Under (Peer) Pressure

Under (Peer) Pressure


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When we came up with the idea for this season one day in November of 2019, the only thing about the world that seemed crazy at that moment was the idea of doing an episode all about peer influence. Were we really just going to have an entire episode about Instagram fitness models?

Little did I know that we would soon be living a moment of peer influence like many of us have never experienced. We’ve seen, in such a short time, the power of protest movements to effect change. Whether it is our nationwide reckoning with the role of the police to the long-overdue retirement of some pathetic participation trophies — or, unfortunately, to the incredibly vocal but tiny minority that can’t be burdened to wear a mask over the constitutionality of mask-wearing — have no doubt that your voice can matter.

And if you have doubts that your voice truly matters, then listen to this episode. In our final interview, co-host Elena Valentine interviews her friend Theresa Stewart. And the person who inspired Theresa? Someone she had never met.

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Wait, What Do You Call Yourself?

Jessica Miller-Merrell is a consultant, author, and speaker. She’s also the Chief Innovation Officer at Workology. In other words, she’s an influencer — the type of person you’d see on lists like Micole’s.

But does Jessica think of herself as an influencer? Kind of. For Jessica, thinking of herself as an “influencer” is a bit of a misnomer. Instead, she prefers to think of herself as an educator. “I’m leading with resources — first arming people with information to help them do their jobs better and then to make more informed decisions,” she says.

Whatever she calls herself, though, there was a moment that Jessica realized her voice had power. After the publication of her first book, she spoke at a conference — and had an encounter with a group of people she didn’t realize existed: fans. “I had a group of people kind of following me around, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’” Jessica says. “People actually read my stuff.”

“I think an influencer somebody who helps advise or share resources to help someone make a decision, whatever that is.”

You’ve Got Influence, Even If You Don’t Know It

Theresa Stewart is a designer and cultural consultant who is the founder of colored, a diversity and inclusion consultancy. This past June, she shared a Twitter thread detailing her experiences as a Black Queer woman working at Cards Against Humanity, exposing the company’s racist and misogynist culture. As a result of Theresa’s actions, Cards Against Humanity co-founder Max Tempkin is no longer with the company, though he still maintains shares in the business. For more on Theresa’s experiences — and the experience of others’ — be make sure to read this in-depth article on Polygon.

Theresa’s story is a prime example of the power of peer influence — and not just because Theresa was able to effect change. Theresa had shared her story in bits and pieces previously, but never in its entirety. She was inspired to share her story by the #SecondCityIsOver hashtag on Twitter, which exposed institutionalized racism at the comedy institution. Specifically, Theresa was inspired by Aasia Lashay, a Black female comedian Theresa has never met, who was involved with #SecondCityIsOver.

And it’s the fact that Aasia is a Black woman like Theresa that made such a large impact. “Frankly, most design leaders are cis straight white men whose paths are very different than mine,” Theresa says. But a Black woman like Aasia had similar experiences to Theresa. And even though Theresa didn’t know her, the ability to relate to Aasia was very impactful for Theresa. “When I look to peer influencer, I look at somebody who has the same amount of thing I do at stake,” she says.

So if you have your voice, use it. Theresa’s experience inspired others to come forward about their experiences with Cards Against Humanity and Max Tempkin. And you never know when the next person who needs strength will find it from you — even if you’ve never met them.

“If I could see somebody who had all the same things on the line as I did being courageous, I knew I could trust in myself that I have enough protection that like I can say something and live in that aftermath.”

People Featured in This Episode

Additional Resources

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Rex New is a multimedia content producer. When he’s not driving his coworkers bonkers with extremely detailed feedback, he can be found in Jackson, Wyoming, snowboarding in the winter and biking and hiking in the summer. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and received a Writers Guild Award nomination for co-writing “Dance Camp,” YouTube’s first original movie.


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