Why It’s OK to be Emotional

by Heather Charles, B.A. ’10 + M.A. ’12

I’ve been following the Stubenville Rape Case very closely. You see I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor, so this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. In addition, I had a close friend who was brutally raped in high school, and my little sister was raped while I was in my junior year of Stanford. I grew up in a rough neighborhood, obviously, but that doesn’t really matter here. I just follow these cases because it’s one of my personal causes as an activist. All of the causes I take up are deeply personal, and this is because they are the ones that I both have the authority to speak on and the drive to fight. Besides this, the most important mentor of my life, Professor Tom Mullaney (Seriously take his class) told me that we should chase the questions that haunt us most. So rape, sexual assault, and the rights of women are all near and dear to my heart (among other issues).

Like all Stanford students, I have the ability to talk reasonably and with authority about many things. But there are things that I get emotional about, and if you’ve ever encountered me and said something that I find to be ignorant you’ve likely faced a wrath you weren’t used to and didn’t expect. Where I come from, people were never surprised when I was angry, they were grateful that an articulate person had so much passion and was willing to speak for others.  People are completely ok with expressing anger, so I had to learn that this was shocking when I got to Stanford (also, I am a white girl and I think that plays a big role in how people expect me to talk). I get emotional about this issue. I don’t get irrational, my arguments, even in anger, stem from a highly logical, well-educated place because I am both highly logical and well-educated. I do however get angry and aggressive when I am making my point, I won’t sit by idly when something stupid is said, and now that I am older I don’t care what response I get.

When I was an undergrad, however, I did care. People used my anger as an excuse not to have to hear what I was saying, because they were uncomfortable with what I was saying. Saying I had a rough childhood doesn’t quite cover my background, but suffice it to say that I have enough life experience to be reasonably upset about many things. Many of your classmates do too. Sometimes anger is coming from a reasonable and deep place; it’s coming from lived experience. It’s coming from understanding an issue in the concrete and not the abstract because they’ve been through it. And if the person has been through it, and you haven’t you have no right to tell them how to feel and you need to accept that they have more authority on the issue than you do. If they are angry, it’s probably justified.

This also gets into a broader issue I now see as I look back on Stanford. Stanford is an incredibly beautiful place where lots of good people are doing lots of good work, but it’s also a place where we expect people to be superhuman. Admitting that something is wrong or being emotional is a sign that we are in fact human. A lot of people are very uncomfortable with that realization. But if you want to help humanity, you need to have some humanity in you. So go ahead and cry or get angry, or call people out when they are being ignorant, you have the right to do so and the people you are trying to help need you to have the strength to do so.

But don’t read internet comments. They ruin your day.

Heather Charles is a Stanford Class of 2010 graduate in history, and a STEP graduate of 2012 in Social Science. An Annenberg-Woodrow Wilson teaching fellow, she has spent her time working on educational inequality, first as one of the founding members and presidents of FLIP and then as a classroom teacher. Underneath her notoriously obnoxious and intense demeanor is a girl who loves polka dots, kittens, hanging out with children, consuming media and South Park. You can reach her at hcharles2010 at gmail dot com.

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One thought on “Why It’s OK to be Emotional

  1. Bojan Srbinovski says:

    This was a powerful account of matters that resonate with me on a fundamental level. I commend you on your openness, Heather.

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