Empathy in College Essay Writing

El Myers (’23) reflects on getting tutored for a college essay and how Skyline writing center approaches this vulnerable writing situation. Skyline writing center tutors are “…trained in empathic tutoring policies, and undoing the power dynamic between tutor and tutee is one that we take with great caution and sensitivity.”

 In my opinion there is 4 big reasons why building empathy in tutoring is important: 

  1. Builds trust: When tutors show empathy, students feel more comfortable opening up and sharing their concerns, fears and challenges. This builds trust between the tutor and student, which is critical for effective learning. 
  1. Enhances communication: Empathy helps tutors to understand their students’ perspectives, which in turn helps them to communicate more effectively. Tutors who are empathetic can explain concepts in a way that resonates with students’ understanding, leading to better engagement.
  1. Fosters motivation: When students feel understood and valued, they are more likely to be motivated to learn. Tutors who show empathy can help students to stay motivated by acknowledging their efforts, celebrating their successes, and providing support when challenges arise.
  1. Promotes learning: Empathy enables tutors to tailor their teaching approach to each student’s unique needs, which promotes learning over telling. Tutors who are empathetic can identify areas where students may need more support and provide targeted guidance and feedback. 

In September of my senior year I brought what I considered to be my “final draft” of my college essay to the admissions counselor at the CUBE at Skyline and had an extraordinarily distressing experience: my paper was brutalized. My ideas were deconstructed with a red pen. When I questioned the counselor on why they thought my personal essay about connecting my physical expression to my gender identity was “not good” and their response was, 

“Your identity is not ideal for a college admissions officer. You seem confused about your gender identity, this is not optimal.” 

I was left speechless. After I left the CUBE I closed the tab to my personal essay that I loved and I did not look at it again for 2 months. 

2 months. 

When I came back to this essay I made some changes on my own terms and brought it to a few friends I had in the Skyline writing center. It was there that I was lifted up and told that the writing I accomplished was delightful and that the story I was telling is one that must be told with pride. 

As I submitted this writing to various colleges and showed it to my trusted teachers and friends I thought more about the interaction I had with the CUBE and I had one thought: what if this happened to someone else? I have been trained through the writing center since my freshman year and I was actively teaching lessons on tutor etiquette as a writing center leader; even still I was so distraught by this interaction that I had to stop writing for two months. What would have happened to a writer with less writing confidence than I? Someone who hadn’t been trained in writing justice and vulnerability? What could’ve happened to an incredible piece of work? 

I believe wholeheartedly that the CUBE and the writing center both need to exist within Skyline and I am well aware that the focuses of each are individual and different. However, if the CUBES mandate is to help students who are college bound, particularly in personal writing formats, that is what the writing center specializes in. We are trained in empathic tutoring policies, and undoing the power dynamic between tutor and tutee is one that we take with great caution and sensitivity. No writer should ever be told that their identity is “invalid” and “not suitable for college purposes” under any circumstances. The CUBE and the writing center must collaborate to undo the dichotomy of being above and below one another and work together so all students are tutored fairly and justly.

Go Thrifting and Buy Less

As part of her badge project, Avivah Mitchel (’23) researched how to people can make more sustainable choices in what they choose to buy. “Go thrifting and buying less, not only does it help with reducing the amount of waste in landfills, but also, lessens the impact those items created in production.”

Capitalism takes advantage of us at our most vulnerable time: high school. 

Already in a period of change and self-discovery, we are subject to a continuous cycle of purchasing fast fashion, new beauty products, micro-trends, ephemeral room decor, and other unnecessary items, at heightened degrees. It’s difficult to avoid when trends are created mostly for and by people our age, but it is time for us to start making mindful purchases.

Our generation is largely discontented by the negative impact and harmful decisions made by the generations before us. We are fighting to take back control and save our planet, but we remain victim to consumerist habits that lead to plastic and clothing waste, as well as harmful spending choices. While we do not have the largest impact on the oil companies, big corporations, conventional factory farms, and government officials who determine the fate of our environment, we can take control of what is in our scope of discipline as high school students: where and how we spend our money, and what we buy. 

Sustainable clothing, makeup, and other types of brands are becoming more popular, but they continue to be expensive and inaccessible to many. Sustainable materials that are plant-based and ethically sourced have higher production costs than non-sustainable materials like single-use plastics, which contribute to pollution. Though supporting and shopping through sustainable brands is good, there are already so many things in circulation. Buying second-hand is better, and choosing to buy less, is best

A combination of thrifting, vintage shopping, wearing hand-me-downs, mending/upcycling, and shopping sustainable brands are all good options toward sustainable living. These are all things that have been around for ages. Not only are they the more sustainable option, but it is also often cheaper to shop these ways! One misconception about thrifting is that we are taking away clothes from those who cannot afford to shop otherwise, but we must debunk that myth. There are so many clothes in circulation right now and a majority of them go into landfills. It becomes a problem when people thrift and then resell those items at a higher cost, making them yet again, inaccessible. Go thrifting and buy less, not only does it help with reducing the amount of waste in landfills, but also, lessens the impact those items created in production. 

