By Madelyn Jones
Let’s take a moment to unpack what we think about the word “confrontation.” It is often seen as a harsher approach to resolution than other more passive techniques, or is seen as a last resort if these other techniques do not work. Commonly, it has the emotion of anger connoted with it. The word makes us think of yelling or even an unwillingness to hear and think about another side of the story.
For example, we have all been in a classroom where a student starts to take up an uncomfortable amount of space, like taking up valuable learning time by creating an off-topic back and forth with the professor. In response, most commonly people hunker down, suffer through it and vent to a friend about it later. However, if we changed our view of confrontation, we could change with scenario into something more productive.
What I am asking for here isn’t small, even though in this scenario it may seem so. It’s a culture change around how we view confrontation. Instead of ignoring problems or complaining about them later, if it was more common to speak up and handle the situation at the root of it, more problems would be fixed.
People are scared to speak up and get the class back on track because we rarely see it happen. As Willamette students, someone in our lives, whether it’s ourselves or someone else, is working hard to pay the tuition to go here and get an education, therefore it is completely understandable to want to get the most substance out of class as possible. These kind of interruptions can take away from our education by not letting the professor get to teach as much as they want to or by making us less enthusiastic to go to classes.
I have sat in a classroom like this many times, knowing I could simply raise my hand and say something along the lines of, “Can we get back to the lesson?” It seems simple, but it’s not normalized, and since it’s not normalized, I don’t know what the response should be.
People are scared to speak up and get the class back on track because we rarely see it happen, it is not a common part of our society.
For a more serious and complicated example, let’s look at microaggressions. I had a male friend in whom I started to notice small ways he treated women disrespectfully; not listening to their authority in the workplace and interrupting women more than men. However, I didn’t know if he knew he was doing this or not. I wanted to reach out to him and tell him what I noticed in hopes he would listen and think about his actions more critically, but I did not because confrontation is not normalized so I was worried about the response it would elicit.
I want to make it clear that it is not someone’s duty to confront someone, especially when it comes to topics about marginalized identities and oppression. However, I have realized the only reason I haven’t spoken up in certain cases is because since it is seen so little, it seems like a bigger statement than I want it to be.
When I say I wanted to confront him, I didn’t want to angrily rant at him, which is what some people think that word means. I wanted to sit down with him and explain what I have been able to see because of my identities, thought process and life experience, noting that I realize he might not be aware of what his actions truly mean. Confrontation should be seen as a conversation whose goal is to solve a problem directly and at the root of it. One way I have heard confrontation explained is that it is not two people versus each other. Instead, confrontation is two people versus a problem trying to resolve it.
If we talked to people about their problematic behavior and how it is being perceived more often, it could fix many problems that currently go unfixed. It can bring to light problems that people do not see themselves and create a healthier campus and community.