Critical thinking challenges societal norms
SPEAKERS QUESTIONED IDEAS ENGRAINED IN SOCIETY AT CRITICAL THINKING AND CIVIL DISCOURSE ABOUT SOCIAL PROBLEMS: CHALLENGING THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM.
Over 400 people attended the Florida State University College of Social Work conference, Critical Thinking and Civil Discourse About Social Problems: Challenging The Conventional Wisdom. The event was in collaboration with the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University and the John Templeton Foundation.
The conference's speakers spoke about their work and experience as they proposed their ideas, which went against the norms of society. Ideas were challenged and not everyone came to an agreement, but people were listening and some questioned what they have been taught their whole lives.
“It’s really neat to so many people wrestling with these ideas,” College of Social Work professor Dr. Jeffrey Lacasse said. “You see people willing to come in and be challenged.”
Lacasse and his colleague, Dr. Tomi Gamory and PhD student, Daniel Dunleavy, planned this conference for nine months.
“Tomi and I have both long been interested in the idea of critical thinking and it’s a big thing at FSU, something undergraduate curriculum seems to emphasize, so we thought it would be a good idea for a conference to bring in people from a variety of different topic areas to talk about what it’s like to be a critic, how they’ve been received and also just to present people with interesting information.”
The idea of “Critical Thinking” was tied into all of the speaker’s speeches. The conference varied in topics, including obesity, self-medication, mental health and the structure of the FSU student organization, The Power of We.
One of the speakers, Laura Delano, spoke about her 14 years in the mental health system and her road to recovery and becoming clean of psychiatric drugs. She was diagnosed at age 14 with bipolar disorder and depression after having a breakdown, attributed to the stress and pressures of being an athlete, getting good grades, student government and other school related activities.
Her diagnosis crept back into her life when she attended Harvard University. Moving to an unfamiliar place heightened her self-harm and suicidal thoughts. At the University Health Services, she discussed her struggles with body image with a counselor whom told her to "eat a piece of cake.”
Delano did not return to UHS due to that encounter. Instead, she took the bus to a hospital off campus to receive therapy, treatment and check herself in if needed. During this time, she had become obsessed with the idea of being a “good patient.”
“It just really became my life. It became my identity. It became everything about who I was," she explained.
The stress and diagnosis eventually became too overwhelming and she moved back home after the fall semester of her junior year. Delano graduated from Harvard, but she explained that her education remains fuzzy in her memory due to the number of drugs she was on.
While on five psychiatric drugs, Delano read the book, "Anatomy of an Epidemic," written by conference speaker Robert Whitaker and was influenced by his belief that drugs and treatment do not help people, but that they actually make people worse. From the reading, Delano was left to question, “What if everything I’ve been told and everything I believed in myself wasn’t true?” From there Delano started researching everything she could to try and reassemble the puzzle pieces of her life for the past 14 years.
During this time of self discovery, Delano started writing a blog to share her feelings and the struggles that accompanied the withdrawal process. The blog posts were originally published on Mad in America, Robert Whitaker's website and can still be accessed there. In addition, the articles were later published on Delano's website, Recovering from Psychiatry.
"I just spent the last half of my life, essentially being defined by the mental health system, mental health professionals, textbooks and clinical studies. I had had no ownership of my own story. I needed to take my story back and write my own story."
Delano expressed how it felt to connect with others who were reading about her journey around the world. She was able to provide comfort to those struggling and overcoming similar obstacles.
"I spent so many years feeling so alienated and alone. And to realize how far from alone I am, how far away we all are, it’s just been a very beautiful meaningful thing for me.”
After sharing her story with the conference audience, Delano expressed the importance of a support system and community. Delano is the founder of a new non-profit, Inner Compass Initiative (ICI), which serves to help local groups connect and speak about their struggles.
“Our mission is to provide people with information resources and connecting tools so that people can make more informed choices about all things mental health and so that people can find each other in local communities. I think there is nothing more powerful than just having a space at the local grassroots level where you can connect with other people in real time, in real life, face to face."
She stressed that these relationships would help people because they are, “human to human, not doctor to patient.” Delano thinks that these safe spaces will give people the help and hope that she didn’t receive.
She explained the many issues she has with the mental health system today.
“You can’t simultaneously pathologize something and also understand something in its context. You can’t contextualize your emotional and mental experiences as long as your contextualizing them by seeing them as symptoms of some biological thing inside of you which there is no evidence for to begin with.”
Sophomore Marc McKenna is an actuarial science major that was intrigued to attend the conference after seeing it advertised in a mass email. When asked why he attended, he stressed the importance of critical thinking and noted that, “a lot of schools do not teach it.”
In addition, McKenna noted that Delano did not have anyone to talk to and people like her motivate him even further to want to improve the education system to provide more support for students.
FSU student and the founding chair of Power of We, Inam Sakinah, spoke about political, academic and social discourse. She used the structure of Power of We as a framework that others should model.
“We do not have a particular agenda. We do not have a particular stance on an issue. Our role we see on campus is to create the space where different agendas can meet and engage with each other, can connect with each other, can try to convince each other,” Sakinah said.
Power of We serves to try and diminish how polarized campus is by allowing spaces for people of different ideologies to converse. In order to try and remedy this issue, Power of We board had to think critically.
“When a problem is as complex and as fundamental as polarization and division you have to be able to find an innovative way of approaching it in a way that hasn’t been done before. So with Power of We, thinking critically was fundamental to be able to contribute anything of value. If we did it the same way that things have been done before we would not have been able to make any progress.”
The dialogue at this conference sparked questions on both sides and made the audience of students, professors, faculty, medical professionals and Tallahassee residents challenge the ideas that the speakers claimed have been wrongfully instilled into their minds by society.