Stigma affects society in some pretty
important ways. First off. it impacts
how people relate to each other, and kind
of a classic example is the invisibility
that people who are homeless sometimes feel. We are classically conditioned to
walk by people who are homeless without
looking at them, and so
it impacts this human interaction that we can have and the relationships that we have.
Stigma also impacts how groups interact with
each other. We still have institutional
discrimination, for example, where certain
groups of people don't get bank loans in
the same proportions as other groups of
people based on their social identity
and who someone thinks they are. So
reducing stigma has benefits for both
individuals and as a society. I'm
teaching a class right now called Stigma
and Communication , and I designed the
class with the idea that we can reduce
stigma. In this class, we've taken field
trips - we actually we went to a brothel.
We are doing a service-learning project so
students are working with other students
with disabilities. They're serving people
who are homeless ... they are volunteering
in a variety of kinds of organizations.
We also then brought panelists and guest
speakers in. I've
tried to make it as engaging as possible
so that the students are actually
meeting different people and engaging in
populations, in hopes that the students
will walk away with a different perspective.
I chose to go volunteer at
We Care Volunteers, which is feeding
every homeless person in town.
Previously I had a stigma towards
homelessness. I thought, you know, they
were dirty, violent, they fought.
They chose to be homeless. And, by being
out there and interacting with the
homeless population in town. I realized
that I couldn't be more wrong. These
people are so thankful to have a warm
meal ... they're so friendly ... they're kind ...
they're asking each other to go ahead
of each other in line because everyone's
in there and they understand their
And with my service-learning project in the class was probably one of
my biggest takeaways. I worked with Step Two. It's a
treatment facility here in Reno for all
women that have a substance-use disorder,
and it lets the women obtain custody of
their children while in treatment and I
think my biggest takeaway was just
seeing how there is even stigma on these
women trying to be in recovery and get treatment.
I thought about how - when we
visited the brothel - we had learned about
just the types of clients they had. Where
sometimes it would be people with
disabilities, and I'd realize that people
with disabilities, a lot of times they're
stigmatized in society and don't have
ways to get sexual experiences.
So meeting people who work in the sex
industry, I realized that they help those
people who otherwise wouldn't have an
opportunity to have that kind of service.
We talked about sex workers and we
talked about brothels ... you can even take
it to a level talking about blue-collar
jobs; for example, we're cultivated as a
society to think perhaps a plumber ... a
plumber is always going to be an
overweight male who always has a butt
crack hanging out; but in reality it can
be anybody. It can be a female ... it can be
a skinny male ... it can be somebody who is
just providing for their family, because
it is a very lucrative career to have.
So we're cultivated to think this way
negatively about a certain person when
in reality, it's it's a great career
Using the use of language and empathy I think in
the class is what
really helped all of us see the
bigger picture of stigma that stigma shouldn't
even be a thing you know it's something
that's just like implied on people
because they don't know how to group
them or title them so they just plant
this stigma on them that they're bad or
they're negative for us. Changing the
language the way that you address people
and talk to them no matter what they're
going through can just break that whole
stigma because I think that's really
what's created the stigma is like trashy
or dirty or addiction ... whatever those
words may be, that's where the stigma comes from.
I think education plays a
great part in how stigma is reproduced in society, and if we start
addressing that issue from academia, for example. I think it's the biggest
place where you can start that ripple
that will get people talking about it
and that will start making people want
to change things.
My biggest take away from Sarah Blithe's class is to always
lead with compassion. I think so often, I
used to walk by someone, like a homeless
person on the street, and just turn my
head away or at least kind of not look
at them ... but now I realize that just
walking up to them, looking them in the
eyes and saying hi can change a life.
Now as I'm walking through life, I'm able to
use these skills that I've learned in
Sarah Blithe's class to view the world in
a complete different manner
and to be able to to make those connections of
when I may be stigmatizing a group of people
and break it down from there, and
think about why am I doing that?
And when you can think about why you're doing
that, you're able to make change.
And if you're able to make change, you can share
that change with other people.
Let's Talk About Sex, Drugs and Homelessness
Let's Talk About Sex, Drugs and Homelessness
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