Tag Archives: Heather Charles

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.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

On When Things Hit Close to Home

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

When I was an undergraduate I had several people tell me that I should just pretend that my family wasn’t poor, that I hadn’t gone to a bad school, that I didn’t grow up in a rough neighborhood, and that I hadn’t been abused. I was supposed to pass, which should have been even easier for me because I was white. I was deeply offended by this, I am not ashamed of where I come from, I have no reason to be. I went to Stanford, what do I have to apologize for? I am proud of my working class roots, because even though it was difficult it made me stronger, a better human being, a better teacher. I also found this advice to be terribly impractical. For one thing, I had an accent, and for another I could only reference what I knew and having never seen rich people before Stanford I really only had one truth to talk about. I couldn’t lie about my mom when it was visibly clear to everyone that she had had me as a teenager. I couldn’t make up stories to hide the fact that my summers were spent looking after my brothers and sisters and reading books. There were things I obviously didn’t know about, foods I had never seen, cultural references I didn’t get, and locations I had never heard of. I developed some close relationships with people more privileged than I was so that I would always have someone to call when I needed something explained to me, which was quite often.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

On Choosing Goodness

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

I have two siblings serving in our nation’s armed forces. In my case, they both happen to be in the army. They are two radically different people with different personal motivations for why they joined, but ultimately what it came down to was that as working class white kids growing up in a community with an unemployment rate that hovers around 40-50% percent, it was the best option for them to support themselves and their current and future families. My family, like the families of many American families who have been working class for many generations has had a disproportionate number of people who served in the military. No one in my family is particularly keen on our actions abroad, including my late-Great Grandfather who lied about his age and became a Para-trooper in the Pacific Theater during World War Two, because it was best way to ensure that he got to eat. My family lineage on my maternal side is a long line of white folks who were the exception in that like many black share-croppers during the Dust Bowl, they were left out of FDR’s reforms. I have great-great aunts who were sterilized during the Eugenics movement. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

On Usefulness and Other Nonsense

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

I’ve been tremendously fortunate to have attended school with so many amazingly bright, well-educated and hard working people. This fact has become all the more glaringly obvious to me as I have gotten older. Its something you take for granted as an undergraduate and then you re-enter the world to be reminded that you are a freakish outlier. Or at least I am in my community, maybe that rings less true for others, but in any case, what I gained most intellectually from being at Stanford was from the daily and constant exposure to discourse and intellectual simulation. I am, what my boyfriend calls, classically intellectual curious, which at Stanford is a euphemism for someone who is laid back and spent finals week casually eating breakfast, casually taking finals and then causally reading appalling trash in the grass outside Meyer library. This is a trait that Stanford wants in its students, it asked specifically for intellectual curiosity in its application when I was applying.

And yet, as laid back as I was, I still possess that distinctly hard working streak that Stanford students possess. And this can lead to workaholism. In fact, it did lead to an almost blind workaholism. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

On Responsible Activism

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

I am going to do what I always do in these conversations and state my credentials from the get-go. I am going to do this because I am white. And because I am white, and grew up extremely poor in an urban area where I attended some of the worst urban schools in the state of California in a community that is one of the most ethnically diverse in the nation and am living with a Mexican American man I grew up with who told his dad that he had no interest in learning Spanish because “he didn’t want to be one of those Mexican kids who can’t read English” and who is half white but knows he gets stopped by cops all the time because he is Mexican, I am intensely aware of how this whole speech and my mere presence in the activist community comes off, and came off while I while an undergrad, to the very communities that I work with. So demographically, when you ask me to be extra specific, I identify as working class, first. That’s the closest I can get to being honest. I do this because, when I entered Stanford I spoke a non-standard version of American English, and maintained the kind of wit that can only be learned on the playground and lot of people thought I was being a crazy asshole.  And I also do this, because I have the white privilege of not having to identify as my racial background. And because as a straight white woman I don’t have to identify as my sexual orientation either. But the fact of the matter is that the reality of my childhood more closely resembles that of poor folks who grow up in urban areas than it does the white peers I most closely resemble physically. On paper, people often assume I am black. This is because they are racist.

I am also an activist in urban education. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,