Believe it or not, sometimes I run out of words. That is why there has been a gap in blogposts. Almost always, it helps me to stop and to listen. I’m hoping you’ll join me in reading (and thus, hearing) three of our new students* explain how they approach their higher education. I promise it will be worth your time and will quicken your heart.
– Faith Sandler
FROM JEFFERSON COUNTY
During sophomore year I got very sick and missed more than a month of school. My condition caused blind spells and severe headaches. One medicine I took had a rare, nasty side effect on cognition. I could not read. I gained a temporary and severe stutter, and could hardly form sentences. Not only did it affect my speech and thinking, but it caused memory issues as well.
After this trying time, I gained a new perspective on life and changed accordingly. I started to prioritize what I enjoyed and identified my passions. I came to the conclusion that community service and promoting understanding are my passions.
In the year following, I took AP US Government and Politics, a class that truly challenged my beliefs. I took away the thought, “Nobody is right, and nobody is wrong. Your beliefs are not more valuable, right, or just than mine (and vice versa).” Now I know what you are thinking – and, no, this does not apply to facts. There is a sun and the earth does revolve around it, and racism really does exist. But what it does emphasize is that all beliefs and opinions are important; differing perspectives should not cause as much strife and conflict as they do.
Because I grew up in the St. Louis region, you would think I knew all about racism and how it infiltrated our daily lives. But I grew up in Jefferson County. For those not familiar with what that implies, let me just say that we sometimes live up to our stigma as “hicks”. I love my community and I was fully aware that racism was a major thing for our area. I just never thought it was as close to home as it was. I stayed up late watching the coverage of Ferguson during my freshman year.
The thing is, I never thought I lived in a racist place. As I grew up, I began to realize my world was like a dirty fish tank. I had my “school” of fish I was around and couldn’t ever really see past them. As I grew, I began to see how dirty my fish tank really was. But it wasn’t like the tank was dirty on purpose or out of spite. Racism was handed down by accident and not intent, more out of innocence or ignorance than anything else the dirt accumulated.
In my community, we never have discussions on race and how it affects our world. It is my goal to change that.
FROM ST. CHARLES COUNTY, VIA ETHIOPIA
I was born in St. Charles, Missouri and moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia when I was 5. I lived there for nine years. I loved the culture and welcoming of the people there. The culture taught me to share, care and most of all love no matter what the person’s appearance or status.
As a third world country, Ethiopia is a land of people with diseases; HIV is one of them. I have volunteered at Mother Teresa’s orphanage with kids who lost their parents to HIV and most likely were living with it themselves. They were beautiful, amazing and loving kids. The way they forgave and loved the people who made fun of them or bullied them was incredibly touching.
Moving back to Missouri at the age of 14 was a very different experience. Coming from Addis Ababa where holding hands is normal, hugs are always welcomed, eating together is an everyday thing and sharing is a part of life, this was a stark contrast. Learning to give people their “personal space” took a lot of adjustment.
Sometimes I feel as if I am an outcast. I feel as if being not only a black woman but also from the motherland Ethiopia has made me see and feel a lot of ignorance. At first it was hard when people asked me things like whether we had TVs and if we played with lions, but I came to realize that it wasn’t them. It was the media that only showed the negative parts of Africa that had implanted such ignorance in people.
Now I tend to explain and show that Africa is more than just starvation, AIDS and death. I show them that we too have big buildings, nice houses and nice cars in addition to the love we have. I want to show the world that not everything they hear is true.
FROM THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS
As a child, I think I was more like a mackerel, or maybe closer to an Asian Arowana. I could have been a Blue Tang, or even just a household goldfish. I lived like these animals, simply staying afloat. I have survived because I learned how to float in turbulent waters. Acting as a sponge for the frailty of others, my life—as an internal whirlwind—has been defined by sexual, physical, and verbal abuse. However, I can still say that my life has yet to drown me, and never will, because of my faith, which has sustained my optimism. This optimism that I hold, has been inherited, stripped down, built up, and cared for amidst all of my circumstances.
When my mother was pregnant with me, her mother told her that every Sunday her baby’s belly was to be full with sausage and grits, with her baby’s heart full of spirit. My family’s spiritual beliefs are generational and relentless, regardless of the adversity we encounter. My family’s spirit tells us to keep fighting.
For me, for a while this meant repressing reality. It is why I could still smile, even though I was violated regularly as a child. My spirituality somehow protected my innocence and optimism, and I cannot remember ever lacking it. However, I can remember a time where I heavily questioned it.
A terrible experience of abuse at a relative’s house was the catalyst to the first and only time I heavily questioned my spirituality, feeling disconnected from my optimism. It made me feel that abusive behavior was innate. If God could put a child through this type of pain, then I could no longer continue to believe in such a power. I came to question everything. I didn’t know how to live happily or optimistically. I questioned what it meant to live.
I have since found that life is not just floating. It is not treading water, but filtering it, living through it not in spite of it. I had used spirituality to compartmentalize, but when I finally let myself feel, I began to swim. I now use my spirituality to help me endure my trials, instead of ignoring them. Facing reality has allowed me to truly understand who I am and who I want to become. The pain I endured has guided me to find my passions: human perception, philosophy, and psychology. I have a fierce desire to understand the human mind because of what I have been through, and I yearn to use what I learn to help others rise in their turbulent waters.
*Please note that, in accordance with our policies and practices, we have asked each student permission to share their words. We have omitted names, due to the sensitive nature of the stories they chose to tell.