Thursday, July 28, 2016

The College Years

Columbus, OH
Total population: 787,000 Race breakdown: W: 61% B: 27% L: 5% A: 4%

Westerville, OH
Total population: 36,120  Race breakdown: W: 88% B: 6% L: 1% A: 2%

Even though I went to a big-ger high school, I knew pretty emphatically that I wanted a smaller undergraduate experience; big schools sort of made my head spin. And haven't I mentioned really preferring [intimate] dinner parties? Anonymity is for some. It is not for me. So my search quickly narrowed in on private schools. One of the first stats I looked up for each of the smaller universities I was considering was "% of minorities." I wanted people of color to be at my dinner party!!! Sadly, I learned quickly that single digit percentages were more the norm than double ones. In the end, I landed on Otterbein College (now University) in a small suburb (Westerville) outside Columbus, OH. It barely made it over the two-digit hump at 11% minorities at the time (that percentage has since grown dramatically). And it met all my other criteria... So Ohio bound I was.

When I first arrived, I wondered if I had misinterpreted the brochure. Did they mean eleven TOTAL??? Because I'm a little slow, it took me about a full year to recognize that most of my college-mates came from smaller Ohio towns. Even though they chided me for my southern draw and asked repeatedly whether I awoke to roosters back home every morning, the large sum of my Ohio mates were raised in far more rural settings than I. When I told them my bus hit the interstate to get me to high school every day, it about blew their minds. The interstate was how people arrived TO their towns. Not travelled within them.

So 11% minorities probably felt like the mother-load-of-diversity to them. But, for me, it seemed puny. You should have seen the extra-curricular group I joined, The Gospel Choir. We had soul, thanks to LaJoyce, our director, infusing it... but we were the whitest dang gospel choir I ever done seen. The racial-diversity-addiction I could thank my high school experience for was suffering major withdrawal. And, not sure if anyone is paying attention to the city stats, but Columbus's race-breakdown revealed a smaller white presence and bigger black presence than Louisville - which was NOT what I was experiencing. But, then again, I was insulated twice. Once, inside a suburb several miles further out from downtown Columbus than my old stomping grounds were to Louisville's city center. Second, inside my college campus's bubble. No car = I ate, slept, ran, studied, dreamed, sororitied, doughnut-ran Otterbein College. I tried not to notice, and - honestly - I became a very happy clam at Otterbein, even with one of my heart's longings being only partially met.

Then, one day, I met this guy. The-guy-that-became-my-husband, Scott Arthur. It was at the end of my college experience that we started dating... and for us, that meant long, long talks about EVERYTHING. He was one of the raised-in-a-small-Ohio-town guys, except  - because of several moves - he was raised in several of them (his last residence before college was Logan, Ohio - Total Population 7,152... Race Breakdown: White 97%). As we evolved from fledgling romance to a richer and more vulnerable place, we began sinking our teeth into the tender-er topics. You better believe one of them was race. P.S. Scott is white. Did I say that? Anyhow, now you can picture him All White.

He did not share the optimistic outlook I did about race. For instance, when I talked about how communities and schools diverse with people of color were such beautiful and desirable things, he looked at me like I was literally flesh-and-blood Pollyanna herself. He challenged me by explaining that there were way too many things standing in the way of that reality. Although he didn't graduate with any black or browns in his high school class, by then he had already picked up on the public perception that the more minorities there were in a neighborhood or a school, the lower the quality of either experience. I was horrified and, quite frankly, not sure I liked what he had to say OR him at all. NO NO NO... I said. All you have to do is look at what the social fabric was at my high school. SEE? I didn't make that up. IT HAPPENED! I was THERE! He was interested to know my experience... and he did think it was beautiful. But he also thought it was very, very, very unusual and that it was perhaps naive to believe it to be as re-creatable as I did.

WAIT. Just as I felt that my mostly-homogeneous private college surroundings at the time were insulated, it may have been that my high school experience was just as bubble-like? I thought THAT was real. And THIS was superficial.

Which is it? Which is REAL? And if neither, WHAT THE HELL IS REAL!?

But then I got close to graduating and Getting A Job moved to front burner. So I tabled my existential crisis, and sent applications out... teaching applications to AmeriCorps and Columbus Public Schools, almost-but-decided-not-to entrance applications to seminary and graduate school in order to pursue psychology, and ultimately to Powell United Methodist Church for a Youth Director position.

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