What the World Needs

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When I was in college, I struggled. A lot. I grew up in a strict home, and carried a lot of familial pressure as the daughter, and the eldest child, of immigrants to the US. During college, my father lost his job. I could not handle the pressure. The imposed expectations. The financial stress. The feelings of loneliness and isolation- that nobody could possibly understand what I was going through. I was angry at the world and all of the systems that collided into the creation of my life circumstance at that point in my life.

In the past weeks, and particularly the past few days, I have begun to feel some of that stress, for very different reasons. As President Trump issued an executive order impacting many immigrant families and international students, I began to experience the stress of feeling fearful of my own safety. My memories flooded back from a time I didn’t want to remember. I remember being frantic on 9/11- having a cousin who worked in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Complex; having experienced backlash, violence and vandalism, in my own hometown, Austin, TX immediately thereafter; having male family members profiled regularly. Again, I continue to manage the temptation to believe that nobody understands what I went through then, or how I feel right now.

In my fear and anger, both legitimate emotions, I closed myself off from people. I felt helpless. It took me several years to come back to an optimistic and joyful version of myself. I share this vulnerably, because perhaps some of you have similar feelings. I felt that somehow embracing joy meant betraying and diminishing the legitimacy of my justified anger and hopelessness.

We have individual stories- the stories of our families, our own journeys. We have stories that come from the impact of being a part of systems. The wide range of stories matter- and they especially matter where our individual story intersects-collides with the systems that have situated our lives. Amidst the release of this executive order, and without space for reconciliation, I am sitting in the temptation, as I did in the past, to isolate myself from everyone. I notice that I am not alone in that feeling. All around me, I see that we are struggling to make sense of our relationships with one another. Our stories are colliding.

I can’t think of a moment in our lives where invoking the Rollins mission has been as significant as it is now. I find myself seeking clarity about the intersection of the two key parts of our mission. How is my participation and preparation as a global citizen and responsible leader paving a path for a meaningful life right now? I am questioning my purpose every moment of every day.

Am I a global citizen? Have I tried to be in relationship with those who have different beliefs than me? Have I done so, while not trying to ‘convince’ them to agree with me? Have I put conditions on my relationships? 

Am I a responsible leader? When I feel marginalized and not heard, I repeatedly seek out data that supports my position(s) and opinions, as do most people I know. This action feels empowering, but is informed by fear. Have I participated fully and courageously in the dialogues in which I want to be a part, or am I leading from fear? Have I sought out accurate information even when I might be presented with information that counters what my own anecdotal experiences tell me? Am I engaging my community from the lens of my pain and isolation, or from a lens of understanding?

Am I paving a path for a meaningful life? Am I able to understand how the individual lives of others are colliding with the systems that contextualize our shared lived realities? Are the decisions I am making now, and the relationships I am choosing or not choosing, creating space and opportunity for me and others to have a life that is better than the one(s) we may have inherited?

I don’t have answers- just so many questions upon questions.

In the middle of my own helplessness, I was grateful for to be in community with our students, faculty and staff at our Tars Talk yesterday, geared toward understanding the breadth of the executive order, and how to be in community with one another. From our conversation, I was inspired by the following messages:

  1. You can make a difference. And, if you need support and guidance on how to do that, we are here to support you. If you have questions and would like to understand issues and have dialogue, we are here to support you. If you want to engage politically, we are here to support you. If you want to participate in some form of activism, we are here to support you. If you need support on how this executive order directly impacts you or those close to you, we are here to support you.
  2. We need to lead from empathy and hope. As topics continue to emerge, it will be so tempting to engage in the divisive dimensions of discourse. There is absolutely nothing wrong with engaging difference. What would it look like to engage in the shared humanity? Let’s not dehumanize the issues so deeply that we dehumanize one another. Commit to each other. Transcend the right vs. wrong temptation, and the ‘fix’ it might give us temporarily, and commit to the relationship and our shared recovery. We can be critical and hopeful at the same time.
  3. Cultural humility is our bridge to one another. Cultural humility allows for all of our identities to be present and honored. It allows us to first embrace others’ heart stories-hopes-tears, and then be vulnerable with our own. Cultural humility is the antidote to the isolation. It puts the relationship first. It acknowledges the complexity of our individual experiences, along with the systemic experiences. It is the hardest work to do because it requires that we ask ourselves to do this work before expecting it of others. 

To be clear, none of these messages imply that we should not disagree with one another. There is space for us to come together in the messiness, amidst our collisions. The complex issues we are facing right now cannot and will not be ‘resolved’ in singular actions or decisions. They took generations to get to where they are, and they will require time to fully understand. The answer is in the reconciliation. To draw from Viktor Frankl, scholar and Holocaust survivor, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” For me, this means that the answer is us co-creating the spaces and processes that elevate our shared humanity. Let’s do this together. Please help me.

Resources:
The Center for Leadership & Community Engagement – learn more on how to engage our local community
The Center for Inclusion and Campus Involvement – find support and dialogue opportunities/requests
Knowles Chapel/Rev.Katrina Jenkins – feel free to drop by for questions regarding religious/spiritual questions
The Wellness Center – come for support around anxiety or any other counseling needs
The Office of International Student & Scholar Services – providing resources & specific support for international students and scholars

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