Elizabeth Latham, Summer Intern
July 08, 2015
If I were to start in my driveway at home, I could walk for an hour before the percentage of white inhabitants would dip below 75%. If I were to walk in a certain direction during that hour, I would end up at the all-girls school I attended for eight years. In the time that I went to school there I could count the number of practicing Jews and Muslims I knew personally on one hand. Of those I knew with sexual orientations other than straight, only two had come out to the general public and the rest, previously closeted as I am now aware, could have probably fit comfortably in a closet. If you had used the word cisgender in conversation, I would have blinked confusedly at the accepted term for my own gender identity.
Naïve, idealistic and incurably curious, I headed off to Phillips Andover Academy and found an atmosphere of unmistakably intentional diversity. On my first day, I met a greater social variety than I had previously encountered over the course of my entire life. That day was two years ago. Sitting here, now, I know that I would not have become the person I am today without my experiences there. Even if I had gone to a school that was equally academically rigorous and with less diversity, I would not be as socially intelligent now. What made me the person I am today was living in community with people of completely different backgrounds than I had, who always had different stories to tell. Doing so made me realize the extent to which peoples’ lives range past mine in both directions. As long as I live, I intend to learn from as many different experiences and opinions as I can, not limit myself to growing from my own triumphs and mistakes.
Diversity like this, breadth of culture and opinion, is a gift that can be appreciated on earth exclusively by human beings. We are intelligent enough to disagree and developed enough to communicate our disagreements with each other. What a shame it is, then, when we become trapped in deserts of coequal social standpoints and similar life experiences, safe from floods of overwhelmingly diverse human interaction and ignoring what I have found to be a burning thirst for powerful and thought-provoking conversation. What a blessing it is when we can live and learn in a community of people with varied backgrounds and skillsets. President Obama is taking steps to implement the kind of intentional diversity in cities like Baltimore and Chicago that I was lucky enough to encounter as early as sophomore year of high school. Is it out of pride that we would fight this kind of positive social engineering? Can I really say that I have nothing left to learn, as much as there is to be taught in our nation? I, as a human being, have so much to gain from learning about the lives of others—their struggles, their triumphs. I had been given abilities like compassion and adaptability and was entirely ready to squander them on the same not-quite-conversations in elevators and while waiting in line with people from the same socioeconomic, sexual and racial backgrounds — people with so much less to teach me.
If, to speak of my human ignorance in addition to my pride, I am hesitant to welcome strangers into my home environment based on generalizations as sweeping as those often made about races, it is because I am programmed, in many ways, to fear things that I do not understand. As an intelligent human, fighting this fear is something of a life mission. In doing so, I have to ask myself, am I so ignorant and generalizing as to assume that I have cause to shy away from anyone who is black? …who is gay? …who is male? How can we, the home of the brave, fear someone for something as inconsequential as the color of their skin? It is the automatic assumption that any person who is different from me cannot understand me, fears me, and therefore wants to hurt me. We are on a path now. Every year, we can become more and more content to live in community with people just like us, or we can take the leap and strive to accept people regardless of their differences. Only once we conquer that fear of the unknown can we begin to do accept people because of them.