I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all of the places that I have been to or lived in the past several years, and I feel a certain amount of culture shock because of all this relocating. The talk in class about privilege, inclusion, and diversity gave me the idea to blog about my experiences. By the time I will have graduated from Virginia Tech, I will have earned four different college degrees from four different colleges across three states. This includes a community college, a private 4 year university, and two state schools. The very fact that I have been able to pursue this much education is evidence of privilege itself. In reflecting on all that I have learned through this process, I can see that I’ve experienced a number of cultural differences in each of those universities as well as cultural differences in each of those locations. I want to take away better ways of doing things from each of these colleges and locations in order to help improve the universities and cultures I encounter in the future.
This learning process of mine has definitely led to a number of challenges along the way, but I am a proponent of experiencing diverse locations and cultures as a way to learn and grow. I think that people can find themselves in situations in which their privilege is reduced (and hopefully still be safe) as learning experiences. I can see how the experiences that I have had in which my privilege has been taken away have given me better empathy, recognition, and understanding for diversity. When I was younger living in Montana, I thought I had an idea of what it was like to be discriminated against based on one’s race, but I was completely wrong! I could not have known that experience when I was surrounded by so many people that looked like me. When I moved to Hawaii and was a racial minority for the first time in my life, it provided me with an eye opening experience. Actually being discriminated against because of the color of my skin felt so real and raw, in a way that I never could have imagined before that. Without giving away my entire history, the situations in which I’ve come across threats to aspects of my identity (such as a reduced socioeconomic status or an injury that limits my physical abilities) have all been reminders of what some people have to face every single day. Some of these events have been very hard for me, yet provided opportunities for me to grow as a person. Being a counselor, these experiences of reduced privilege have been extremely valuable to better understand the clients that I work with. I recognize that everyone’s experiences are different, so I wouldn’t want to compare the events in my life to what others have experienced. However, having more of an understanding how someone might feel is so important to me being able to help others.
Growing up in Montana was so different than the years I lived in Hawaii, and is different from living in Virginia. Being in all of these different cultures has been just as much of an education as the counseling classes that I have taken over the years. I don’t know that I would be the person I am today without having had those experiences. I know that I have a lot of privilege being a white, heterosexual, cisgendered, Christian male who was born in this country, and I used to feel a great amount of guilt for that. But at this point in my life, I don’t want to feel guilty for privilege that I never asked for. If anything, I want to use the privilege in order to reduce oppression that takes place in our world. I want to be able to speak up when I see injustice and hope that my voice can help reduce the inequities we face every day. I think the discussion in class on Monday is another good step along the way to educate each other about how bias, prejudice, discrimination, etc. can really affect a lot of people. And I’m not perfect by any means! I have been guilty of making assumptions about people too. I think I learn more every day about diversity, and I encourage each of you to be aware of the diversity around you, notice your own biases (we all have them), and learn from the experiences that you encounter. Each of us has so much to offer to this world, and I hope to continue learning from each of you how to create more inclusion and diversity in the systems we live in.
I hope these words can be inspirational to people. Choosing what to say in this blog was an emotional process for me but one that I hope benefits people with a positive message.