“I know that change can only be made by speaking out…”

Let’s face it: people can be mean. In our online culture, bullying and name calling is rampant, and, naturally, that behavior seeps into our school environments. In response, some campaigns have been launched to spread awareness to end the use of harmful words. For example, the R-Word campaign aims “to spread the word to end the word” when it comes to using the term “retard”.

More recently, since the presidential election, bullying attitudes of some students were emboldened, taking of the form of hate speech and vandalism.

While on a day-to-day basis, other actions may not be as extreme as the bigotry of racist slurs and symbols that go viral on the news, students are still confronted with harmful messages.

So what happens if the moment doesn’t make headlines? Or what if someone–maybe even a friend–repeats a widely used phrase? How do we feel about speaking up then?

In this featured piece, freshman Anoushka Ambavanekar of Folsom, CA recalls a time when she chose to take a stand against a student who used the phrase, “that’s gay” to refer to something as “bad”.

“Taking a Stand” by Anoushka Ambavanekar

“Don’t be a bystander.” “Stand up for yourself and others.” “Make a change.” As students, we hear these things all the time, so often that they no longer have meaning. The words are drilled into us. We hear them and assure ourselves that we’re not bystanders, and that when it really comes to it, we are brave enough to make a change and advocate for what is right. But how many of us do stand up for what is right? And how many decide it’s a lost cause and take the easy route?

A recent event in one of my classes left me thinking about this. As a teacher assigned a piece of classwork, a classmate sitting next to me groaned and said, “This class is so gay.” “Did you have to use the word “gay” as an insult?”, I asked him disgustedly. He laughed and replied, “Yeah.” I attempted to explain that by calling a class gay when you mean to insult it implies that being gay is bad. He replied, “It is.” Some of our classmates around us began to defend him. I was confronted by a student who told me that it is “normal in society” to use ‘gay’ as an insult and that everyone does it. I fought, saying that just because it is normalized doesn’t mean it’s right. I replied saying, “Change is never made by accepting what society says is normal.” “Yeah, it is,” she told me. Seeing that I would not be able to convince her, I decided to not further an already lost battle. However, I knew that I did the right thing by at least trying.

I know that change can only be made by speaking out and by protesting. By allowing things to stay the way they are, society will never change for the better. A well-known and relevant example is that of Rosa Parks. The day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat was an important day in civil rights history. Simply by refusing to accept what was normal at the time–discrimination against people of color– Rosa Parks made a large impact in inspiring others to do the same until tangible changes like the Civil Rights Act were made.

I remember that day, as I tried to stand up for what I believed in, one of my friends looked at me and said, “Anoushka, stop.” Stop. Why would I stop? How could I just stop standing up for what I believed in, and for what was right? Of course, whenever you advocate for change, you are met with resistance and people telling you to just give up. And often times, this can come from even the people that you trusted most. However, in the words of author J. K. Rowling, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” And so, I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “No.” No, I will not stop. No, I will not back down. No, I will not give up in advocating for change. No, I will not stop standing up for what I know is right.

Though it may seem cliche, it’s true that even the smallest act of defiance against what is truly wrong can have the biggest effect. It takes courage to look someone in the eyes and say “No.”

Have you ever experienced a situation with classmates or friends where you wanted to speak about something you felt was wrong? How did you react?

Learn more…

AUDIO: Fighting Hate In Schools (NPR)

Hate crimes saw a spike after November’s election, and middle and high schools saw a high number of them. What’s happening and how are administrators responding?

WEBSITE: Drop The I-Word Campaign (Colorlines/Race Forward)
In this campaign launched in 2010, Race Forward seeks to eliminate the use of the word “illegal” from conversations about immigration.

