Hear from California alums: What impact has having a public voice had on your life?

We asked some of our California OpEd Project Alums to tell us about the impact having a public voice has had on their lives.

“I started with the intention of writing a few commentaries and in less than 2 years, I’ve published 10. I am also enjoying writing in a way that I hadn’t in years and maybe hadn’t ever. The capacity to communicate research findings to a larger and more diverse audience changed what is possible in and through my work. I’m now working to build a donor funded Women’s Health Research and Policy Center in RAND, where we can leverage a wide range of health research to address the gender gaps in knowledge and treatment in key areas such as cardiovascular disease.

ChloeBird OpEd Project Alum Chloe E. Bird, PhD is a senior sociologist at the  nonprofit,  nonpartisan RAND Corporation, where she studies  women’s health and health care as  well as social determinants of  health. Dr. Bird  is also a professor at the Pardee RAND  Graduate  School and editor-in-chief of the  journal Women’s Health Issues.  Read her  latest work on the RAND Blog.

“In the spring of 2014 my digital storytelling project was featured during the Museum of History and Industry’s “Queering the Museum” Project in Seattle. The sound of my voice became a part of the public conversation through images, music and text without my physical presence. My story, “Every Woman, Ever More” is a place marker for young women coming into an understanding that their identity may cleave them from the maternal terrain they call home. The opportunity to use words to create a new global territory that can be occupied by public opinion and dialogue liberates me to travel through it with new companions that I discover through discourse. My isolation abates.”

Jourdan Keith headshot 

OpEd Project Alum Jourdan Keith’s essay “Homophobia’s Carbon Count” is  forthcoming in Orion  Magazine. She is the founder and director of Urban  Wilderness Project. Check out some of Jourdan’s latest  work here.

“Having a public voice has impacted my life in many important ways. By participating in the public conversation on Huffington Post, I have been able to network and meet like-minded individuals. Of course, I am not just meeting like-minded people in the public arena. Debating with people who disagree with my views allows me to look at my positions on issues that matter and to create stronger arguments for future discussions. As an academic, I find myself participating in a more public forum has allowed me to disseminate information to a much broader audience and I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in many important, public conversations.”

Julia Meszaros HeadshotOpEd Project Alum Julia Meszaros is a PhD candidate at Florida International  University in the Global Sociocultural Studies Department. She currently lives in Oakland, California and is a blogger for the Huffington Post. 

The Benefits of “Going Public”



In the wake of Nicholas Kristof’s call for professors to engage with the public, OpEd Public Voices Fellowship leader Deborah Siegel encourages us to think about the benefits of “going public” in her piece When Crossover Work Counts. She writes, 

In our public conversation about the pleasures and dangers of participating in public conversation, let’s not overlook the stories of those who are making it work, and the fact that some institutions are acknowledging it as work. May the fact that we’re having this conversation be an early sign that this slow and uneven thaw might accelerate. At the very least, we’ll keep fanning the flames.

For the full story, read more here: Inside Higher Ed 

The Imposter Syndrome

How many of us have doubted ourselves, or our credentials, and wondered whether everyone else could see just what a fraud we are? What’s that about? It turns out that the Imposter Syndrome affects some of us more than others, as Alyssa Westring, one of our DePaul Public Voices fellows, points out in a recent essay for Inside Higher Education:
I began my search with the phrase “the imposter phenomenon,” a term I learned about in graduate school that still rang true. Visiting this research again, I found that Clance and Imes coined the phrase in 1978 to describe successful women who felt like “phonies” despite evidence of their intelligence and accomplishments. In the thirty years since their work, a broader body of research has emerged exploring how women attribute the causes of their success and their reactions to feedback in typically male dominated fields. There is ample evidence that from a young age, girls are taught that their success in these fields is due external factors such as hard work or luck and failures are due to ability; whereas the opposite attributions are taught to boys. These patterns of thinking often persist throughout adulthood – where even those who women who have persisted in typically male-dominated fields feel more uncertain about their ability and are more anxious about being revealed as “an imposter.” These beliefs also correspond to a greater sensitivity to the possibility of rejection and internalization of negative feedback.
For the full story on the Imposter Syndrome, read more here: Inside Higher Ed
(photo courtesy of Igor Polzenhagen)

The OpEd Project in Johannesburg

OpEd Project Founder Katie Orenstein and Facilitator Amy Gutman traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa this past month to work with the 13 newest Aspen New Voices Fellows.  These leaders from across the globe are championing Africa’s next agriculture revolution, fighting for coral reefs and the global environment, pioneering new family planning strategies, leading African research on malaria vaccines, among other new bold ideas.  On top of spending the week with the inspiring folks at Aspen, Katie and Amy had the chance to catch up with OpEd Project Mentor-Editor Joonji Mdyogolo during a quick stop in Cape Town.

