Alright, warning: this has turned into a super long post that it a little bit of all of the place and even though I tried to have a coherent conclusion, it doesn't really have a conclusive ending. My goal in sharing it anyway is just to show you a little of what happens for college students when they have classes that challenge them, and also to maybe get you thinking about some of the real problems that we have in our society that are easy to ignore but that we really shouldn't be. Okay, with this introduction that makes it an even longer post, here we go...
Each semester I’ve been at Dordt has looked very different from all the others, and I’ve started to notice that often a theme emerges where I feel like I’m hearing about the same or similar topics in multiple different classes. One semester, it was small group communication. Another semester, it was literary criticism. This semester, it is societal issues on a national and global level. Okay, when I write it out like that, it doesn’t sound like much of a theme. But this semester I have been thinking about and discussing more “big issues” at once than I ever have before, and it’s making me wonder what I’m doing with my life and how it is that I can just wake up every day and do whatever I want with relative ease and safety. Seriously—I have had to just sit back and try to comprehend how I can have such an easy life while millions, millions, of people, are facing challenges that I can’t even imagine.
Maybe I should tell you some of what I’ve been thinking about:
In two of my literature classes, so far we’ve read several works from Native American authors and several from African American authors. The Native American myths, poems, and novel that we read showed us the Native American side of the story of how “white people” came in and took over their land and how life for Native Americans on reservations is today. Did you know that Native American women are the most likely group of people to be raped? The African American works that we read showed us how Africans felt about traveling to America on slave ships and working on plantations, how ever since slavery ended black communities have had to deal with being black, and how many African Americans still grow up in an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.
In one of my Core classes, we are studying the issue of refugees. We’ve talked to a Sudanese lady who spent several years in a refugee camp before coming to America, but whose family members have spent decades in a camp. There are actually generations of people living and dying in refugee camps. We’ve read about children whose parents and families were murdered or taken captive, whose homes were destroyed, and who nearly died just trying to get to refugee camps. And we’ve read accounts of refugees who made it to a safer country only to find that the difficulties of living in such a different place, with no one like them anywhere near them, was so hard that they wanted to go back to their war-stricken countries.
For my minor, I have to write several small research papers. The one I most recently wrote is about programs that teach Shakespeare to people in prisons. In researching this topic, I started to see some of the huge issues surrounding our prison systems. For instance, what should be our mentality towards inmates who are sentenced to live in a cell for years with minimal human contact, and prison for the rest of their lives? How can we help ex-prisoners who are uneducated and have few job prospects from committing more crimes and falling on drugs?
In a Communication class, we just started reading a book about doing research on inner-city communities that are completely caught up in gangs and drugs. In the community this author spends time in, there is a complex relationship between the gang and the people in the area that the gang controls—a love-hate relationship where both depend on the other. This community is also completely made up of black people, and many of the gang members go in and out of jail regularly, so it ties back into the issues from my Lit classes and from my paper.
So all of these issue have been swirling around in my head and at the same time, I am trying to think about what on earth I am going to do with myself after this May, when I can no longer return to school in the Fall. And what is my greatest fear for after college? That I won’t do anything. That I will settle for a job because it pays the bills and that I will lose sight of what is important. My biggest fear is that all these issues I’m learning about that are ongoing issues will fade into memories and that I will forget to use my time to love my neighbor who is in need.
But there’s a problem with how I’m thinking. Right now I’m thinking in terms of my “college life” as separate from my “real life” that will obviously start when I graduate. There’s sort of a tricky tension that we as college students face, and that is living in the “college world” while trying to prepare ourselves for the “real world.” I don’t actually think that such a defined dichotomy exists, and speaking in these terms isn’t helpful because it makes us think we can live differently while we’re in college than we will once we are out of college. But perhaps if I start loving my neighbor now, however I can, I will not need to worry so much about doing it in the future. Doing it in the future will be a natural result of giving my time and gifts away now to contribute to the healing of some of these “big issues” that are going on today.