GUIDE: Speak Up! Responding To Everyday Bigotry (Teaching Tolerance)


What Does It Look Like To Stand Up For What’s Right? 24 August,2017Chanelle Ignant

  • Carrie Requa

    There is no question that there is a ton of controversy surrounding diversity in hollywood. Although, I feel like it is now becoming less and less of an issue with changing times. Personally, I have noticed a lot more diversity in commercials, movies, tv shows etc. If we look at productions made in the early and late 90s theres no question that there is a lack of diversity simply based on the racial issues that were happening around these times. Obviously no one can truly know the process of picking actors unless you are he ones picking them, so honestly its on those who are choosing these roles. Personally, I feel like the issue is being addressed and things have gotten better but time will only tell http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/entertainment/forest-whitaker-hollywood-tapestry-is-becoming-more-diverse-772922.html #myCMSTArgs #DoNowHollywood

  • Brian Luong

    I can understand why it may be hard to speak up. Even if someone believes that what they are seeing is wrong, many factors could stop one from stepping in. One could be that they don’t want to be involved themselves. The decision of whether or not one is safe may run through one’s mind and can stop them from further action. Another reason may be that it’s hard to go against what is socially accepted. Many people use words that may not be politically correct in our everyday language like in the essay and to stand up against it may be a way to isolate yourself from the crowd. I think when standing up for what’s right, it’s best to do it with other people who agree with you. Many ideas and many great things have come through protests and having a collective voice which can bring about a massive change. #DoNowSpeakUp #MyCMSTArgs

    • Dollie Partida

      I agree with what you say except for the part where you think the best way to stand up against what’s right is to do it with other people. Yes i believe it can be beneficial and bring that power but there will be situations where you are going to be isolated and maybe no one else agrees with you. I think that as long as you believe its right and you feel strong about it then you can do it all on your own independently. Maybe that one individual person was able to speak up and grabbed other peoples attention and then created that massive change. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

    • Zoe Atava

      I agree that there are many factors to stopping people from speaking up and standing out. I believe that non verbal communication goes just as far. Disengaging from the conversation is a baby step to not being involved and taking a stance on what you believe in or do not believe in. As we grow older and eventually leave this college setting, it is imperative for us to use our voice and understand that we can make a difference in this world. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

  • Dollie Partida

    being comfortable about speaking out is different for every single person. Personally for me it is easy to speak out for myself, my friends or even strangers. Growing up I was bullied and I never use to speak out for myself. As I grew up I noticed how I was letting my self down by not using my voice. I’ve learned that communication is so so so important in the world. I will use one example where I spoke out. I was at a party once and I heard someone call his friend a fag**t. I spoke out and called him out on it. I asked him if he knew what faggot really meant. He said no. I explained to him why the f word is a word he should never say. I explained to him that faggot is a bundle of sticks or twigs bound together as fuel. He was confused. The history behind this word is painful, back in the days they would gather homosexual men and burn them alive with a bundle of sticks or twigs. Not a lot of people know the history behind words and I think the best way to stand up to something is educating them on why it’s wrong. The guy had a blank face and I was proud that I had stand up for something and called out a stranger. http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/10-common-sayings-with-historical-origins here is a website of some saying that also have it’s own history to it. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

    • Luke Williams

      I think it is great that you spoke up during that situation. This is something that happens everyday and people don’t do anything about it. If nobody said anything he would probably continue calling people discriminating names.
      #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

  • Hannah Fulks

    I believe that change will not be made unless we speak out about what is wrong, and discuss things that are going on. People who do not speak up for themselves must learn to do so, as nothing will change if one is silent. I feel comfortable talking to/against my fellow peers, but I do acknowledge that this is not an easy skill for everyone. Speaking up may be hard for many, but is worth it in the end. By dealing and working with conflict, you as a person are growing and becoming a stronger person in the process. https://www.inc.com/kevin-daum/5-reasons-you-should-speak-up-even-when-you-think-you-shouldnt.html
    “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” – MLKJR

    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

    • Ryan Sotelo

      I agree, you cannot make change unless you stand up for what is right. Wether it is comfortable or not people cannot afford to be silent and allow discriminatory actions to persist. #myCMSTArgs #DonowSpeakup

  • Luke Williams

    I personally do not have a problem speaking out in front of my friends or classmates. Speaking up is hard for some people but i guess its up to us who aren’t afraid of speaking up to get stuff done. People who cant speak up for themselves do have to learn eventually to do so. I used to never speak up for myself but then i eventually got tired of people walking all over me. Ive learned from it and now i am a better person because of it. People don’t like confrontation and i know it is hard to speak up but you’ll feel better after you do speak up.

