Zip Lip Syndrome

How bad is it to stay tight lipped in any given situation? As students navigating through choosing what courses to take, as parents facilitating learning and growth, or as individuals with a sense of pride, each situation depends on the people and the conflict. In the professional world, if you don’t know how to zip the lip you may be seen as insubordinate or possibly, in a more positive light, a “whistleblower.” At home with your children, a certain air of caution must be taken when conflict arises, as conflicts are usually teachable moments. Overreacting in a teachable moment can have dire consequences down the road, especially if overreacting is the norm. But, when someone hurts your pride the feelings then become something only you can address.

For the purposes of this blog, “syndrome” will mean a combination of opinions, emotions, or behavior. So, what is the “zip lip syndrome” then? Something I have completely made up, but I believe college students suffer from it A LOT. This syndrome, this insanity cycle, all comes back to power really. No one likes to be questioned. As children, many of us are taught not to question authority (i.e. your parents, elders, teachers, or even the institutions we all learn in). Why can’t we color outside the lines? Well, because the lines make a prettier picture…Can you sense my sarcasm? While all of us are taught these concepts of paternalistic colonialism, we are also taught that we should “think outside the box.” I want to know how big this box is? It’s never clearly lined out for us. But should this box be lined out? Can we not, as individuals, just be free to think and see where that gets us? Here comes the boom: Should this system still exist at tribal colleges?

In an institution, instructors who perpetuate this paternalistic colonialism are a fatal flaw. For whose fate you ask? Why, the student’s fate of course! When you add in this fatal flaw to the zip lip syndrome, retention rates drop and admin are left scratching their heads, wondering who the mole is. And those moles know how to cover up the treacherous holes they leave for students to stumble into. Students stumble into these hidden challenges during their first year, if they are lucky, and in their third year or beyond if the mole is well adjusted. This is why change takes so long.

As a student, running full speed, chasing dreams, there is no better recourse than to forego giving in to zip lip syndrome, and instead speak out. Lay a foundation if there isn’t one because the student experience is not singular. You are not alone in your feelings, even if you are throwing a duck fit. Remember though, in the end, just like a duck, to let whatever loss of pride you have to roll off your back because those unclipped wings are still flying into the future.

Celina Gray (Blackfeet and Little Shell Chippewa) is a student at Salish Kootenai College studying wildlife and fisheries.

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