Here I sit, a white male. I have been in my graduate program now for almost four semesters and discussed a multitude of issues facing Higher Education and its role in the future of our society. I have thought deeply about issues of oppression, hatred, education, and love. Reflection has become a part of my daily routine. Throughout all of this time, I have been an “I” or a “me” and rarely a “we.”
I am many things : american, a greek, a Student Affairs professional, student, liberal, male, athlete, Cubs fan, etc. Despite these group memberships, I still have the privilege, in most instances, to talk about my own experience.
When I think about not categorizing myself as a “we,” I cherish my ability to share my own voice. I have been privileged to have people in my life support my interests and beliefs as I figured out my own identity. I am okay admitting to anyone that my favorite TV show is Gilmore Girls and that I am looking forward to being a father and husband. A few years ago, I would not have been able to say the same thing.
Just the other day I was listening to the radio as they discussed the reviews from the recent Hunger Games movie. The hot topic of the day was discussing Peeta and Katniss in relation to gender roles. Katniss was being applauded for being portrayed as a strong, aggressive, confident, capable person. Peeta was getting slammed for being portrayed in a supporting role. He was characterized on the radio as filling the typical “heroine” role. He was always there for Katniss and relied on her to be successful. He believed in love above all else and would sacrifice anything for it.
My issue was not with Katniss being portrayed as capable, but more so with Peeta being hammered for being in a supportive role. The general tone associated with being in the “heroine” role was incredibly negative and I could not understand why Peeta was being so thoroughly criticized for it. I think the world would be a much better place if more people loved in the way Peeta does and he should not be slammed for being himself.
Regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or any other identifying characteristic, people should be allowed to be themselves. It is so easy to characterize and group(and judge), but that is doing very little for our students. We (there is that we), as student affairs professionals have to help create a world where each person’s individual voice has a chance to be heard regardless of the expectations of others.
I am pretty good at a lot of different things, but there is not one thing I excel at better than most. I really don’t have expertise in any area, but there is one thing I believe in above all else: love. I can honestly say I would not be the person I am today without the presence of both my mother and grandma. They taught me the power of love and did not limit its dispensation based on blood. My grandma was an incredible person. She grew up with a mother who spoke almost exclusively Polish. She lost two husbands under tragic circumstances. She would do practically anything for those she loved. In most traditional senses, she was not even my grandmother. She was the mother of my mom’s first husband. That marriage yielded no children, but my mom soon had two girls with her second husband. My grandma was willing to stick around and help raise those two girls as a nanny of sorts. Soon after those two girls, I was born. Eventually, my brother was born as well. By this time, my grandma had moved in with us and became our primary caretaker as my mother was working long hours as a nurse and the fathers of her children were rarely around.
Regardless of blood relation, my grandma has always been grandma and she taught me about what love means. She loved us all unconditionally and anyone could see it. We were not technically related, but she would still do anything for us kids. She was always a safe space, even when I was in trouble. She could listen for hours and let me rant and rave about everything. She was able to do all this and still teach me a lesson at the end. As frustrated as I was, I knew she truly listened and cared despite not necessarily agreeing with where I stood on an issue. It is this kind of person I have always tried to be.
My mom is cut from different cloth than my grandma, but love is just as much a part of her life. My mom will listen, but she is a talker through and through. My mom is a nurse and spent a good portion of my life as a Hospice nurse. Hospice is a program designed for people who are terminally ill. The Hospice nurse’s main responsibility is assuring comfort and preparing the family for the transition that often marks death. Once I understood exactly what it was my mom did, I was shocked. I cannot imagine being so many things for so many people. She was often a counselor and social worker in addition to caring for a dying parent, partner, sibling, or friend. I can never forget, however, the dedication and loyalty the people she worked for showed her because of the hard work and never-ending love she had for her patients and their loved ones.
I remember a particular night when I was probably nine. We were eating dinner at a local restaurant and my mom was on call. She received a call because one of her patients was on their few breaths. Well, she had nothing to do with the four children she had with her, so we ended up all getting into the van and heading to her patient’s home. It just so happened that the patient was the parent of the current owners of the restaurant we had just been getting ready to eat at. Now, I have no idea who the patient was, but I do know that his/her family was incredibly patient with the four children that invaded their home. We mostly sat in the living room and watched. It was then I got to see my mom in action. She was talking to what seemed like a hundred people at once, calming nerves, consoling others, and making arrangements for the coroner to arrive. I do not remember everything about that night, but I do remember the appreciation this family had for what my mom was doing. For me, that was love in action once again.
When we returned to the restaurant to have our meal, it was given to us for free (quite exciting for a kid who didn’t always get dessert!). The kind words and smiles I witnessed that night help inspire me to try and be as many things for as many people as I possibly can.
Pardon my verbosity, but I think I can summarize what I am trying to get at with all of these stories. It does not matter who we might be or what we may believe, our experiences are all different. There is great value in listening to each person as an individual and giving them a chance to be themselves. It is easy to say, “love thy neighbor,” it is a much harder thing to practice. It is something I strive to do every day and I try and make sure the students and colleagues I am working with know I care deeply about them as people and as professionals. It does not matter to me whether they want to be Katniss or they want to be Peeta, I just want them to be themselves.