    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

    • Morgan Reams

      I agree. For some people the fear of speaking up started very early and continues on throughout their lives. I’m glad your learned to speak up for yourself. My parents always told me if you don’t speak up for yourself then no one will and that stuck with me. Confrontation sucks but sometimes saying nothing at all can be worse. #MyCMSTARGS #DoNowSpeakUp

  • Summer Berglund

    I do worry about speaking my mind in front of friends and classmates. I can’t stand confrontation so I avoid it all by keeping my mouth shut. When I do speak my mind I’m so worried I’m going to offend someone that I word things very slowly and carefully. It’s important to me that everyone is heard for their opinions, but that they keep it justified and intelligent.

    • Braden D

      I agree, even if you come at someone with some facts they will still somehow get offended.

  • Zoe Atava

    Ourselves, our classmates and our friends aren’t perfect. Our society is not perfect and consequently, we say and do things that harm other people. Weather it was said on accident or on purpose, the feelings of other people are hurt as a result. I think its always important to speak up. However, it is valid if people do not want to seem annoying or shut down the conversation of a friend. That way, it is beneficial if a school setting taught people on what was acceptable or not to say. Or not even a school setting, it would be beneficial for teachers, parents, siblings, friends, and signs on the street to plant the seed in a persons mind to be aware of the words that come out of your mouth. If that seed is planted, it would be easier to notice and possibly monitor it after that. I believe that a person must know, eventually, if the words they use to speak and describe are hurting other people. It is slowly and surely becoming unacceptable. https://www.raceforward.org/practice/tools/drop-i-word-campaign This website is to an article about the adjective “illegal” to describe immigrants. There are many more. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

  • Braden D

    There are a lot of things right with this but also a number of issues I found while reading through this do now. To begin I totally believe that the only way to make a positive is to step up and take action. Just like Rosa Parks stood up for her self. Now however, everyone thinks they are the next Rosa Parks and will simply stand up for what they believe is right. There is no problem with that, but in todays society this has been taken a step further to where if you disagree with their opinion you are instantly shunned and belittled. I have seen this most often in the classroom especially after the presidential election. Being a conservative instantly classifies you as a racist who hates homeless people and supports the oh so innocent murdering of african americans by police officers. Teachers, classmates and even some of my closest friends have said it while I just sit quietly in the back of the room and cannot help but chuckle. In reality, standing up to these people is nearly impossible and to have a civil discussion about it is even more so. Most of the time I keep quiet because my opinion ultimately reflects my grade at a school like Chico. I have no problem standing up to these claims but in most classrooms, it will cost me a letter grade.

    Certain words may marginalize people I agree. People never choose to be retarded and I am glad to see that this word is slowly fading out of society. Dropping the word illegal, from illegal immigration however is absolutely malarkey. Desensitizing a crime in that way is a step in the wrong direction for society. What crime will be next for people to just decide oh I do not agree with it so it is ok to do?

    • eric m

      Couldn’t agree with you anymore in order to be heard you need to say something and stand up for yourself.

  • Morgan Reams

    I have no problem with standing up for what’s right, even when it’s the unpopular opinion. Though we might not agree with some people and their opinions they are just that… opinions, which means that everyone is entitled to them and their feelings. Standing up for what is right is something that I believe America has been built on. We can all think of numerous protests and movements that have sparked because someone was standing up for someone else or the morally/ethically right choice. Personally, going to school in a more agricultural town where many peoples viewpoints are unlike my own I have to keep my mouth shut when participating in classroom discussions. I once took a gender and sexuality class at Chico State where we talked about many controversial issues pertaining to gender and sexuality. One of the most controversial conversations we had was about rape culture of college campuses. One person in the class raised their hand and proceeded to tell everyone that rape culture does not exist and they find all of the offensive signs and “daughter drop off” flyers to be funny. Needless to say that person and I got into a long altercation about how he was wrong (which was backed by evidence). Many people in my class didn’t want to say anything to them because of the fear of confrontation but they were spewing out heinous ignorant remarks. For things like that I have no problem being the unpopular vote and speaking up for what is right because I know someone else in the class had to be thinking my way and didn’t want to say anything. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

