Only one student stepped up to the challenge in the Media Literacy class I taught during the just-finished winter term.
It was an extra-credit assignment: Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece and show proof of publication.
Sofia Velasquez, a soft-spoken junior who sat in the back row, wrote a short piece that she submitted to The Vanguard, Portland State’s student-run newspaper.
It appeared in print last month under the headline “I am Muslim.”
During the term, we talked about “vulnerable audiences” such as children and “vulnerable subjects” of news coverage such as the mentally ill, the frail elderly and undocumented immigrants. Individuals belonging to certain racial and religious minority groups (such as Muslims) also can be vulnerable because of overly simply, often negative characterizations that fail to take into account individual differences.
As Sofia wrote:
“In the U.S., I represent perhaps what many people don’t want to admit. I represent the new America: an America that is composed of multiple identities, languages and cultures. I have come to discover the most harmful and most dehumanizing thing to do within our society is to make generalizations. The harm that comes from putting people into certain boxes and labeling them is far more complex than we often realize.”
Take one minute (really, that’s all it takes) and read her piece: “I am Muslim.”
Then imagine you are me, standing at the front of the class and looking out at Sofi, chatting with her study partner, Phuong, an international student from Vietnam. Of course she is. A Spanish-speaking Muslim woman befriending someone who’s also perceived as an outsider in mainstream America.
Sofi is majoring in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Communications. She’s barely 5 feet tall, give or take an inch, but she stands tall in my eyes.
Such a fine piece of writing, with a simple lesson: Get to know people beyond the stereotypes.
Photograph: Saloni Health & Beauty Supply