Speaking-up is Scary but Necessary
By Ainaa Amirah
Speaking up for myself
My mom’s eyes were in utter horror as I jumped out of my seat, pointed at my homeroom teacher, and corrected what he said about me. After that meeting, my mom scolded me for being rude. As an 11-year-old girl, l was confused and saw nothing wrong with what I said or did. I wasn’t trying to be offensive; I was just telling the truth. That was how I was in class, and in fact, he was my favourite teacher, the one I was closest to.
Maybe it’s because I have a strong sense of justice, and that has driven me to speak up when I know something isn’t right. Since young, I had called out bullies and teachers on several occasions. There was one teacher who I knew had been marking my work unfairly. She was highly critical of my work but did not apply that same standard with a student she favoured – the bias was obvious, and I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. When I finally had enough proof that favouritism was at play, I threatened the teacher to either mark my assignment properly or deduct marks (which she was supposed to) from her favourite student. Unable to deny it, she gave me a higher score the next day.
Speaking up for others
Despite my stubborn demeanor, I could stand up to this teacher when I was alone with her, but it was different during another encounter I had with her. That day haunted me for a long time. I remember feeling helpless and speechless when that teacher ganged up with the boys in my class and mocked my best friend in front of everyone. I was disgusted with the teacher as this wasn’t the first time she singled out my friend. It was so heartbreaking for me because my friend is such a sweet and kind person. She didn’t deserve to be continuously treated like that for no reason. She always volunteered to help whenever the teacher requested and even gifted that teacher a Chanel perfume hoping that her goodness will change the teacher’s heart about her.
I remembered the regret I felt for not speaking up that day as I hugged my friend to comfort her tears. Now that I look back, I don’t blame myself anymore because I was young and scared. It wasn’t just the case of me standing up to a person. It was me against my homeroom teacher and half the class. Being ostracized is terrifying for a junior in high school.
But after that, I was not going to let that happen again. When another friend was bullied in class in front of me, I snapped. I wasn’t afraid even though I was just one girl against all the boys in my class. I told them off, and they never bullied my friend in front of me again.
It is scary to speak up and I realized that there are times to speak up and there are times we shouldn’t. It also gets scarier to speak up when you get older in life because things get more complicated.
Speaking up despite the futility
I realized this when I was in university. There was clear favouritism by a lecturer and most students in my class acknowledged it. When I asked the students to speak up about it, all of them would ask me what’s the point? They said, “Ainaa, this is our last year. Whatever outcome that comes up from this won’t affect us in the future.” I knew they were hurt, but they felt like it was pointless. They would rather just live with what has happened than to go through the hassle of making a change. Especially since such a hassle won’t change the grades they had already received. I didn’t blame them because I understood where they were coming from. Would the department even take us seriously?
I almost gave up after my dad forbade me to do so. He said that what has happened has already happened and me bringing it up might affect someone’s source of income. It was only my good friend who stood her ground. She said, “Ainaa, my family and I are going to see the head of the department. Won’t you join me? I really need you for this.” That was just the push that I needed. In my heart, what that lecturer did was not right and I didn’t want any other student to go through what we went through.
I still remember the head of our department shaking his head, trying to brush it off like it was nothing to be worried about. I disagreed with him and was determined to stand my ground. I told him that I’m going to graduate soon so what would I gain from this? He knows that I am one of the top-scoring students in class and was the president of the department’s student council. I was also on good terms with all of the other lecturers, the admin staff, and most of my peers in the department. I was basically a goody-two-shoes.
I said to him, “You know how I am. Why is it that I only find an issue with this lecturer and no one else? Unless there is a serious underlying problem!” His eyes changed when he saw me in tears and choking on my words. He was surprised to see the state I was in and how this has affected me. I could tell that he was now giving more thought about it. This wasn’t just a student whining about a teacher but a systemic problem faced by many students due to the teacher’s irresponsible behaviour.
He asked me frankly that since this has happened, what did I expect from him? I’m not out for revenge so I said to him that I don’t expect him to fire the lecturer, but I hope he would take action and have a discussion with the lecturer. I wanted him to take note of this and help the lecturer improve. He told me he could do that. I wasn’t sure what he did after but I felt better about doing what’s right, even if it means my friends and I didn’t reap the benefits. We did what we could.
Speaking up – The Journey
After that, I graduated and didn’t bother about the outcome. Later, I found out that my juniors also had problems with that lecturer and that the lecturer had left the university after a year. I’m not sure whether my friend and I speaking up had affected the lecturer leaving, although I had no regrets doing what I did. What mattered to me the most was that I did speak up on what I believe was right and when it mattered the most despite how pointless it was and all the discouragement I had received.
Now, when I doubt myself on whether I should speak up, I remind myself of why I shouldn’t stay silent and the time when I had spoken up for myself.
Speaking up is still terrifying for me and is something that I still struggle with, especially now that I’m in the working world. This habit develops through time and constant effort. It can be as simple as voicing out when people cut in front of your line. Don’t be rude or look for a fight. Just let it be known that what they’re doing isn’t right and that you’re not okay with their actions. Small moments like this can not only show the people around you that you’re not someone to be taken lightly but also a practice to build your courage.
If you let silence be your default mode, it will get easier to be silent every time you’re faced with injustice. Speaking up will always be a scary decision, but don’t let that be the reason to stop you.
Ainaa is an artist, writer and storyteller. She’s a part time daydreamer and full time comic reader. She enjoys writing when she feels inspired and delving herself in the world of art.