Lessons # 1-13: Why I can Afford to Care

Lessons # 1-13: Why I can Afford to Care

Colgate has been exceptionally good to me. I have worked hard during my four years and will be leaving Hamilton with a plan for the fall, a pretty good transcript and a wonderful network of friendships. Most importantly I feel as though I’ve learned how to make things happen in ways I can carry with me across that looming graduation stage. I entered Colgate knowing – or thinking I knew – exactly who I was. I’ll be leaving with a very similar set of ambitions to the ones I came with. But Colgate has taught me something I never thought I needed to know: why I can afford to be the person I am.

I care about social justice. I care about whether or not individuals in America and across the globe can exercise their human rights. I care about moving toward a more equitable society, a world in which the “American dream” is more than a will-o’-the-wisp for anyone below a certain tax bracket, or from certain neighborhoods, racial or ethnic backgrounds. I care about the ridiculously large number of people dying at the hands of others in this overly-weaponized world of ours. These preoccupations led me to the art of writing, to journalism and to the slightly fanciful idea that with words, I can change the world for the better; with words, I can help people see the truth. Does this make me a “good person?”

I also care about myself. I care to find a way to earn a solid income. I care about never going hungry or thirsty, about having access to a comfortable bed and to safety. I care about happiness. I care about finding wonderful partnerships with men who treat me as an equal; I care about nurturing healthy children who will have access to the same kinds of educational opportunities I have had. I care, too, that I will find a way to sustain my ambitions, to feel fulfilled, to maintain my self-confidence – to continue to feel beautiful, strong and smart. I plan to prioritize meeting all of these personal “needs”: physical, psychological, social. Does this make me a “bad person?”

I thought I was coming to Colgate to learn techniques for accomplishing my goals. But true to the very first of those famous 13 objectives of a Colgate education, the main impact of the past four years has been to make me “see [myself] honestly and critically within a global and historical perspective: recognize that [my] beliefs, identities, interests, and values are in part a reflection of [my] background, education, and life experiences.”

So, what have I seen about myself? I’ve realized that I can and must afford to care about social justice, about the rights of others and inequities in our society. Why? Well, there’s the obvious: I’m a white-skinned citizen of both Canada and the USA, I grew up with means and I am privileged enough to attend a university like Colgate. I’m also a woman who fits into the gendered stereotype of being sensitive to the conditions and emotions of others, so that as I grew this aspect of my identity was endorsed, not repressed. I have two very impressive parents, both of whom paired success in different fields with work that benefited the greater good – this allowed me space to believe that success need not conflict with morality. I grew up with friends who were well-liked while maintaining their individuality, allowing me to dare to be different. I have had wonderful, healthy relationships in which I knew I was respected. I am an athlete, good enough to hold my own in my male-dominated sport of choice, which has allowed me to feel the genuine competitive respect of boys and men. I am smart enough that throughout my life I have been able to squeeze in social justice-oriented work around sports and homework. I grew up in a city that is big and diverse while being unusually safe and nurturing, and my experiences as a Montrealer interrupted the hardening of racial and class-based stereotypes. I have often been called pretty, never ugly. And as a white female, strangers at home and abroad have often offered me protection. Coaches, teachers, family members and friends have been a steady source of encouragement. I have even been told that I am bound to change the world.

Feeling like you have the power to change the world for the better may not mean actually having the power to do so. But it has nonetheless shaped my identity in a drastic, irreparable way. I try not to take my privilege for granted, but I know that I am blessed: I don’t only have the concrete and identity-based privilege to make a difference, but I have the emotional and cognitive privilege of believing I can do so. From this position of power, I say to you humbly that Colgate has not primarily encouraged me to pursue my “dream” of fighting for social justice, while maintaining my own health and happiness. It has instead helped me to understand that from where I’m standing, I can do nothing else.