From Suburbia to the Land of Saints
Everyone is so nice here! I've said that sentence more times than I've used the phrase "Obie dollars." Every time I text someone from my pre-Obie existence, I end up ranting about the kindness of every stranger on the street and then exclaiming that if my parents want me to come home for break, they're going to have to lure me with the smell of Kit Kat bars. I'm blown away from the generosity, acceptance, and agreeableness of every person I run into. In the past twenty-four hours a professor met with me just to tell me he cares about my well-being, a worker at DeCafé gave me a box I can carry my groceries in, and a girl that lives upstairs gave me a drink to prevent my stuffy nose from turning into the next swine flu.
Those of you who don't find this remarkable are either fourth-years who have forgotten about the conditions in the outside world or kids who didn't grow up in suburbia. I grew up in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb six miles outside of downtown Pittsburgh, PA. Don't get me wrong, I didn't grow up in a town created to isolate Pittsburgh's jerk population from the rest of the city. There were many nice people, but my high school may as well have been an academic Olympic gymnasium: everyone wanted to be the best. It was cool to be smart. So cool in fact that your worth as a human being could be measured by your SAT score. The perfect person was someone with a GPA that was higher than their BMI. We were all from middle-class families who could view the green expanses of country clubs from their windows but would never see what riches lay behind those brick walls.
I'm sure you can all predict what a huge culture shock it was coming to a school where no one judged me for not quite knowing what was going on in neuroscience. Part of the difference is obviously due to the fact that none of us are competing for the same spots in the same colleges. We're in our dream school; we can finally stop praying to the College Board gods. Yet, I think there's something more beautiful going on than just the end of an era. We're learning from each other. We didn't all grow up walking the same streets, ordering the same greasy pizza, and joining the same library summer reading club. It's not like we are starting out on different levels; we've come to Oberlin playing entirely different games. I can't compare my success to my roommate's because she may find my poetry comparable to Shakespeare, but I compare her French horn playing to that of a brass Mozart.
Diversity is a key part of Oberlin life. We have a wide spectrum of skin colors, religious beliefs, and gender identities. Many argue that the importance of diversity lies in its ability to promote tolerance, but I disagree. Yes, being among people who are different from you decreases your tendency towards discrimination. However, I find that the real consequence of diversity is the fact that we all learn from one another instead of competing against one another. I'm not going to try to be better than someone who I know can teach me about a part of the world I've never heard of or about a type of discrimination I've never experienced. Some of us have spent our high school summers doing scientific research, while others of us went to summer camp. Despite our differences, we've all ended up in the same small town in Ohio.
Obies are nice not because we don't view the people surrounding us as being equal, just equally valuable.