Author and journalist Latria Graham joined six students and two faculty over Skype in a workshop during the Eco Bash on April 10. The call followed a group reading and discussion of an Outside Magazine article by Ms. Graham about the lack of access for people of color to public lands (“We’re Here. You Just Don’t See Us,” May 2018).
The messages we see on social media create a filter through which we see the world. In Ms. Graham’s article, she described her experience feeling marginalized as a black woman in college due to stereotypes her classmates held that “black people don’t do the outdoors.” In the workshop, she said one way we can change our own prejudices is through social media. Ms. Graham said if our default image of the typical outdoorsy person taking on some great wilderness adventure is the trope of a young, white, and able-bodied male sporting Patagonia gear, we’re reinforcing the perception that people of color, people with disabilities, and people of lower socioeconomic class do not participate in these activities and therefore need not be considered in decisions about national parks and other public lands.
This made us think: how can we broaden our perceptions and change any stereotypes we might hold through social media? More specifically, when we look at our Instagram feeds, what do we see?
College Counselor Lauren Watson, who was also in the workshop, described an experience she had last year when she felt the need to diversify the accounts she followed on social media, concluding, “If everyone on your feed looks like you, you have a problem.”
Each time we scroll through our feed, we have the opportunity to change our perceptions and become more aware of the diversity in opinion around us. Accessing information has never been easier, especially with a smartphone. That access, used responsibly, can expand our understanding of the world.
In her address to the class of 2014 at Topeka School District’s senior recognition day, former First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged seniors to ask themselves in their future careers, “Do we really have all the voices and viewpoints we need at this table?” We create our own digital table with each Instagram account and Twitter personality we follow. When we look at our feeds, who is missing? As Ms. Graham asked, does everyone we follow look like ourselves?
Consider race, gender, age, life circumstances. If everyone we see is a high school teenager living in Massachusetts, we are missing out on a world of perspectives and interesting people living in places we know little about. Outside of physical and environmental similarities we may share with individuals we follow, we might also be limiting the voices in our digital sphere to one type of opinion—one way of looking at the world politically and socially. Let’s find people online whom we may not agree with, but whom we can respect. Then, with just a glance at our phones between classes or on commutes, we can get outside of the BB&N bubble.
Of course, social media is not where this striving for diversity in our everyday life ends. It’s just one way we experience the world, one tool we already possess to include more voices in the internal conversation that forms our viewpoints.
The voices are there, and we can all do more to hear them.