I grew up in picturesque suburbia. My family had the white picket fence and the perfectly manicured garden in the school district with beautiful homes and fantastic schools. No doubt about it, I was blessed growing up. My biggest worry was if I would ride the bus or have my mom drive me to school.
At 15 years, though, my life really took a turn. My parents divorced, and although my mom and I still managed to stay in the school district, we downsized to an apartment quite a bit smaller than our comfortable home down the street. My sister went off to college, and my dad moved down the road by himself. Boo hoo, right?
During the time when this was happening, I truly felt like my world was falling apart. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t always afford to go out to eat or shop with my friends, and was embarrassed by the crappy car I was driving in comparison to the gorgeous luxury cars in our school parking lot. Still, life really wasn’t terrible. You’re probably wondering where I am going with this.
What I’m trying to say is that when my life began to change, I felt like my world was falling apart. I honestly felt like I was unfortunate, and I cringe at the thought now. No, I did not have the most ideal home life, but I somehow still thought that although I had a healthy family, a roof over my head, went to a great institution, was talented at a sport, and had food in my stomach every day that I was still living a crappy life. I kind of hate the person I was during this time and I hate the fact that I could have been so stupid and inconsiderate. My white privilege was at an all-time high! Which brings me to college.
Thank God for college guys. Yeah, the parties are great, living with your friends is amazing, and being independent is super fun. I could recommend going to college strictly for those reasons, but the real point I’m trying to make is that you get to grow into a better human because you are surrounded by people that make you uncomfortable, people that cause you to question your morals and your perspective on life. I’m going to be super frank here, and if this offends anyone I apologize in advance, but part of the reason I was so blind to the real world until college was because I was surrounded by people who looked and thought just like me. White people everywhere! Privilege everywhere! Comfort and ease for miles.
Not at college, my friends! I realize some people may make the point that I go to an expensive, private, liberal arts school that many might never dream of, so how can it be all that different from the life I was living before? I’ll be honest, I never dreamed I could afford it either, but thanks to some generous scholarships I was able to swing it, and I have yet to meet one person I go to school with who isn’t on some sort of federal financial aid or merit scholarship. Thankfully the school I go to has some very generous donors.
That’s not the point, though. Yes, I go to school in rural Indiana, but you’d be surprised at how diverse it is. Talk about a culture shock for white suburban girl me. Arriving at campus was a little overwhelming because — ah, yes — I had finally reached a microcosm of a campus that was the melting pot of America (and thank God for it). I needed a little whipping into shape.
Going into school I felt like I knew it all. I really did. I thought I had been through enough hardship to be able to understand real struggle that I could use as experience for difficult college life. Again, cringing! I remember walking into my first day of Media Fellows class thinking, oh yeah, I got this. Then, my classmates began to speak. My non-white, culturally diverse, and worldly classmates put me to shame. Holy shit, I am stupid, I thought to myself. Let’s just say I got a little reality check and shut up for the rest of the day.
Then, the election rolled around, something we talked about quite heavily in our Media Fellows class because as we all know, the media was just about the only thing anyone could focus on during this time. Now, I won’t dip my toe into the water of politics right now because I’ll be honest, I don’t know enough to give valid arguments (I’m still forming my own opinions as I continue to get #educated). Also…I think we are all a little worn out at the thought of more political banter. But what the constant discussion among diverse, well-rounded, and quite frankly, smart-ass people did for me was make me realize that I needed to educate myself more, and I needed to open my eyes in order to realize that white privilege is a real thing. I also realized that I didn’t want to be that girl that said I affiliated with a certain political party simply because that’s how I was raised or because those were my parents' views.
Suddenly, my thirst for knowledge escalated more than it ever had at any point in my life. The moment I became uncomfortable was the moment I wanted to catch up, to know more. As cheesy as it may sound, by coming to college it hit me that education and knowledge is true power. Then I realized that although I was provided a beautiful education from my high school, it was also one-dimensional. I never felt behind, uneducated, or inadequate because we never really discussed issues beyond our grasp as privileged people. If it didn’t directly concern us at that current moment, we never really bothered with it. Now, all of a sudden I feel this urge to suck the marrow out of the education I’ve been given because I realize how sheltered I have been.
Lately, I’ve been thanking God for my education at this tiny school that has allowed me to make so many breakthroughs. I’m not saying that state schools can’t give you the same eye-opening experience, but because my classes are so small and so wide-ranging, I have been thrown to the wolves to fend for myself. I can no longer hide in a crowd of people and be a follower. Instead, I’m forced to take a stand on issues, and to back it up. And if I can’t, I’ll look like a fool, but there will be someone there to keep me in check, respectfully. I’m a little pissed at myself for my prior ignorance on... so many things (eye roll), but all I can do at this point is be grateful for the small rural college in Indiana that has taught me to change my ways of thinking, and continue to use the way more educated people I’m surrounded by to better myself. That’s what I’m realizing college is all about; not just the classes you take and the grades you make, but the people who break you out of your comfort zone and force yourself to be better.