Updated on July 17, 2019
Speaking Out as a Woman of Color
Trump’s recent tweets suggesting that women of color in the U.S. Congress should “go back to where they came from” have made me think about how many ways we can be silenced—by perpetuating racist tropes, by insinuating a lack of intelligence, by not giving us the floor to stand up and speak. When I was doing (way too much) research on these tweets I thought of the gut-punching comment that my professor Dr. Sanders left in one of my response journals for her class in the Art Therapy master’s program I recently finished at Notre Dame de Namur University. Dr. Sanders’ responded to my writing that I was frustrated by the group dynamics in the class: “Did you say something?” I read it over and over again—did I say anything? Of course I didn’t! That felt like a call to action. I vowed to no longer take part in the silencing of women of color, particularly since I am also the child of immigrants, and a survivor of sexual assault.
I’m also one of a large number of people who are afraid of public speaking. In high school, I would panic before any presentation in front of my peers. My brain was instantly consumed by thoughts like, “What if I mess up on a really simple word?” or worse, “What if I get so nervous, I pee my pants?”
The Art Therapy master’s program at Notre Dame de Namur required many presentations that helped me overcome those fears. Our instructor Sarah Kremer had us watch videos on how TED Talks follow a formula to make them intriguing and convincing. She then had us do our own mock TED Talk in front of the class. Before my oral qualifying review, a presentation in front of family, friends, and faculty about my experience in the field, Dr. Satterberg gave me a stone to hold during the presentation to help reduce my anxiety while I shared difficult stories about working in a psychiatric hospital. The stone grounded me by bringing my awareness to the present moment. Before most presentations, I also colored mandalas, painted with gouache, or knitted to help ease my anxiety—art therapy is not just for kids. Since I was always preaching the benefits of art therapy for anxiety and stress reduction, I figured it would be a great time for me to practice the skill for myself. (Fun fact: it worked!).
When I received an email that I was nominated to try out to be a student speaker at my university’s Commencement, I thought long and hard about what it would mean to speak before more than a thousand people. So long and hard that I almost forgot to send in a proposal, but thankfully, Linnaea Knisely, the executive assistant to the Office of the Provost, saved the day! I tried out, and to my surprise, I was selected as the speaker to represent the graduate students.
The day of Commencement I spoke to a full crowd on our university’s sports field about my parents’ experience coming to the United States and how their sacrifice and determination played a major part in my success. I found it critical to include them in this moment and highlight my experience as a woman of color from an immigrant family because I decided on election day in November 2016 that I would no longer allow myself to be silenced or misrepresented.
Since 2016, I’ve made it a personal goal to try and speak publicly as much as possible. I’ve given presentations about my thesis research at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) and will be presenting at the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) 50th Anniversary Conference, as well as sharing my experiences with people who do not look, think, or live like me. For me, the fear of public speaking came and went when I realized someone or something was threatening my ability to speak out.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous before presenting, but I’ve found that creating art, drinking chamomile tea, and eating a lot of dark chocolate helps reduce the pre-presentation anxiety. I speak often with people who support me, and who can offer me guidance and perspective—all that keeps me going.
Jotie Mondair is a recent graduate of the master’s program in Art Therapy at Notre Dame de Namur University. She is currently working as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Fremont Hospital.
For information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University, please visit the Admissions page.