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Speak-Up Carolina vignettes and responses are intended to prepare Carolina community members to more comfortably respond to challenging interactions. The University has many resources to:

In addition to the many resources available at UNC, the following are some things to consider when initiating conversation, reflection, and action to build community.

Speaking Up

Sometimes, uncomfortable incidents catch us by surprise and it can be difficult to collect our thoughts and respond effectively in the moment. Speak Up Carolina can help you anticipate and prepare for common, yet difficult, interactions. In employing these, think about the vocal tone and other nonverbal behaviors that will help your message to be heard. As you anticipate possible responses, consider what is important to you in the interaction.

  • Do you want to stand up for yourself? Is your objective to set boundaries about unacceptable statements, unwanted behaviors or unreasonable requests? In those instances, your responses will involve limit setting and you tone may be calm and firm. “We don’t tell jokes like that around our kids” “I’m uncomfortable with referring to our colleagues that way”. “I can’t do that for you”. “I understand you feel you behavior is a private matter, but it is putting the department in jeopardy and because of that, I can’t keep it a secret”.
  • Is your objective to get or keep a good relationship? Do you want the other person to feel good about you after the interaction is over? With a tone of kindness, your responses can focus on your positive intention and attempt to align your interests with the other person’s. “I know you care about being a good teacher. Because of that I feel I need to share an observation with you.” “I admire you and value our work together, but when I hear you bullying the lab staff, I can’t stay silent. I don’t think that’s who you want to be.”
  • Do you want to sleep well at night? Is your goal to behave in ways that are in keeping with your morals or values or in ways that make you feel capable, effective, and at peace with yourself? In those cases, you may want to identify and name those principles and use them to guide your responses, “The integrity of this project is important to the team and I am not willing to do anything to jeopardize it”. “We advertise this department as a welcoming and inclusive place, but statements like that are at odds with that goal”, “I think it’s wrong to stereotype people.” A sincere question can also invoke principles. (In response to an inappropriate request) “Do you think that’s appropriate?” “Is that aligned with polices?” “Would you be ok if (funders, administrators, the public) knew about this?”
  • Is your objective to get the other person to simply think twice about their behavior? Do you want to change the direction of the conversation? A word, short statement, or intentional silence may help. “Ouch”, “I beg your pardon?” “Maybe I didn’t hear you right”, “wow”.

Staying Silent

Some situations are so perilous or surprising that they challenge our sense of safety.

  • Assess your surroundings. Is the speaker with a group of people? Is the situation one where the speaker may need to save face? Are you alone?
  • Say nothing. A questioning glance may be an effective and non-confrontational response in a situation in which you feel unsafe speaking directly. Keep moving.
  • Speak to the proprietor or administrator. If the incident happens in a public venue, move or leave, but let those in charge know why: “The people at the next table keep making fun of the speaker’s disabilities. I can’t focus on the presentation”.
  • Report the incident to an advocacy group. Advocacy and ally groups often keep check on the pulse of a community. Contact them; let them know what you heard, when and where. They may see patterns you don’t and can work with campus or community leadership to address ongoing concerns.

Now or later?

Even when the moment has passed for speaking up, there still may be an opportunity to act.

  • Collect your thoughts. Troubling interactions can stay with us, even if we wish we could just let them go. They may affect our sleep or run through our heads as we think about what we wish we had said. Is it too late to say something?
  • Consult. Talk with trusted others or consult campus resources. Can they help you think through options?
  • Circle back. Many interactions are with people with whom we have ongoing relationships which means there are continuing opportunities for action. In fact, reaching out after an incident may have greater impact because it is planned, intentional, and less emotionally fraught. “I’ve been thinking about our conversation last week and have been troubled by it. Can we talk about it?” “I know I agreed to make the changes in the project accounting, but on reflection, I’ve concluded it’s not acceptable”. “The discussion in our last meeting when we made fun of applicant’s resumes bothered me afterward. I think we went too far. Maybe no one else felt that way, but can we agree not to do that kind of thing going forward?”
  • Consider electronic communication. Emails and voicemails don’t offer opportunities for immediate give-and-take communications, but they can provide a safe platform to apologize, share reflections, or request further conversation. “I’ve been thinking about the story I told at faculty meeting last week. It was clear from your reactions that it was offensive. Please accept my apology.”, “Could we make an appointment to revisit our projects and publication plans? I want to make sure we are keeping up with our original expectations.”

Working on ourselves

Confronting our own challenges is good and growth-producing, but not always easy or comfortable. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Be alert to opportunities. Identify situations where you feel remorseful about an interaction. Seek feedback and advice from family, friends, mentors, or formal resources. Can anything be done to remedy the situation you regret?
  • Invite assistance. Could your trusted others share their ideas, commit to helping you grow from the experience, or call your attention to similar incidents if they arise in the future?
  • Identify your personal goals. “I’ve got some work to do here to learn what sayings are dated and hurtful.” Such admissions can be powerful in modeling behavior for others.
  • Commit to learn more. Education, exposure and awareness are key factors in personal growth.
  • Follow through. Select a date — a couple of weeks or months away — and mark it on a calendar. When the date arrives, reflect on what you’ve learned, how your behavior has changed and what’s left to do. Reach out again for feedback.

Continuing the Conversation

Speaking up is a great first step, but what happens next? The resulting dialogue can go in many different directions depending on how your comment is received. In addition to the campus resources linked above, the following may also provide guidance for deeper conversations.