    • Kelsey Bridewell

      Opinions do matter… but uneducated perceptions are just ignorant. It’s amazing to me that the student in your class thought the, “daughter drop off,” flyers were funny and didn’t think rape culture is a problem. Has he/she ever taken the Not Anymore online orientation thing we all have to do to register for classes? Everyone enrolled in college should know that 1 in 5 women on college campuses are victims to rape. If people were more educated about these oppressed subjects they may find the answers the believe to be true, to be completely wrong. Current issues in our nation/world need to be incorporated into everyday curriculum. #DoNowSpeakUp #MyCMSTArgs

  • eric m

    Overall there is risk to speaking to your peers and friends but you can’t let that stop you from voicing your opinion and standing up for yourself. As a young man I find it easy to voice my opinion but that’s just due to what society I have been raised in where men can say/do whatever they want but it is the complete opposite for women to stand up for themselves which is completely wrong. I feel that no matter what race, gender, and age you should be comfortable with speaking up for yourself. #DoNowSpeakUp

  • Kelsey Bridewell

    Many students don’t feel as though they can speak out against a friend’s harmful message. I believe we need to start incorporating tolerance type curriculum into grade school education. The youth of today needs to be educated on oppressive perceptions and it’s negative impacts on society. We are breaking through, slowly but surely, the social isolation and oppression of women’s role in society, but we don’t often talk about touchy subjects such as racism in class unless it’s in a historical context. I only ever remember discussing slavery and the civil rights movement in school, when it came to this topic. Racism is an current national epidemic that is infiltrating the school system. I believe if teachers start having those very uncomfortable discussions about the harmful affects of what people say, we can start building a tolerance and a solution to the national problem of bullying and empower students/others to speak up about this topic. #DoNowSpeakUp # MyCMSTArgs

    • Carina Romero

      I completely agree with you. I do think students feel that they can’t speak up or voice their own opinion. I feel that this matter needs to be educated to students and not be afraid to stand up for themselves. #MyCMSTArgs

  • Robert Gomez

    I believe that there are many instances where someone wanted to speak up for what they believe but were too afraid to do it so to actually stand up then i would say that is great. I think everyone should stand up for what they believe and shouldnt let anyone just walk all over them. I personally grew up learning to never let people walk over me just because i wasnt the biggest person growing up and i never really did let people walk over me and that brought a lot of respect my way. It wasnt the matter of respect that i wanted the real reason was because i wanted to be treated as an equal and that was the best benefit for standing up for myself. I think that everyone should stand up for themselves because it is a great feeling when you do. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech and when you use that right to stick up for yourself then that is amazing. Like wasnt that right made kinda for that? We have the right to speak what is on our mind and to use that right to stand up for yourself is great. #DoNowSpeakUp #MyCMSTArgs

  • Courtney German

    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowStandUp Standing up for what is right is always a good thing. Humans need to protect one another instead of hurting each other. So always stand up for yourself and anyone who might need you

    • Jace Cuneo

      For real. I believe that in trying to be the best person I can be, and it sounds kinda lame but its true. With that mind set, nothing can shut me down from what I believe and it makes me try to be as well grounded as possible.
      #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

  • Carina Romero

    I grew up learning to never let people walk all over me just because i am very petite and so growing up i was very small. I never let people walk all over me and to show people that I’m not scared showed some respect. Being respected wasn’t the matter the matter is being treated as an equal which was the benefit for sticking up for yourself. Everyone has the right of freedom of speech and when you use the right to stick up for yourself then thats what matters. It’s a good thing to stick up for yourself because if not then those people will walk all over you and won’t stop till that person does something to stop it. If we have the right to speak then we have the right to stand up for yourself #MyCMSTArgs

