Why Does it Have to...Matter?

When I was helping a student write their college essay, she asked why the topic needed to matter to her if she could write about it well.

Photo of Andre Douglas
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The College Essay. These 3 words are some of the most daunting combination of sounds to some of my students. In 650 words or less, these students are expected to not only show their mastery of the English language but also explain their identities and why items matter to them.

One of my closest students wrote about how she wants others to learn more about LGBTQ+ rights and how having a gay relative has affected her. This student was ready to put her pen to the paper and write away, but before she even could put her name down, I asked why these things matter to her. She responded that they mattered because she had a gay relative. I pushed her further and asked how it directly affects her. We got into a deep conversation prompted with thoughts asking why does it matter if it's not her hearing these words or being accosted for holding another person of the same gender's hand and so on and so forth.

To my surprise, as well as my elated astonishment, she replied with 6 of the boldest words.


She went on to explain that these questions shouldn't ask why things need to matter directly to a person if it affects others negatively in her community. If her family member gets his feelings hurt, it matters to her. If another human being has to experience unnecessary pain, does it really have to matter or directly affect her to want to take action about it?

[Optional] Synthesize a little! What's one take away or insight to leave people with?

How can we engage students to passionately discuss topics that matter to them or that they want to change as much as a college essay?

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Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Andre, Thank you for sharing this powerful conversation. Your skillful questioning helped your student realize how powerful her voice can be in the community. I wonder how the conversation would have changed with a group of students discussing the topic?