First Year 1001

If you have been around campus this summer, one thing you definitely notice these days is that there has suddenly been an enormous amount of people hanging around. Don’t fret. They are just first-year students! Oh, unlimited dreams, hopes, and excitement about wearing maroon and gold (probably for the first time of their lives); all these students who can’t wait to step into college classrooms and mingle with upper classmates.

To those beautiful new faces, I say thank you for bringing fresh energy every year to our lovely campus and please make the best of your college days because we, housing Community Advisor (CA) staff and First Year Orientation Program, have been working really hard to make sure you know where Coffman is. I’m just kidding, but seriously if you don’t know where Coffman is, take out your map and start looking for it. It’s important.

Another thing that you might have noticed is that we talk A LOT about social justice, which is is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. From sex education to racial injustice, from the blog you’re reading right now to various student clubs, social justice is the topic that never gets old. Maybe that’s the reason you chose the U, or maybe this is the first time you ever heard about this “nonsense” and you couldn’t feel more violated. All opinions are valid… for now.

Why is it so important that we talk about social justice?

To answer that question, I have to introduce you to an activity called Archie Bunker’s Neighborhood that we used as part of our CA training. Around 60 CAs were divided into four groups. Rules were simple: each group tried to create the best city they can think of. Supplies such as markers, cardboard, tape, etc. must be bought from “stores” and building inspectors must approve city blueprints ahead of time. During the activity, two groups were constantly given discounts, encouraged to talk to the Mayor, and invited to the discussion in the Chamber of Commence; the other two were constantly “inspected” by building inspectors, and thrown into jail for minor aggressions.

Results were well anticipated: the two groups who were appreciated created fairly complex city structures: hospital, bridges, community space, mountains, river, etc. The two groups who were not appreciated barely had anything on their tables.

Did everyone see through this rigged game? Eli (one of the participants from one of the appreciated groups) said, “I got so wrapped up in trying to build my own little town that I barely noticed any other team around me until they started directly asking me questions about how we started and how we were being treated.”

Doesn’t Eli’s experience sound familiar? Most of us are so wrapped up in our own bubble: our academics, our finances, and our obsession with Grey’s Anatomy … we barely notice others suffocated by an unjust system. This either intentional or unintentional act of ignorance is why talking about social justice is crucial.

Let me give you another example. Studies have shown that as students enter into their first year of college, one of their biggest fears is making friends. For international students, their biggest fear might have just become reality. After two years of interacting with international students, Keerthana took to Facebook to ask why there is an invisible barrier between international students and domestic students. She challenged the default response that international students only want to talk to international students: “When international students get accepted to study abroad at the university, do you really think their first thought is that they’d only interact with students of their own culture?” She continues, “what is actually the issue… I took a random class that was filled with predominantly domestic students ‘and that one international student’ and I saw their attitude towards the international student being…well, truthfully, almost non-existent. Past the initial ‘Hi, where are you from?’ that student seems to be more IGNORED than the other students.”

It is scary and sad because probably every international student knows what Keerthana was talking about and it’s so common that it’s become one of those things that automatically escape our attention. But the cruelty of being ignored, such a simple act, is beyond measure. In Keerthana’s words: how many expectations of international students have been crushed? How many hopes, how many expectations, how much homesick, loneliness, hopelessness? We can’t count.

So welcome, first-year students. Welcome to where your hopes come true and welcome to one of the most painful journeys you’ll ever take on. As you find your way around campus, I plead you to be mindful of acts of ignorance/injustice. Hopefully through all the conversations you’ll have, you will have strength to voice your own injustice someday and take action.