Office of Inclusive Excellence

Questioning Burnout…Questioning…What We Know

April 4, 2022

By Joseph Ruiz

An emotional and mental numbness is what I began to dismantle upon returning to higher education as a Master’s of Social Work student. For a long time, I carried a routine of sleep and work—this made me oblivious to mental and emotional desensitization. Whether it was course literature about the importance of self-reflection in a clinical setting or group work, my involvement in family members’ hardships, or a combination of both during my time in the program, I began to feel and think. I had not recognized that I was just surviving. Much like Gary Soto’s protagonist, Eddie, in Burried Onions, I felt that I tried, but one aspect or another of my priorities and efforts would not match those that life had for me at the time.

Whether it was the marriage of my lived experience with the new material I was learning in a higher education setting, I began to ask myself a question that partially echoed Anne Hartman’s message in Many ways of Knowing—“how do we know what we know and how do they come to be truths?”. Truth is subjective to the platform it is disseminated on and through the experiences of those that live it. It prompted marginalized Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to uncover the unjust truths experienced from a flawed justice system. Other accepted truths prompted other people to storm the capitol after they questioned the function of the electoral system.

These events emphasize that truths need to be questioned—now more than before—that there are so many platforms and people sharing information that leave lasting effects—positive, negative, or both. It was Princeton professor John J. Dilulio Jr. that popularized the term Superpredator on the false notion that super-violent youth would disrupt U.S. society—the opposite happened. As legislators increasingly implemented this concept into their legislation, there was a sharp decline in crimes committed by youth, but more funding poured into the injustice system.

It was not until July of 2021 that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention began to be phased out from grassroots efforts from organizations like California Alliance Youth & Community Justice and Alianza for Youth Justice. Not being critical of information can have lasting and dire effects on society and especially for marginalized BIPOC who struggle just to survive. I have learned that the dangers of black and white thinking can live within the circles of well-established and glorified institutions, which further support the growth of polarizing differences among BIPOC.

I have reflected on how my educational experience has changed my presumptions and biases while I have been in school, but I have also wondered how it will shape them once I transition into the workforce. Will I carry a demeanor that is influenced by false information? Will I keep myself in a neutral stance where I just question everything? Will I want to impose my beliefs on other people? I do not know. What I do know is that, what I know, is not the only what, of knowing, so keeping myself aware of this fact can help me thrive and not just survive.

Joseph Ruiz is a Master of Social Work (MSW) student