s learn more about the sources and treatments of mental illness, and support those around us who suffer from its various forms. By speaking about mental illness, we can begin to reduce the stigma and ease the burden. Prepare for the conversation by reading this article and watching this short clip.




The Danger of a Single Story

In recent weeks, the phrase above has been constantly flickering in my mind. It’s the title of one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talks, one that I always go back to and rewatch. In contrast to what’s been going on in this country in the last month, this talk reminds us that there are multiple perspectives and narratives within each individual and among people. As writers, speakers, and citizens with a voice, we all have a story to share.

Sharing Adichie’s powerful TED talk for inspiration: The Danger of a Single Story

On the New Resistance

by Eva Dunsky, Writing Fellow ’17

Today at the Athena Film Festival, a bunch of powerful woman sat together on stage as an all-female Acapella group performed the rallying cry that was sung earlier this month at women’s marches all over the world.  When the singing died down, these powerful woman clapped enthusiastically, adjusted their blouses, and proceeded to absolutely slay.  The audience sat enraptured, and left inspired.  In other words, a typical Athena panel.

But this Town Hall was somehow different from previous Athena Festival programing.  Instead of being solely an unabashed celebration of womanhood in its myriad forms, it was laden with references to #45, or Voldemort, or the despot in office.  His name was never spoken out loud, and yet his his presence was heavily felt.

Towards the end of the session, a Barnard student took the mic and stood to ask a question: something along the lines of “How do we organize? How do we sustain a resistance movement when we don’t have the economic means or even the time to be out protesting every day?  How can we be sure that the frenzy surrounding Voldemort’s first month in office doesn’t die down and leave a wake of world-weary young people in its path?”

Dolores Huerta (will link to her wikipedia page) was having none of this.  She scoffed a bit, covered it up as a cough, and posited the following question: “When do you think organizing will be easy? When you have a full time job? When you have children to care for?”

I thought about this all night.  Tacit in Huerta’s response is a question about priorities—what will we fight for?  And what will we give up?  I worry sometimes that as college students trying to fend for ourselves in a highly competitive and stringently focused environment, it is easy to lose track of our priorities.  How important is it to keep our nose in the books, versus put our bodies on the line?  How much will that ‘A’ in Social Psychology matter years down the line when our rights have been eroded away?

Gloria Steinem ended the event by explaining that “What should I do?” is a passive question—and now is no time for passivity.  Instead, we need to wake up each morning and decide that we will do everything in our power to fight alongside the resistance.  Each of us holds a unique compendium of knowledge, and each of us has a power to resist in ways that no one else can.  Every day, from here on out, it is up to us to stay vigilant, loud, and informed.

“This is just the beginning,” said Steinem knowingly.  “I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”