Uncomfortable. I'm not talking about the mattress-padless bunk beds we stayed in last weekend or the 6 hour-long bus ride from Montgomery to Columbia, I'm talking about the feeling of unease or awkwardness. My experiences at Diversity Retreat and on the Civil Rights Tour were at times uncomfortable, and I am of the firm belief that it is these experiences which make us stronger, smarter, and ready for the world.
I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend on our Office of Multicultural Student Affair's Diversity Retreat, in which UofSC partners with other local institutions to break down stigmas and build up tolerance for other identities and confidence in our own. This past week I spent my time touring around the Civil Rights Movement's hot spots (Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery) with OMSA and a bus full of friends. During these two experiences I can recall many instances where I felt uncomfortable.
- Not relating to somebody: I love being to relate to others on deep levels and otherwise, but sometimes people have experiences that make them so different from you, all you can do is recognize their struggle, try to put yourself in their place for a moment, and move along.
- Erasing stigma: On the retreat I was surprised at the number of people who didn't identify as feminists. I do (a feminist by definition advocates for the political, social, and economical equality of the sexes). I worked through that short weekend and reached out to as many peers as possible to erase the stigma with the movement as it is so important to me.
- Taking it a step further: While it was great to have the retreat as a safe space to talk about issues of social justice, opening up and sharing was the easy part. What we all agreed we were uncomfortable with is confronting our friends and even our loved ones about how they take away from our causes with their (at times inappropriate) actions and words.
Civil Rights Tour
- The dreaded lunch counter: At the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta we were absolutely blown away by the interactivity of the exhibits. One that stuck out to me was the lunch counter simulation. It was complete with moving barstool, shouting expletives, and the feeling of someone breathing down your neck. I couldn't endure over a minute and 45 seconds of the humiliation and tension, but half a century ago, people did.
- Losing everything: In Selma our passionate and all-knowing guide led us through a simulation of the Middle Passage. We were told we would lose our families, culture, history, language, titles, and life before one of slavery. Up until that day, I had read and watched accounts of slavery and couldn't fathom the realness of it all. The simulation changed everything for me.
- Crossing that bridge: Just a few days before our arrival in Selma, the President addressed a crowd to commemorate 50 years since the 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery for voters' rights. In Selma we crossed that very bridge crossed by people like John Lewis and MLK and the countless foot soldiers behind them. The difference was there was no tear gas, no police, and no organized protest. What is still the same is we have keep fighting for the rights of all. It was magical to put ourselves in the shoes of college students who spearheaded this movement, and it is amazing to think we can do the same.
- No Gratitude: When the Red Tail Squadron returned home after WWII, they weren't given the big homecoming celebration we see for our military today. They were hardly saluted, recognized, or respected for risking, and sometimes losing, their lives. This hit home for me. I realized that sometimes the work we do will go unnoticed, but it doesn't mean it's not important.
My key take away? A wise person once advised me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That's the way to experience life and its hurdles.
USC Students Spend Spring Break in Selma <--- WLTX interviewed some of the people on my trip!
Civil Rights Tour <--pictures from our very own Spider Martin, Gavin Weiser (a wise advisor)