When making changes in my life to live more sustainably and consciously, I often fear judgment from those living “more sustainable” lives than me. I feel like my hands are tied and there’s too much pressure to reach a certain standard, but all that matters is that we take steps to do what we can to make positive changes in our lives. Sustainability is marketed in a way that makes it seem completely unattainable and inaccessible, but truthfully, sustainable changes are often more accessible than the alternative. Removing this expectation of being 100% sustainable alleviates the feeling that if you can’t be good enough, you shouldn’t try. If it isn’t possible to be 100% green, that doesn’t need to be your goal — start one step at a time. That first step can be with our shopping and reducing consumption of unnecessary items. The impact individuals have is small, but as a collective, these changes can make significant impacts. 

Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, let’s all make small changes toward living a more sustainable lifestyle. In addition to these changes, when possible, we must place pressure on big oil companies, corporations, and banks to redirect their funds and choices, push government officials to make a legislative change, vote for politicians who support environmental justice, expose billionaires and their unethical practices, boycott fast fashion brands that utilize sweatshops, buy local, organic, and ethically sourced food, and be a conscious citizen to the best of our abilities. We must understand that it is not our responsibility to do all of the work, but we cannot ignore it either.

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there

Rory Brater (’23) advocates for teachers and administrators to have greater understanding for students impacted by concussion. “…concussions can be just as serious as a broken ankle or torn ACL. Just because you can’t physically see an injury, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”

According to the CDC, one in five high school athletes will experience a concussion every season. A major issue is that concussions can be injuries that people don’t know they have. This is because they’re hard to diagnose and doctors still aren’t sure exactly what they are. A concussion is different from say an ankle injury, in that there’s often no physical change in appearance, like swelling. The Mayo Clinic  refers to a concussion as a traumatic brain injury(TBI) that affects your brain function. This injury can cause countless symptoms such as: headaches, pressure in the head, nausea, balance problems, dizziness, sensitivity to light and noise, confusion, and a feeling of “being down.” These are just a few of the many symptoms that a person can experience if they have a concussion. Frequently, victims of concussions may relate their symptoms to dehydration, not eating enough, not sleeping enough or in some cases, depression. 

In a volunteer survey that I created, I found that 92% of respondents were unsure about what a concussion was before they had one. Through this same survey, I also found that 89% of the respondents saw dropping grades. One person said that their grades took such “a drastic fall” that by “the end of the trimester and [they were] healthy, there was not enough time to improve [their] grades that [they] had to take a pass/fail.” The issue here is that there is not enough information about concussions for students, parents, teachers and even administration.

I was one of these students whose grades dropped while having a concussion. As I was playing varsity soccer for Skyline last spring, I endured three concussions within 4 months. When I got my first concussion, I was confused as to why my head was pounding so hard and why I couldn’t open my eyes without excruciating pain in my head. I went to Neurosport at the University of Michigan to receive treatment and therapy for my brain; this consisted of vestibular therapy(for my eyes) and neck therapy, because of the incredible strain on my neck that had been caused by less strength in my head. 

I tell my story, not for pity, but to educate others. To show others that concussions can be just as serious as a broken ankle or torn ACL. Just because you can’t physically see an injury, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Beyond this, my experiences with concussions have taught me that you can’t see everything about a person on the surface; you never know what one is going through or the pain they feel past the smile they put on their face. Something important to keep in mind is that kindness and understanding should always be at the forefront of your actions. Without these two things, accommodating others’ situations is not possible and neither is creating a “safe” space. 

All I truly want to say is this: Always be understanding because you never know what’s happening beneath the surface.

Shakespeare Is So Last Season

Bella Simonte (’23) advocates for an updated approach to literature study in English classes. “Inaccessible language and misogynistic views are so last season. Teaching kids how to be contributing members of society is the new hot trend.”

Duels, poisoning your step-son, and marrying your mother are all wildly unrealistic tales told in Shakespeare’s plays. Made of too much confusing language, misogynistic themes, and not enough racial or cultural diversity, Shakespeare has passed its expiration date. 

Regular texts can be taxing enough on people with learning comprehension disabilities. When dead language and syntax like ones commonly found in Shakespeare get added in, it makes reading and processing the information much harder. In most classrooms, roles are assigned to students, forcing them to read each soliloquy aloud in front of the class. Reading for some is hard enough, let alone having to do it in a room full of people. 

Contrary to the 1500s, Shakespeare’s plot lines are no longer relevant nor politically correct. In books like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, women are treated as ownable, easily manipulated pieces in someone else’s grand scheme. English teachers prefacing the book with, “now this was made in a time where this was commonplace,” doesn’t make the story any less sexist or any more normalized. 

Some teachers would argue schools teach Shakespeare because of its key themes. However, these plot lines aren’t relatable to a modern day audience and shouldn’t be what schools focus on teaching their youth. Kids should be learning about current issues like racism, sexism, government power, wealth inequality, and other cultures. Shakespearean plays were made to be entertainment, not course material. Whatever themes and lessons that were applicable in the 1500s, are definitely not applicable now. 

Some better alternatives would be Just Mercy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and Into the Wild. Each book has lessons that teach readers how to better understand people who are different from them by diving into race, abilities, and economic status. 

Technology, architecture, and cars are evolving with a world of ever changing dynamics, as should our school curriculum. Inaccessible language and misogynistic views are so last season. Teaching kids how to be contributing members of society is the new hot trend.