Julia Garcia, Ph.D., a dynamic motivational speaker and performance poet, invited hundreds of Bryant first-year students to get real and be true with her.
Her invitation came as part of the University's annual Ethics Event on October 23. Her topic was "A Generation on the Rise: Ethics, Inclusion and All Things Social Media."
Dr. J – as Garcia is known – did not allow the students to sit quietly as they explored the ethical implications of what it means when voices are silenced, why we remain silent, and how social media influences our ability to engage in courageous conversations about diversity and inclusion.
"Ethics does not only pertain to how I treat others, but also how I treat myself."
She shared her own story with the students, including clashes with racism – “they called me the n-word,” said Garcia, who is biracial – and sexism. “They hate you because of the way you look or where you’re from. You start to believe your voice doesn’t matter,” she said. Having endured sexual assault, losing loved ones to gang violence and to domestic violence, and trying to numb her pain with drugs, Garcia recalled a time when she “just didn’t see the point in being alive.”
After creating a bond through her powerful storytelling, Dr. J had the lights dimmed and asked the first-year students to share their own stories.
"I hope you know none of you are alone"
Dr. J called for students whose parents are divorced to stand, then students struggling with anxiety, depression, or abuse, as well as students who had lost loved ones to suicide, addiction, or disease. Students later said they were stunned at how many students stood. The demonstration underscored the message that everyone deals with something. “I hope you know none of you are alone,” she said.
The students also wrote their own endings to prompts from Garcia:
- I was going through …
- I was feeling…
- I was needing….
- I was staying silent because….
Some of the answers were read aloud. “I was going through life.” “I was feeling alone.” “I was needing help.” “I was staying silent because I didn’t want to bother anyone… because no one cares… because I was afraid.”
“You are here,” she reassured the students. “You are creating culture. Your voice is needed.”
Change the culture
On social media, she noted, people present filtered “perfect” moments. Vulnerable young are left thinking there is something wrong with them because they can’t live up to that fake perfection.
However, Garcia said, “Getting off social media is not the answer. But, you can change the culture.” Instead of just consuming the culture by endlessly scrolling, she said, they can contribute in a positive way.
With Dr. J, the students chanted, “The cycle of silence stops with me.”
Bryant’s Assistant Dean for Student Success Laurie Hazard, Ph.D., said, “Dr. J’s ability to connect with the students created a safe space for them to reflect on their moral compasses in the digital age and the impact of their social media presence.”
Her message to tear down one's façade – in person and online – resonated with students including Megan Freedholm '23. “I need to understand that ethics does not only pertain to how I treat others, but also how I treat myself,” she said. “Ethics promotes responsibility. Taking responsibility for my emotions and being true to them will only help me grow as an individual.”
Gabriela Martin ’23 said, “I think everybody left the presentation feeling a little less alone than they did before.”
The annual ethics event, part of Bryant’s award-winning First-Year Gateway Program, was jointly sponsored by Academic Affairs and Student Affairs in partnership with the Ronald K. and Kati C. Machtley Interfaith Center.