Policy Matters Blog

The Notorious RBG, a Pandemic, and an Election.

"Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you." - Ruth Bader Ginsburg  

I learned of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on that dark, wildfire smoke-filled, hazy Friday night. I was looking forward to a restful weekend after working so hard as a professor to teach my school psychology courses in a hybrid fashion, ensuring that my children remain somewhat safe while attending school, and all the while trying to maintain all the "must-do" tasks on my ever-growing list of things to accomplish. The news stung ... like a kick in the gut. And it left me to wonder why this woman, whom I have never met, would have such an impact on me and the world. I wondered why the loss of her would impact me in such a profound way. 

I spend the next 2 days moping around while trying to do what I could to keep a sense of normalcy. I tried to keep my workout routine and avoid too much social media and instead spent my time watching RBG documentaries and reading about the wonderful things that she accomplished in her time here on earth. This has led me to think about the impact of one woman and the legacy of advocacy that she has left behind. 

In my quest for knowledge, this is what I have learned about RBG and advocacy. I learned that advocacy is not always about getting the outcome that you want. Advocacy is about the act of standing up and speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. This was a pillar of the work of RBG and what stands out to me as the key aspect of the loss that I am feeling right now. Further, I have learned a lot more about the concept of dissenting. As a kind, Midwestern gal, I do not love conflict and will do just about anything to avoid it at all costs. This idea of dissenting makes me a bit uncomfortable and uneasy ... what if others judge me? What if I lose my reputation as a nice person for standing up for this controversial topic? Most importantly, what would my Grandma Lois think? 

RBG spoke about dissents in such a profound way. She said, "Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong, and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow." 

So perhaps my advocacy and occasional dissent to what is "the norm" might just be the kind of advocacy this country needs right now. 

As we sit in this space where we have an ongoing pandemic and the impending election, I cannot help but feel that my "surge capacity" is depleted.  In an article on The Medium (https://elemental.medium.com/your-surge-capacity-is-depleted-it-s-why-you-feel-awful-de285d542f4c), Tara Haelle speaks about how the impact of the "pandemic fatigue" that is affecting us all. It is exhausting for all of us to continually work, educate, and function in this stressful and uncertain world. It is also hard to experience fear, lack of control, and uncertainty for a virus that we do not know how long will be a part of our vocabulary. In addition to the loss of RBG, I have been reflecting on the lack of capacity that I have to engage in one more thing. 

All of us are being impacted daily by the pandemic and it is causing varying amounts of anxiety and stress.  It is important to understand that you may be feeling at your wits end simply because you are.  It is ok to feel the feelings you have, yet still want to be a part of impacting change. It is also important to take care of yourself, so you can take care of others!   

So, what does the pandemic, the passing of RBG, and this election season all have to do with one another? Well, I cannot help but think we are at a threshold of possibility. We are all at a heightened state due to these circumstances out of our control, and we have the desire to be able to do something to decrease our anxiety, increase some certainty, and make the world a better place.

Our NASP 2020 ethical code states the following, "Advocacy: School psychologists have a special obligation to speak up for the rights and welfare of students and families, and to provide a voice to clients who cannot or do not wish to speak for themselves. Advocacy also occurs when school psychologists use their expertise in psychology and education to promote changes in schools, systems, and laws that will benefit schoolchildren, other students, and families."

Perhaps as you are working through this election season, you might consider both our ethical code as well as the words of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Perhaps your standing up for children might be actions that create a better tomorrow for the children we serve. And who knows? Perhaps others will want to join you!  

Dr. Kari Oyen, Assistant Professor of School Psychology, is the cochair of NASP Government Professional Relations. All opinions are her own.