One time – I must have been 6 or 7 years old – a semi-truck driver cut my mom off before the line into a highway toll booth. The front of the truck almost hit the side of the car, where I was sitting with my two siblings, ages 2 and 5.
Luckily, no one got hurt, but the driver still showed no remorse. So, once we were safely stopped behind him in line, my mom got out of the car, stood by the open driver's-side door, and proceeded to let the driver know exactly what she thought of his thoughtless, selfish, dangerous attempt to get ahead by a single car in a toll booth line.
The episode quickly became family folklore – a hilarious tale to tell because, well, can you imagine a 5-foot-4-inch woman getting out of a car in the middle of the highway to yell at a truck driver? It seems unlikely, even if she was defending her children in the backseat.
The image of my mom yelling at this stranger who had put our lives in danger stayed with me, though, mostly because it did seem like such an unlikely act, and eventually it became representative of the kind of person I wanted to become.
Growing up, I often found myself referencing this event every time I didn't feel brave enough to do something. But my mom stood out in a highway to defend my siblings and me, and if she can do that, I can give a book report in front of class.
Honestly, I was lucky to grow up with such an example. That one time in the toll booth wasn't the only time my mom set an example for standing up for myself and what I believe, and both she and my dad have always encouraged me and my siblings to express our opinions (so much so that I have this column).
Being the only Hispanic person in my year in high school only exacerbated my penchant for expressing myself – I was already visibly and audibly different, it only seemed to follow that I would have opinions different from the rest and that I would make them heard.
So, I was surprised when I came to college almost four years ago and found that my honesty put people off. Things that seemed really simple to me, like answering with the truth when someone asked me how I was, were shocking to others. I found that the people around me were used to something else.
And while it was easy for them to become accustomed to hearing me tell them exactly how I was that day, it hasn't been easy for them to get used to me disagreeing with them about an issue in class. It seems that disagreement implies resentment or dislike, and it seems that it's perceived as particularly emotional when it comes from a woman.
For a while, I tried to quiet my voice, agreeing politely when professors brought up points that I disagreed with, not defending my design work when it was unjustly criticized during a final review, taking others' opinions at face value without challenging them lest my dissent be mistaken for disdain. I still do this more often than I would like, but I have become particularly wary of allowing myself to be dismissed.
Here's the thing: if we continue to suppress our opinions because we are afraid of offending, all we are doing is perpetuating the idea that disagreement cannot be fruitful.
If we continue to silence ourselves, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to have our ideas challenged, and of the opportunity to challenge others' ideas.
We have to believe that our ideas are valid enough to be expressed, and if we need proof, what better way to test their validity than through discussion?
Maybe getting out of your car in the middle of the highway isn't the smartest idea, but next time you have something to say in class, go ahead and raise your hand. You'll learn from it, and hopefully, someone else will, too.
Marianela D'Aprile is a fourth-year in architecture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.