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Words Matter: A Discourse in Awareness and Compassion By: Emily Williamson

On Wednesday March 24, the Hardin-Simmons University Sigma Beta Chapter of Phi Alpha National Honor Society for Social Work invited Ms. JaeHee Chung-Sherman, LCSW-S (she/her/hers), to speak at a virtual event titled “Words Matter: A Discourse in Discourse.”

Chung-Sherman is an accomplished individual in the areas of social work, specifically child welfare, and in therapy practices. The focus of this event was how words and awareness impact the world we live in, particularly for minority and marginalized communities. These communities include but are not limited to: the LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities and individuals of color.

Recent events in the nation have spurred revived efforts to promote equality and awareness of discrimination and injustices which still cause problems for society today. Chung-Sherman took care to stress that each individual has a different background and different lived experiences.

“We experience our identities within the social-political constructs of the world,” Chung-Sherman said.

The topic of identity can bring up many uncomfortable topics, but it is in healthy discussion of these topics that have promoted growth and education. Chung-Sherman’s own experiences is one of being a child of color, going through the social work system and ultimately being raised by a white family in white culture. This part of her story and identity helped her to see the necessity of having this discussion.

The age-old phrase about what happens when you assume may be a cliche, but the truth at the center of it is something which is important to remember in the context of words. Assumptions about another person and his/her/their life experiences can be damaging. Chris Beavers, a junior social work major from Lorena, was present at the event and shared his thoughts on the power of biases and assumptions. “We have to become aware of our personal biases, and make sure that we correctly speak to people,” Beavers said. “We do not want to assume something about an individual and offend them in the end.”

From a Biblical perspective, the roles of relationship and unconditional love are largely important. Jesus actively loved the lepers, the poor and those whom his culture deemed unlovable. In her discussion, Chung-Sherman also pointed out that we, humankind, are the only mammals God created who mutually seek out others. Our relationships and ability to empathize are tools which can be used to promote the unconditional love which God has displayed for us.

“Many communities are spoken down on… [w]e need to use our words to promote love to marginalized communities, and bring us together,” Beavers said. “When we can have the power in our voice and show love to others, love wins in the end.”

The trauma which connects us and the realities of living life individually are points which should influence the ways that we communicate with one another. At the end of the day, the words we say matter, but so does listening to the words of others.

“Words are one of the most powerful tools [we have],” Beavers said. “When we can correctly utilize our words for the best, we can see a greater change in our society.”


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