Dr. Nikki Gutgold stood at the front of the Career Lab and asked the crowd of women before her if there was ever a time they wished they had spoken up. Next, she asked, to think of a time when they actually did.

“When we speak fully and forcefully about what we believe in,” said Gutgold, “we improve our lives personally, professionally, and we improve our lives in the community. And I think that when we speak in public, we should tell the truth — but even more than that, we should tell our truth.”

Gutgold, a professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State, motivational speaker and author of three books, loosely defined our truth as a lived experience. It can be anything systematic or personal, from discrimination to a rough time at home. Gutgold’s Friday, March 29 discussion was titled “Speak Your Truth: The Power of Public Speaking, Conversation and Even Non-verbal Gestures to Change the World.”

The first step in speaking your truth, said Gutgold, is to be humble. Gutgold’s home campus, Penn State, is an institution with blue collar grassroots that began with the purpose of educating farmer’s children. During a meeting with a dean, Gutgold asked what the college was doing about first generation students.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” said Gutgold. “He sniffed the air. ‘First generation?’ and I said ‘I’m not even first generation college, I’m first generation high school.’”

Gutgold explains that the second step to speaking your truth is to learn from predecessors. She then went into detail about the movements created by prominent historical figures, such as Rosa Parks and how she had been carefully chosen for that part because of her appearance.

“Then that’s not true!” Beverly Tisdale spoke up. “If one is supposed to speak the truth, that’s not the case when you are creating a figure.”

She continued on to mention Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to run for president in 1964, and then Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president in 1972 — and was the first black woman to do so. She knew she wasn’t going to win, said Gutgold, but she wanted to draw attention to the social constructs surrounding black women in power.  

“I want history to remember me… as a black woman who lived in the twentieth century and dared to be herself,” Chisholm had said, which Gutgold drew attention to.

Gutgold continued,  explaining how sometimes circumstances demand your truth be heard. She gave the example of Tim Piazza’s parents, who lost their son to a fraternity hazing tragedy. She also mentioned the case of David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, survivors and activists from the  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and Dr. Blasey Ford, and countless others who never expect to be spokesperson for such tragedies, but felt a need to speak up.

Sometimes, said Gutgold, just speaking up is enough to influence others.

Susan Nenstiel told a story of how one member of a finance committee spoke up. A club that did not allow women to join had requested money. She spoke up, and another woman agreed with her, and the committee denied the club funding until it opened membership up to women.

It’s important to speak, but also to act, said Gutgold. Nothing will get done if the truth isn’t spoken, but the action that comes after is the most important part.

In moments when someone needs to confront another to speak their truth, Gutgold suggested buying time to think of a response by asking the individual to repeat themselves. It’s best to speak up, said Gutgold, even if the conversation ends in an agree-to-disagree.

At the end, Gutgold encouraged all listeners to stand up for themselves, and to never apologize for who you are and what you experience.

“Be a first rate version of yourself,” Gutgold concluded. “Not a second-rate version of someone else.”

Chloe Gravereaux is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Muhlenberg Weekly, to which she has contributed since her freshman year. She dabbles in all forms of verbal and visual art, specializing in journalism and short fiction. Her unrivaled color coordination skills and investment in the dollar section of Target have earned her the nickname "Office Mom."


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