I had written about a page of my in-class essay before I drew an X through it all and ripped it out of my notebook. I was in my freshman seminar class, and all I had to do was write a couple of paragraphs on what had resonated with me from a speech I had attended the week before. A guy had written a book that we were all required to read, and he spoke about football and the state of politics. I had listened attentively and had plenty of thoughts about it. But I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say.

I was the last one in the classroom, trying to get something down about whether citizens have the power to discourage things like hateful political ads that appeal to emotions rather than reason. I was just finishing up when the professor started to say, “Katherine, I know—” I interrupted her by apologizing and trying to explain that I was almost done. I started to write faster. She said that it wasn’t about that. I stopped writing.

She told me that I hardly ever spoke in class, but she wished that I would. She said she knew I had something to say—that she could see it in my eyes or something. She used the word “mischievous” at least once. Then she said, “You don’t think like they do.”

I agree with a lot of things my classmates say, and I disagree sometimes too, but the only three times I’ve spoken up I talked about Riot Grrrl, a Billy Collins poem, and the brick wall/waterfall chant. But my teacher’s analysis made me uneasy. I might see one or two things differently, but I don’t have some alien way of thinking that will shock the world.

After talking with her a few days later, I realize that she means I’m much more liberal than many of my classmates, and that she thought class discussion could be more interesting if someone offered a different viewpoint every once in a while. Her last statement made me worry that there was a great divide between me and the other students. I don’t want to feel this way.

This has happened before. In my senior year of high school, I had to take a religion class. The course was called Christian Dynamics, and discussion tended to be about students’ personal feelings about their faith, or about applying faith to real-world issues. I never spoke in class until my teacher approached me about it and told me that participation was part of the grade. So I started talking, often disagreeing with something we had read. This led to other kids trying to pick fights with me. One kid made it his mission to convert me. He asked me, multiple times, to get coffee with him to discuss God, and when I refused, he called me a bitch. Class became a place where I didn’t feel safe, and I don’t want to feel that way again.

So now I’m afraid, even more so because I’m in a new place, and there’s a fragility that comes with that. It’s wrong to be quiet because you want to be agreeable. I think I’ll talk in class more next time, but I’m still scared. I think this will be an issue for me for a long time. ♦