When I was in my second year as an editor at the Gazette, there was a moment that has stuck with me since. The brazen casualness would have been innocuous if not for the topic of conversation.
It was a comment during a discussion on the Obamas' recent trip to Saudi Arabia that has singed into my memory. Michelle Obama did not wear a headscarf during her trip which had sparked some commentary in the media. During the exchange, we noted that other educated women like Condoleezza Rice also chose not to wear a headscarf when they traveled to the country.
"Well, maybe she didn't wear the hijab because she's educated," said someone in the office.
The remark might have even been dismissed as something this person would just say, but I made eye contact with my friend, someone who wore the hijab proudly — and who is phenomenally intelligent and educated. We talked a few minutes later and were perplexed by what had just happened.
This was one of many conversations I had at the Gazette about contentious topics but this was the only where I ever heard anyone show such flippant disregard for another person's identity. This dismissal of her faith, a key part of who she was, has still stayed in my head years later.
When I first came to the Gazette, I loved debating and engaging in controversial topics. I was unafraid to step on people's toes and if others got emotional, I would view it as a sign that someone could not maturely handle heavier issues. Part of being at a media outlet was pursuing uncomfortable topics, after all.
But during my five years, I've learned that you can still do this while being respectful and empathetic to everyone. To use a metaphor, you don't have to tear the house down in order to renovate — oftentimes I had a scorched earth mentality during discussions. This was wrong.
I haven't always gotten this right and I'll be the first to admit it. Some of my older columns feature hostile and dismissive language. I'm still harsh and take a strong stance on an issue when I write, but I try not to disregard key parts of people's identities.
This is not me preaching against adversarial discussions — sometimes there has to be a yay and nay side. Since I've been at the Gazette we've talked about trigger warnings, Muslim prayer spaces, trans* rights, Justin Trudeau's government, cultural barbaric practises, the price of tuition, USC politics, Amit Chakma's salary, politically correct culture and a lot more. Do not shy away from controversial topics! I've learned that you can argue with your friends and colleagues in a respectful fashion.
Sometimes we all grow the most when we're challenged, when we're unafraid to explore uncomfortable subjects. I've learned so much by listening to other perspectives and confronting the way I think. With civility and the willingness to push, we truly become better people.
As I leave the Gazette, I leave thinking of the refrains from a Dylan Thomas poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light."