Check out a montage of photos from the trip below.

Food for Thought: How can we think bigger?

OpEd Project founder Katie Orenstein recently sent this reminder to our Public Voices Fellows, about expanding our expertise for the public conversation:

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton via Brain PickingsMost of us are so locked in our silos (and our jargon) that we can’t see the patterns that link us across disciplines and cultures and time.  Or else we are so far up in the clouds that we’re blowing around without an anchor.  So the question is, how can we apply what we know to what we do not know?

At the same time, there is a tension between what we know and what we do not know, that grows larger.  With each and every passing day on the planet, we not only learn more knowledge — we also learn more and more about what we don’t know. The universe of the unknown is expanding, and at a faster rate than the universe of what we know.  The more we understand how little we know, the more uncomfortable we may feel with thinking big. We may end up speaking to smaller and smaller things.  So the challenge we face – the paradox of growing wise – is essentially to better and better realize the limitations of our knowledge, and then to draw from that realization the ability to say and do things that matter nevertheless.

But how?

One answer is to look beyond our fields – to look for the patterns and problems that appear elsewhere.  To explore the metaphors.  Where else do I see the familiar outlines of what I know? How has this same dynamic appeared in another place, or another field?  What does that place or field tell me that can help me solve a puzzle – or what can I contribute, from my universe, to a solution somewhere else?

In this video, Clayton Christenson Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, talks about how the patterns of disruption and innovation are bigger than even he had imagined: “Most people think that semi-conductors and terrorism are two fundamentally different fields that you’d have to spend your whole life trying to understand.  But at a fundamental level we see the same problems recur over and over again. One way to be innovative in your search is not to develop expertise in a field but rather ask, “Where else have they seen a problem like that?”

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton via BrainPickings

How to Get Comfortable Calling Yourself an Expert

Guest Post by Lex Schroeder


It’s true that we’re all learners, we’re learning all the time (let’s hope), but it’s also true that some of us just know about some things more than others.

I know more about writing and dialogue than my engineer friends. Olympic skiiers know more about skiing than I do. I remind myself of this whenever I get uncomfortable calling myself an expert.

I first realized I was uncomfortable with the word when I took The Op-Ed Project workshop last year with 20 to 25 other hugely accomplished women, most of whom felt an aversion to the word as well.

We all introduced ourselves, spoke about our work, told each other what we wrote about or wanted to write about, and then discussed this concept of “expertise.” Almost everyone cringed at the word. Our age, career, achievements, or level of experience didn’t seem to matter. And we all did this strange thing when we introduced ourselves. We downplayed our work. So it wasn’t only that we weren’t comfortable calling ourselves experts; we weren’t even comfortable letting our work stand for itself and be good.

We all had great confidence and felt a real need to cut our confidence back the moment we displayed it. Sitting in that circle, witnessing this “2 steps forward, 1 step back effect,” it hit me: maybe I’m not comfortable with the word expert for reasons I’m not consciously aware of! Maybe I’m not an expert on what I think I know about myself (and why I like certain words and don’t like others). Then we went on to get clear about what we know (what our actual expertise is), why it matters, and how we can use that knowledge to change the world and change the world’s conversation.

Words are funny things. They mean what they mean and they mean what we want them to mean. The first 500 times I heard the word expert, I heard arrogance and a deep disinterest in learning. I felt the damage “expertise” had done in the past. For example, George W. Bush’s expertise in leadership foreign policy when he invaded Iraq! I don’t hear the word expert the same way anymore. I hear it and think confidence and clarity. Expertise, as in, “I know about this thing. I have these skills. You can count on me.”

I like this idea of taking responsibility for what I know so I can be of use. And while my initial discomfort with the word “expert” was real and is still interesting to me, it’s not as interesting as the work I seek to do in the world, the knowledge and skills I have to offer and the knowledge and skills so many other people (many of them women) have to offer. I’m interested in women using their voices more than I’m interested in asking women to be wary of the word “expertise”, effectively giving them yet one more reason to question themselves… yet another reason to be humble, humble, humble. Most of us, too many of us, seem to just really have that down.

Whether or not you have any interest in writing op-eds, you’re going to want to take The Op-Ed project training. View upcoming workshop locations and sign up here. In their own words, “We define op-ed expansively. Op-ed offers a metaphor for thought leadership, a front door into the marketplace of ideas and public conversation (and thus a strategy for change).”

Originally published in Take The Lead.