by: Sumeet Kaur Self advocacy is uncomfortable but it is a necessary skill of life. We aren’t taught how to stand up for ourselves in the academia setting or from family and friends. It’s just something you have to learn as you get older and enter the real world.
Melissa Krieger, a professor in the education department at Bergen, recently hosted a webinar in conjunction with Children Alliance Club and CCAMPIS Program. Speakers Tara Norman, Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Health Equity at Planned Parenthood, and Katie Conte, Class of 2022 Valedictorian and Adult Services Manager at Bergen County Special Services, shed light on their experiences and gave advice to students and people that attended.
Self-advocacy means something different to everyone. Norman stated that self-advocacy is to build a support system around you that pushes you and makes you uncomfortable at times. This is the same energy you should be giving to your support system. Conte stated that self advocacy is multifaceted to her.
“You must understand your own needs, know your needs, and communicate these needs to anyone you talk to,” she said. “Even if you can advocate for yourself, you need someone.”
Krieger noted that self-advocacy begins at home with parents, but as students get older, they must take it on themselves.
Speaking up at all times is not always empowering. Norman shared her academic journey in high school as she was the girl that was so loud in the hallways and struggled academically.
“My GPA was below a 2.0. It wasn’t until college when I was able to succeed academically as my mother helped me as she worked in a high school. My college GPA was 3.7,” she added.
Conte told listeners about her health journey and how in a certain season of life she questioned her own sanity. Her husband died and one year later she started to faint at different moments throughout her day.
“I would tell the doctors that something was wrong with me, but they wouldn’t listen to me. After two years of hospital visits and not standing on my own two feet, I found out that there was a tumor in my abdomen,” Conte said.
“You must listen to yourself. No one can tell you what you need,” she said.
As students of Bergen, Norman and Conte felt their needs were not met. Conte stated it was a struggle to sign up for classes. She didn’t know what she needed to do. The One Stop Center did not exist at the time. She spent countless hours in the Bursar’s Office talking about her tuition.
“I worked for the county, and I was supposed to get free classes, but it took me standing up for myself to find this out,” she added.
Tone is essential when you have to advocate for yourself. Conte stated she does not care. The person you are speaking to you is not your friend. You are trying to accomplish a mission. Be direct and do not beat around the bush.
Norman emphasized that it takes practice to not sound defensive.
“You must speak with periods and breaks,” Norman said. “Be very strategic. Talk to the person and not at the person.”
Both presenters were clear in their parting advice. Know your self-worth. Be persistent. Learn how to do it.