Where I started
Before coming to graduate school I’d say that my awareness of issues related to multiculturalism was quite limited. I had attended various diversity trainings, which seemed to open my eyes for the few hours while I was participating, but did not provide me with motivation or an avenue to explore the issues in much depth. I had worked and lived in the southeastern United States and been exposed to the clear cut racism that still exists in some communities down there. I had seen the damage done by Hurricane Katrina to primarily black neighborhoods, but had once again not had the time or support needed to ask the the hard questions related to why these systems of racism, oppression and privilege were still in existence. Looking back I can now recognize a number of times when my lack of multicultural knowledge had a huge impact on my personal and professional experiences. The most predominant memory that I have involves one of my first experiences working in student affairs. I was working for AmeriCorps VISTA at a small, public university and shared an office with three women of color. It was my first time working in an office where I was in the minority and I did not handle it well. I wish I had taken the opportunity to learn and grow, but in reality, I spent the majority of my time feeling uncomfortable and out of place. All three of them were graduate students in student affairs and they would spend a great deal of time talking about issues of race, privilege and their own experiences as women of color. Of course, now I realize that this was what they were talking about in classes and therefore it would be only natural for their discourse to spill over into their work. Plus, issues of racism, sexism, homophobia were things they had all personally faced and I’d imagine that studying such things provided them an academic way to view things that they had already dealt with at length. In other words, I now realize that they had ever reason to be discussing such issues. At the time though I just felt like they were talking a different language and having not fully explored my own identities, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my own experiences. Looking back on this experience, I can see that at the time, I was given a challenge that I simply wasn’t equipped to deal with in a good way. My white privilege had allowed me to coast through my life knowing that those around me weren’t always the same race, ethnicity, religion, etc. as I was, but that I didn’t need to take our differences into account. Here I was being told that race (along with other identities) did matter and that it mattered a lot. This experience, as well as some of my other lesser detailed ones have helped me realize that previous to coming to graduate school, I largely bought in to the concept of a “color blind” culture, which I can now see is all too simplistic in today’s world.