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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 6, 2000
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

On Girls at Risk

"I was one of those "girls at risk!"

On Friday, May 26, Lillian Diaz wrote:

Hi, Jeanne:
It's me Lillian Diaz. You probably know who I am by now. I used to sit on the left side of the room, at the Juvenile Justice class on Wednesday's 1:00pm. Jeanne, last week I spent approximately an hour on the computer responding to your request about grades. Unfortunately, I made a boo-boo and lost my data. I was very upset, it took me a few days to get over it. Maybe it was for the best, because I think it was too long.

Well first of all, I'd like to say that when I first spoke to you, I remember you correcting me when I asked if I could add to your Juvenile Delinquency class. You responded by saying it is Juvenile Justice. To tell you the truth, I was puzzled. Today I'd like to say I know exactly what you meant! I am a Liberal Studies major, with a minor in Sociology. I want you to know I was extremely excited about taking the class. Although the class format was not what I expected, I'd like to say, it's been very meaningful to me.

You see, Jeanne, at one time I was one of those "girls at risk!". In the last paragraph of the reading, it is said that parents, teachers and other authority figures have failed these girls. That sentence took off a load of guilt I was carrying around. It was more than guilt! What I realized is that I was not the one who failed; yet I was carrying the burden for everyone else. I was just as good as any other girl; however, I felt inferior. Little did I know that I was bearing the burden for my mother and those teachers who were inattentive, and judged me without knowing me. Jeanne, I felt so good about myself. It is the best gift anyone could have given me. I always knew that, with my background, I could probably make a difference in children's lives. That is one of the reasons why I took your class, I wanted to be able to go out, work with kids, and be able to understand them. Responding to them in a non-violent way, as most adults did to me. Since we began talking about structunal violence, I have done everything I could to apply the concept to my own life.

I'd like to end with a poem written by Emily Dickinson, I believe this poem sums it all up:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The truth superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind
To establish communication, one must be tactful, not violent!,
Thank you, for practicing what you preach!
Lillian J. Diaz

On Tuesday, June 6, 2000, jeanne responded:

Lillian, I like your conclusion: "To establish communication, one must be tactful, not violent!" How often we forget how much that applies to those over whom we hold power, children, students, employees, those who lack the authority to force us to hear them, to show them respect.

I don't recall the incident in which I corrected you to "juvenile justice." It was structurally violent for me to correct you, and violent for me not to have heard your confusion over the substitution of "justice" for "delinquency." I was probably responding defensively to what I perceived as the structural violence of a system that names courses with structurally violent titles. I appreciate that you took the extra effort to listen in good faith and hear what I meant, not what I said.

At the Justice Studies Association meetings much was made of the language of structural violence, the language that speaks of "juvenile delinquency," of "corrections." I think that "juvenile justice" provides a context in which we can look at the extent to which our own actions are structurally violent, and to which violence is interdependent. Again, thank you for taking the trouble to understand.

You also made a very good reference to the internalization of that structural violence when you spoke of "the load of guilt you carried around." That is an excellent description of what we have called the internalization of violence, which we then turn against ourselves. I strongly suspect that that internalization is far more harmful than the original violence itself. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we must become more conscious of the extent to which violence we did not intend is magnified in its effect on others.

This is one of the remarkable advantages of a liberal arts education. Through listening in good faith to the perspectives of others we often discover keys to our own distress. Through your willingness, Lillian, to seek the real meaning to my words, even though they at first confused you, you found the key to something that had been troubling you. Knowledge leads to empowerment.

I'd also like to briefly comment on your statement: "That sentence took off a load of guilt I was carrying around." I was struck by the similarity of your reactions to that described by Jonathan Lear in the case of Anna O. Lear reminds us of Anna O's story: Anna had gone into the room of her lady-companion, where she watched the lady's little dog drink out of the lady's glass. Anna was profoundly disgusted, but politeness forbade her saying so. For some time afterwards Anna O. was unable to discharge her disgust of drinking. In her day this was diagnosed as an "hysterical" reaction.

Freud spoke of Anna O's case as "catharsis," for as soon as she was able to recall the incident of the dog drinking from her lady-companion's glass, she was once again able to drink. Lear points out that Anna O. had her own "theory of catharsis," which Freud incorporated. It is Lear who suggests that this theory of expelling that memory which was harmful could have been seen in the positive light of hearing oneself in good faith.

Lear says:

"Freud and Breuer turned Anna O's [fantasized] "theory" into a theory. . . . But in formulating a theory of catharsis, they provided the concepts with which to express Anna O's "theory" in conscious judgments. So although they gave an account of a therapeutic treatment, they also render the fantasy of emotional discharge, which we all tend to share, into a conscious theory. that is, they unwittingly provided an interpretation of Anna O's fantasy. What is so remarkable about this transformation from unconscious fanatasied "theory" into conscious theory is that it shows us that, even in the most primitive activities, the mind is striving for self-understanding. . . . (Jonathan Lear, Love and Its Place in Nature, Yale University Press, 1990. ISBN: 0-300-07467-0, at p.36 and passim.)

It seems to me that this concept of catharsis would describe what you speak of, Lillian. The sense of guilt you carried disappeared as soon as you were able to link your memories to the concept of structural violence. It is in this sense that learning is therapeutic, knowledge empowering. I appreciate your thanks for my trying to bring love into the learning environment, but I agree with Lear that it was your striving for self-understanding that enabled you to work this through.