I’ve been an on-campus Smithie for 5 days now, and I’m embracing my home more and more every day. Even better, my home is embracing me!
While orientation has kept us busy and I haven’t had much time to check in with my loved ones, I can already feel myself expanding, learning, and loving more completely. For those who are unfamiliar, Smith College is a private Liberal Arts college for women, that embraces and encourages various gender identities and expressions. Essentially, our student body is comprised of everyone and anyone, except cisgender men. (Cisgender means you identify singularly with the sex on your birth certificate.) There are about 2,500 students on campus, with a student-teacher ratio of 9:1.Downtown Northampton, about a 10 minute walk from the furthest point on campus, is a progressive hub of local artistry, music, bookstores, and parks. I haven’t seen a single element of corporate presence; every cafe, juice bar, and artisan shop feeds back into the community, and it shows. Walking into Northampton feels like getting a big, non-judgmental hug from the world. It’s a breath of fresh air. (Really, it’s a very green city, the air is so clean.)
One of our early orientation activities was an alum + faculty directed play about social awareness, and an important distinction was made; Smith is a brave-space. Most of us have heard of “safe spaces”, where one doesn’t face the threat of persecution, judgment, or harm, especially regarding their identity. In brave spaces, people recognize that mistakes are inevitable. Yes, we may say the wrong thing, offend a peer, or feel targeted. At Smith, we’re encouraged to call each other out. We are prepared to be wrong. On this campus and abroad, we must be brave enough to address our own ignorance, and be open to learning. Ignorance is not inherently negative, nor hateful. It’s root word, the Latin ignoratia, simply means “not knowing”. We may not always be students, but we will always be learners. The class of inclusive compassion is always in session.
Coming from an area where social progression is valued, but diversity is limited, has put my tools to the test. Many don’t adhere to the gender binary. Racial + ethnic representation is vast and varied. As progressively-minded as my peers and I may be, we could have done more to make the predominantly white/straight spaces we lived in more accessible to other demographics. Practices I supported theoretically have now become my reality. I’m learning to introduce myself with my pronouns, to de-program my cultural default to she + he, and celebrate both our diversity and innate Oneness.
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