One of my favorite concepts in English is irony. Admittedly, I am quite a sarcastic person, but I always find it entertaining when contradicting ideas are put together. Dirty soap, lonely groups and sad celebrations to name a few. Since coming to Stanford, I have noticed many ironic realities: the small class size for an enormous campus, the underfunding of programs despite the wealth of our university and most notably, the lack of trampolines in a place that advocates that the sky is the limit. Last week, I discovered another paradoxical truth of our community that has been on my mind as I close out my first quarter.
In my PWR class we’re preparing to start our final research paper. Different classes have different themes, but my particular section focuses on the rhetoric of disability. The course is taught in an intimate setting, so I have worked and grown with the same group of students for the past seven weeks. In order to challenge our perspectives and gain new insight into our chosen research topics, my professor organized a mixer with another PWR class where we could pitch and refine our argument to students who have been studying a completely different field than us.
While presenting my topic, the importance of a universal design for autonomous vehicles, to my partner, I mentioned that this technology would drastically change the lives of people with disabilities such as myself. He abruptly interrupted me and asked, “Wait, you’re actually blind?” Taken aback, I smiled and confirmed that I was blind, which was why I had my service dog with me. The student, completely shocked, told me that he thought my dog was only there because my class studied the rhetoric of disability. He continued by asking me a wide variety of questions about my life. To him, the idea of living without sight was a completely foreign idea that did not align with what he knew. Although I did not know how to take this encounter at the time, a debrief with my class afterwards helped me to realize a greater paradox about my surroundings at Stanford.
This campus has some of the brightest minds in the world. From future engineers to artists to entrepreneurs, we represent a wide range of backgrounds, identities and aspirations for the future. However, the irony is that even among such a sharp group of people, our community is not immune to ignorance. In other words, we are all still uneducated on one aspect or another. There might be a lot that we know, but there is also plenty that we do not understand about the people around us. Although it might not be realistic to stop our progress completely to engage with others in the present, I want to make a greater effort to embody the characteristics of a global citizen in my everyday life. Just as I became accustomed to being surrounded with people who were aware and accepting of the disability community, it is easy to fall into echo chambers that define our perception of normal; but to be truly intelligent, we must step outside of what is comfortable and explore the paradoxes that exist between the ways people see the world.
Contact Trisha Kulkarni at trishak8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.