    • Janette Estrada

      Yes, people should not be afraid to stand up for themselves or what they think is right. Everyone should be aware that we are all different and not just because look different from someone else should be reason to channel negativity. I agree when you say we all have the right to freedom of speech in means of standing up for what is right and should let others walk over our own beliefs. #DoNowStandUp #MyCMSTArgs

    • D Brown

      I agree that we should encourage people, especially youth and even more importantly, young women to stand up for themselves. You have to be your own advocate in our society. Being educated is the best tool.

  • Janette Estrada

    I would like to believe that I have always been the type to stand up for what I think is right; example, bullying. I was so involved in helping students with special needs and advocated for the best. What makes someone so different from another being when we are realistically equally the same? Both human. I have begun notice many people are so close minded that they are not willing to accept different answers or point of views other than their own. This is wrong, everyone was the right to speak out without any limitation. I do feel comfortable speaking out because I know that being quite does not contribute to anything whether for right or wrong. I once argued with a friend over an improper word choice because it offended a certain category of people where we do know how someone else might have reacted if they had heard such vulgar word. What can be a joke to you, can be offense to others. Never be afraid to speak up for yourself, because no one else ever will. #DoNowSpeakUp #MyCMSTArgs

  • Breanna McNamara

    When I see the articles of all the new and crazy studies I try to ignore them, but I’m not going to lie, I skim through them to see what they are all about. There are some that I do fall for, but then again there are those obnoxious ones too. The KQED article included other websites that have “bad science reporting”, Buzzfeed and the Huffington
    Buzzfeed’s article was about, “This App Says It’s As Good As The Pill At Preventing Pregnancy, But Experts Want More Evidence”. There was an app created that will supposedly tell a woman when she is fertile or ovulating. They said, “Natural Cycles is one of numerous apps that help women practise a method of contraception called natural family planning, also known as the fertility awareness method” (Buzzfeed, 2017). I as a woman would not use an app to tell me when my body is ready to start a family. I would trust a doctor over an app when it comes to my health and my fertile count. There wasn’t anything I read in the Buzzfeed article that sold me into possibly getting the app.
    The Huffington Post was about the same topic of your smartphone being the new answer to your contraceptive conundrum. The Huffington Post had a lot of information and actual statistics that may have actually sold me into getting the app. For example, “The app is already being used by 150,000 women in 161 countries around the world, but if you’re still struggling to come to terms with trusting your phone on this one, we get it”, (The Huffington Post, 2017). The Huffington Post had a bunch of detail about the app and how it actually works! “To use it correctly, women need to record the temperature under their tongue and enter it into the app every morning. It then determines how fertile you are on that day. If it’s green, you’re not fertile at this stage in time and the risk of pregnancy is very low”, (The Huffington Post, 2017).

  • D Brown

    Tolerance is something that can be taught, according to information published on http://www.tolerance.org. In society today, being kind is often seen as being weak. To change this, we need to set out to establish our value system independent of what popular. This should start early in life, but it doesn’t have to. Broadening your knowledge of differences isn’t an easy task, and frankly, most of choose the easy way. Most intolerance stems from fear and being uninformed.
    Education is the best way to combat this. Being informed being casting judgement. I support anyone standing up for themselves or others who are afraid to do so.
    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp

  • Jace Cuneo

    This is a very interesting topic because if someone is being “attacked” for stating what they believe that goes against the majority, it is hard for someone else to what to stick up for that person for fear of being “labeled.” I personally don’t like when the attention goes to me because I have a different belief or opinion than others. I feel these day there are too many “justice warriors” and “pc police” that abuse that power. it’s important to inform people on being tolerant but informing just is not enough. There are too many outside factors that sway someones beliefs to where having tolerance doesn’t even matter.
    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowSpeakUp


Chanelle Ignant

Chanelle is the Youth Media Specialist for KQED Learning. She has worked with various Bay Area youth media organizations and is an independent media maker.

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