I love “reflection papers.” Seeing them on a syllabus immediately secures a professor’s place within my good graces. If I had to choose one kind of assignment to make up the entirety of my homework load for the rest of my collegiate career, I’d choose reflection papers.
Why? Because they’re a joke.
I know I can’t be the only one who has figured this out. “Reflect on this” is just code for “write an unnecessarily long introduction followed by a half-hearted summary and close with some vague personalized statement like ‘this reading/lecture/event really opened my eyes to the reality of _________’.” If you run out of ideas before hitting the minimum word requirement, throw in something about solidarity or community. (No worries, it doesn’t have to reference anything specific).
“Reflection” has been watered-down to the point that my cat could probably write a reflection paper if I handed him a keyboard, turned on predictive text and added a sentence about social justice at the end.
I’ve had enough awesome, meaningful conversations with Xavier students to know that we can do better than this.
That’s why in choosing the theme for the first CFJ blog series of the year, we wanted to pick a topic for reflection that will showcase students’ abilities to think against the grain. “My Unpopular Opinion” is what we landed on.
Expressing popular opinions is easy. For the most part, we can all agree that injustice is bad. Community is something desirable. We should strive for solidarity. It’s when we begin discussing the subjects we don’t agree on that things get tough.
Current Xavier students have come of age online. Sharing an opinion is something you do with the click of a mouse. Contrarian comments can be deleted. Ideological nemeses can be blocked.
As I’m sure everyone has noticed, writing is a lot harder than clicking. Finding the words to express an opinion forces a person to solidify her thoughts and synthesize the flurry of conflicting messages that demand her attention and allegiance.
The reluctance to stand up and own an opinion kills genuine reflection and dialogue before they have the chance to happen. Big bloggers and popular pundits will always be able to say it better than us. But that doesn’t mean we should always let them.
Dialogue is the key to moving away from “tolerance” and toward understanding. It forces us to ask the Scary Questions: Why do I believe this? Why do I disagree with that guy? Why does he believe that? Which aspects of his argument make sense to me, and which do not?
Maybe eventually the day will come when a college student looks at her syllabus, sees “reflection paper” in big, bold letters and groans because she knows that she’s going to have to dig deep into her mind and her heart, sorting through her socialization and her prejudices, seeking out supporting and conflicting arguments until finally she has created something worthy to be called a reflection paper. This paper may back her into an ideological corner. It may bring challenges and criticism. But she’ll have said something. She and her classmates will have debated something. She will have learned something. Maybe she will emerge from this process with her opinion intact, and maybe she won’t. But isn’t she better off for her trouble?
Enough is enough. There are too many difficult, nuanced topics to tackle to keep settling for shallow thought and robotic reflection. As we kick off this blog series, I’m incredibly excited to see how student contributors respond to the challenge of sharing unpopular opinions in a loving, courageous, constructive way.
Tatum Hunter is a junior at Xavier. She is majoring in English and Theatre and minoring in Economics and Spanish. Currently, she is the editor of the Opinions and Editorials section of the Xavier Newswire and of this blog. And she really, really loves cats.