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Commentary: Creating Change Through Discovering the Power of One’s Voice

Meyani Montano.jpg
Meyani Montano

Discourse and discussion is the basis of societal advancement. Discussions on pressing issues in society are often shied away from or avoided because they can be seen as too “controversial” or too “political.” However, I believe that without the expression of differing opinions, our society can and will become stagnant and complacent.

Our society thrives when different points of view come together and find common ground or, at the bare minimum, are at least understood, valued, and respected. That understanding comes from exposing oneself to the thoughts of others and their experiences. This can be seen in the students on campus.

In 2017 I founded a student organization at Western Illinois University called AMPLIFY. AMPLIFY brings together students that are looking for a space to have these necessary conversations and lets the students feel the power in their experiences and voices. It is empowering to have a community of people who are willing and able to have conversations that are thought provoking and that challenge one’s perspective.

At AMPLIFY, we engage in respectful conversations through authentic sharing of our own experiences, beliefs, and understanding; open-mindedness towards others’ identities, opinions, experiences & awareness; and self-awareness & humility regarding our own biases and areas of ignorance. AMPLIFY is a safe/brave space where we want to encourage others to share their perspective and we must accept that not everyone's preferences, beliefs, or opinions will align with our own.

Coinciding with AMPLIFY’s mission, our society can continue to grow in an inclusive and diverse manner with the growing understanding of others’ experiences. Everyone has an opinion that has been shaped through knowledge gained in a multitude of ways. You can study a subject in a book or a classroom or see a post on social media, and you grow an opinion on that topic based on various perspectives and interpretations, yet can lack the perspective of those who may experience that subject or topic a different way.

This is not to say that one perspective is more valuable than the other. I am simply stating that we can bring these perspectives together in order to create an environment of discourse, understanding, and mutual respect. Through these methods we lead with humanity and are able to put ourselves in others’ shoes.

We should not see clashes in communication as something to fear or stray away from. In terms of communication, clash often occurs when two opposing viewpoints come together. But this does not mean it results in an argument. Being exposed to another point of view is actually the most effective way to come to a consensus or even build new ways of thinking.

We do not want to be stagnant in how we think or even operate. Embracing the uncomfortable can and will always lead to a more harmonious way of living and acceptance of each other's different walks of life. There is so much power in one’s voice, and when one lets that voice free, and expresses oneself, there is so much change that one can create.

The way I have seen the voice of students, on this campus alone, create change and movement has been inspiring and rewarding. When students have the confidence to free their voice and openly express themselves, there is less fear to stand up for change and call for equity within inequitable spaces and situations. Confidence in one’s voice is cultivated in those smaller scale conversations about topics that we typically shy away from. These conversations validate one another’s thoughts, experiences, and opinions. That validation is fuel for one’s growing confidence and creating sustainable change in our society.

I have personally seen these types of conversations give that validation to the students on this campus. During different AMPLIFY meetings, students who participated in these conversations have said how good it felt to be able to express their thoughts and not be shut down because it did not align with how others might feel.

Topics discussed at AMPLIFY include, but are not limited to, beauty standards, healthy relationships, mental health, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, family pressures, voting rights, inclusive language, privilege, normalizing sexuality, colorism, self-love, and so much more. There have also been students who did not participate at first that later gained the confidence to express themselves in these smaller scale conversations because of the empowerment they saw their peers gain from it. In both instances, there was a growth within these students seen in the way they went about interacting and dealing with issues that they might face on and off campus. Some students went on to create movements, others felt more comfortable in communicating with administrators about concerns they had, and others incited change within the university, their own organizations, or back at home in their communities.

Discovering the power in one’s voice is my passion in life and we all must come together to validate and amplify the voices of those around us, but specifically, the youth in our lives, in order to create the change we want to see in our society.

Meyani Montano is a graduate student in the public safety administration program at Western Illinois University and she’s a graduate assistant at Western’s Casa Latina Cultural Center.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.