Elephant in the Room

“Our skin is different; let’s talk about it. Let’s not throw it under the rug.”


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In addition to the questions below, please see How to use the questions for reflection.

Clarification Questions
  • Why does the storyteller think Valpo is going to be weird?
  • What are the reasons she gives for wanting to be here?
  • What’s the difference between her and her roommate’s perspectives on being at Valpo?Why did she say “the whole room just went flat” when referring to a Core class?
Interpretation Questions
  • Why do you think the room went flat?
  • What is the silence a sign of?
  • What does it mean to be the elephant in the room?
  • What does it mean to “break the wall”?
  • Why do you think, after this experience, they became “a closer Core class”?
Implication Questions
  • In our classrooms or communities, what topics make the room fall silent?
  • Who is responsible for breaking the wall?
  • Are there conditions under which silence is an acceptable or necessary response?
  • What are benefits and detriments to “breaking the wall”?

Transcript for Elephant in the Room

Because I grew up in the Bronzeville area, we didn’t know about the country, we didn’t know anything about Valparaiso, Indiana, what? The only thing that I knew from Indiana was maybe, like, Terre Haute or Crown Point. You know, but not a small place like Valparaiso. What is a Valparaiso? Even where I’m from, people like, I’ll say, “Oh yeah, I go to Valparaiso University,” and they’re like, “What?”

But I didn’t hear about Valparaiso–the city and the university–until I was a junior in high school. They were like, “We’re going on a college trip and we’re going to Valparaiso.” And I’m like, “I’m not going there. That sounds weird. Just the name itself sounds weird. It’s probably going to be weird people. It’s not going to be people that look like me.” I guess I was scared, you know, because of that sense.

I saw the campus, and I saw how people treated each other, and I saw the way that people just interact with each other, and I was like, “Yeah.” This is the place where I wanted to be. Even though everything looked different: no sidewalks, it’s quiet, people look different from me, from where I grew up. Even though, I was just like, “No, I need to be here.” I feel like I can grow here, I feel like people can know my name here.

I see people who have challenges–my roommate is also African American. And we have different perspectives. She’s like, “Man, there’s all of these white people around.” And I’m just like, “I love it!” I love it! I love being different, seeing different things. And she’s like, “I don’t know, I’m not used to it.” But I feel like it’s something that you have to grow into; I feel that it’s something that you have to be comfortable with, with being yourself, and wearing your hair like this. It’s your self, it’s your person that’s going to make you be different.

In Core class, actually a couple weeks ago, we were talking about race. And so everyone–you can tell, like, the whole room just went flat. And I was like, “Hey, what’s wrong with everyone? Let’s talk about it!” You know, I am African American; everybody who I’m sitting next to is white. But I feel that that’s why a lot of people like me, because I’m not the person that sweeps it under the rug. If we’re going to live with each other, if we’re going to communicate with each other, be in school with each other, have close relationships, let’s talk about it. Let’s not, you know… Our skin is different; let’s talk about it. Let’s not throw it under the rug.

We were reading Gig and we read about the anchorwoman, and she’s an African American. She was saying like how her mom was really a strong, black woman. Being an anchorwoman and you’re black, it’s not really–she was talking about that struggle. So I was just like, you know, I felt it was the best time to bring up race, I don’t know why. I just felt like, “So what do you guys think of that, what do you guys think of, like, me being in this class.” I was asking, “How do you feel about seeing more black people on campus?” I was asking those type of questions. They were just like, “Well…” And even my friends who I thought that was like really outspoken, they were still like…they didn’t want to talk about it. Like, the room was completely silent, and people didn’t make eye contact. So, I brought up that point. I said, “Well, why did everyone–” I’m that type of person. So I asked, “Hey, why did everyone get quiet?” I mentioned to them, “Yeah, the room just got flat, guys. Hello? Are we still in class?” And they were just like, well, one girl finally said, like, “Well, it’s kinda hard. It’s kinda like we’re thinking about what to say that it won’t be offensive to you.” I guess I was the elephant in the room. Didn’t even know it! No, I’m kidding, I totally knew. I knew it. But I felt like it was time to break it. It was time to break that wall. Once I told them I was open with questions, and once I told them it’s okay to ask different qu–’cause I want to ask questions about you, too! You can ask questions about me; I can ask questions about you. And once I kinda like broke down that wall, we became closer, a closer Core class.