Are You Even Listening

By Erin Hitomi
Interrupting Privilege Seminar Student, Winter ’18

We grow up thinking we know how to listen, mostly from adults telling us “no” when we were up to no good. Going to school for a majority of my life, I figured I am a pro in the listening department.
Radical listening: a concept I never had heard about until a week ago. This type of listening seemed counterintuitive to a student who always was taught to personally engage with what you were hearing. At the UW CCDE Interrupting Voices Listening Party, I was asked to put aside my inner thoughts and focus solely on the speakers. This radical listening meant I would need to put my own ideas and experience away for the hour of the party, allowing space in my own mind to take in these stories (Tobin).

As the stories began, I started to understand how important radical listening is in these circumstances. Our seminar focuses on interrupting privilege, meaning that we must learn to address these unequal power relations to give the “underprivileged” the platform to rise.

Radical listening allows for this foundation to be created. It allows for these groups to speak without fear of being ostracized or the criticism that comes with our personal thoughts and implicit biases. I was able to witness this first hand, as UW President Ana Mari Cauce’s voice filled the room, sharing her experience with race and discrimination during her own life. Being able to immerse myself into her story created this sense of connection with her, seeing her as not just the President of the UW, but as a young, immigrant student of color at Yale. This feeling stuck with me as the program continued, allowing for the other speaker’s stories to be added to my own memory.

At the end of this event, gratitude filled my body. Walking out, I reflected the power of listening in my own life. Growing up Japanese America, I never fit any mold, being either “too White” or “too Asian.”

I often hid my feelings, as they were repeatedly dismissed by friends, peers, and family. This disinterest from others led to mistrust of my feelings, believing I was too sensitive. Seeing our President struggle hearing her own voice, I understood these emotions are normal and should be acknowledged (Tobin).
Radical listening benefits all parties involved, giving the listener different perspectives and the speaker confidence in their experiences. It shows that life is not a checklist that can be done in a wrong or right way. It opens us to new perspectives and relationships. While I continue my studies, I believe I will always be brought back to this listening party. Participating in radical listening will allow me to not only learn from others, but help me share my experience without ever feeling ostracized again.
Works Cited:
Tobin, Kenneth. “Kenneth Tobin.” Radical listening | Kenneth Tobin, Accessed 2 February 2018.

To hear the audio clips played at the listening party, visit our website.


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