The Empowerment Letters


Empowerment is a slippery thing. It is elusive and changes shape depending upon the light in which you happen to glance at it. In one moment, it is a clichéd concept. In another, it is a key source of support for those who face oppression and opposition.
For those who are systematically disadvantaged, empowerment is a way to reclaim an identity in an oppressive society. It is these groups to which empowerment is the most important, and rightfully so. We’d like to think that feeling self-assured and confident should only be for people who have been forced to feel the opposite, but empowerment is a just that—a feeling. We can’t limit empowerment to a specific group of people, but we can define right from wrong—that distinction is vitally important.
Ultimately, the aim of promoting empowerment is to seek equality among people, that everyone may feel equally validated, safe, and worthy. At Emerson, we often seek this form of liberation for ourselves and others through the work we create.
It comes in many forms, many of which are small or unassuming. Most often, we do not find empowerment through a rousing speech or philosophical concept. We find it in a joke with friends, in a lackluster part-time job, in one particular coat. For at our core, we are not one big thing. We are an amalgamation of many little, seemingly inconsequential details. We are messy, we are self-contradictory, we are strange.
This week, on the verge of one of the most stressful times of the semester (and the year), we’ve decided to reach out to members of the Emerson community to hear about their sources of empowerment. In tense times, it’s important to know from where you can draw strength. We urge you, after reading below, to reflect on your own life, and to determine your sources of empowerment, even if they are as simple as your own bed.
-Shelby and Madelene
Reclaiming Autonomy: Student thoughts
When I think about what empowers me, I often think about all the female role models who make me feel like I can conquer the world. Whether through song, advice, or leading by example I often find myself drawing from their essences. Often times when we think of empowerment, we focus completely on what is outside of us, and neglect the other physical and inward aspects. Growing up, I related all sexual pleasures to a man. Kisses, hugs, and any form of sexual attention had to be given to me by a man. It was not until much later that I found out, through watching Sex in the City, that women could pleasure themselves. The idea that physical intimacy and touch could be achieved without a man—and that I could be the one to do it—made me my own hero. It stopped me from relating sexual pleasure as something given to me, and turned it into something I did for myself. It released me from the bind of reliance upon another person and allowed me to take care of myself. This gave me confidence in the sexual relations I had with a partner. The idea of female masturbation is so wrapped in myth and stigma. By feeling things out for myself, literally, I turned dependency into power. 
—Emma Newsome / Sophomore / Marketing Communications
When I read, it’s like the world slips away. And for a few hours or so and I can experience what the characters are going through and live their lives rather than my own. Without reading, I don’t think I could go through everyday life. When I’m not reading a book, it’s harder to handle the stress of school. My anxiety becomes heightened for me. Without the knowledge that I have a whole world of characters waiting for me after class, I don’t think I would be the person I am today. Knowing that I don’t have to live just one life, the one I was given, is an amazing gift. I can go anywhere and be anyone. But when I’m just me, books have taught me that that’s not such a bad thing.  
—Maxine de la Houssaye / Sophomore / Writing, Literature, and Publishing
Nothing is more empowering to me than being informed. During a parent-teacher conference when I was in kindergarten, my teacher told my parents that I seemed to be stuck in my own head. When she had dismissed students at the end of that school day, I apparently was daydreaming so intensely that I didn’t notice all the other students had left the room. I still experience these moments regularly. When someone in my family forgets an appointment, loses a phone, or leaves a purse hanging on the back of a chair, they call it “pulling an Audrey.” Feeling informed and on top of things gets my blood pumping. I like to read news on websites that present more facts than opinions. I listen to the podcast “Stuff You Should Know” when I’m making dinner. When my parents discuss politics, I listen, ask questions, and research answers. I write to understand my own beliefs. I try to pay attention to the things going on around me. Because being informed makes being a daydreamer seem less like a burden and more like a blessing.
—Audrey Conklin / Junior / Writing, Literature, and Publishing
Merriam-Webster defines Journalism as “the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio.” This definition leads to the description of a journalist; which Merriam-Webster identifies as “a person engaged in journalism; especially: a writer or editor for a news medium.” In today’s society, whether you are an American or a citizen of any other nation, having access to news and other important social, political, and economic updates is vital. We as a people love to be informed, and that stems from curiosity. Humans are curious people. We seek knowledge in many ways—through people, places, events, and other outlets. Humans are consumers of education; we starve for information, and journalism feeds this hunger. Journalism is an art in which you convey topics and ideas central to the world around you, offering stories people can trust. When I was a child, I, too, was curious. I wanted to know about anything and everything. Questions were constantly on my mind as was my fixation on getting answers to all my queries. I grew up with the belief that knowledge is power and that education feeds democracy. With this mindset, I quickly found that journalism is my motivation. It is the way that I will achieve greatness. It is my comfort when I feel down or defeated. I remember why I want to be a journalist, I remember my dream—to educate and to change the world, and this is what keeps me going. 
—Kevin Milton / Junior / Journalism
What empowers me are my friends and family, specifically the women in my life. I have been so lucky to have great examples of what a woman can be growing up; and I’ve learned that women can be anything they want to be. The people in my life have always supported my goals and dreams. They have given me advice and encouragement, whenever I doubted myself they were always there to remind me that the most important thing I can do is try and point out my achievements when all I can see are my weaknesses. My friends are the best support system and source of inspiration. When I look at what they have accomplished and what they are striving toward, it compels me to use each day to get closer to my goals. I have a tendency to procrastinate and I’m also a perfectionist, which can be a crippling combination for productivity. My two best friends and I have a group chat and when I’m complaining about procrastinating they encourage me with emojis, GIFs, and in extreme cases personalized voice messages of encouragement. It is also where we can celebrate our successes, no matter how small.
—Hannah Ebanks / Freshman / Journalism
I often times walk away from a compelling and thought-provoking art piece feeling transformed. I would say that I typically use this response as a way to gauge how compelling the experience was for me. If I am still thinking about it as I leave, if thoughts of the piece have remained with me, and furthermore have caused me to reconsider certain aspects of my own life, then I consider it effective and successful. So, it was no surprise that I felt the way I did after the Lizzo concert I went to this past Sunday. Lizzo is a woman of color who writes all of her own songs and only tours with other female artists. She opened one of her songs by saying that she wrote it for a man that she will never love as much as she loves herself. That gave me chills. It reminded me of the importance of practicing self love. The live performance of her music was so empowering to me. I left feeling full of love and admiration for her, and blessed with the ability to easily identify with the strength and endurance of womanhood. Her music reminded me to find resiliency in the face of challenges, to love myself, and to celebrate myself and the other women in my life more often. If you haven’t listened to her album “Coconut Oil,” I would highly recommend it.
—Reilly Loynd / Sophomore / Political Communications