Being an athlete at Oberlin with a winter season means I am required to be on campus during Winter Term to continue training. I thought this would mean my Winter Term would be more relaxed and was afraid it would be more boring than if I were at home or able to travel. I knew I'd be working hard on my project, but I also pictured long days catching up on issues of The New Yorker, bingeing Harry Potter movies, and napping between practices. That's not what has happened so far.
My Winter Term Project is working as a Food Justice Fellow at Oberlin Community Services (OCS). There are three parts of my Fellowship. For at least 12 hours each week, I work at the food pantry OCS runs, assisting clients and keeping everything organized in the food warehouse. Part two of the program is reading various articles and essays regarding systems of oppression in the United States, how they function in different parts of our lives, and how to be aware of them in order to begin remedying the problems they cause. Every week, we have a group discussion of the readings with all eight of us OCS Winter Term Fellows and our leaders. The third part of the project is working with four other Fellows in an effort to implement a BackPack Program in Langston Middle School here in Oberlin.
All of these moving parts of my Winter Term project means a typical day for me this month looks something like this:
7:30-9:00 AM: First swim practice (a much-welcomed change from our normal 6:30 AM routine)
9:00-10:00 AM: Shower, change, eat breakfast, walk to OCS
10:00 AM-12:00 PM: Work in the pantry at OCS
12:00-1:00 PM: Walk to Dascomb, eat lunch, walk back to OCS
1:00-3:30 PM: Second pantry shift at OCS
3:30-4:00 PM: Walk from OCS to the athletic center (the Southernmost point of campus to the Northernmost point of campus)
4:00-6:00 PM: Second swim practice
6:00-7:00 PM: Shower, change, eat dinner
7:00-9:00 PM: Group discussion or BackPack Program meeting
9:00 PM: Crash hard
So yes, I am totally exhausted most of the time. But it has been so worth it thus far. Working at OCS and doing the readings for our group discussions have opened my eyes to countless injustices so ingrained into our society that I've always seen them as givens of life, not as changeable problems until now. A week and a half into this project, and I already feel my entire worldview shifting. I'm learning how to be more aware of my privileges, how to serve a community by asking what it needs instead of assuming, the importance of sustainability in service projects that is rarely discussed, and so much more. These are all subjects that could be tackled in the classroom, but working in a non-profit and starting up a new service project while simultaneously studying how to do so effectively makes what we are learning far more meaningful. I'm grateful to have an opportunity to dive into a project completely and, honestly, to take a break from the traditional classroom setting.
I was hesitant about remaining on campus for Winter Term at first, but now I'm going to advocate doing so to everyone at least once while at Oberlin. One of the weirdest parts about going to college here is that it's super easy to not really ever leave campus and to know almost nothing about Oberlin as a town and a community outside the college. I wanted to engage more with the Oberlin community, which is why I chose the Winter Term project I did. I could not recommend doing so enough. Already, I've met numerous amazing people both within the college and in the wider Oberlin community through OCS that I hope to keep ties with during my remaining time here. I'm learning about broad, important concepts like cycles of poverty and our society's culture of ableism, but applying them to Oberlin and understanding where I personally fit into them. Winter Term is awesome because it allows us to adventure to the farthest corners of the world if we want to, but I'm learning that staying right here in Oberlin can be as eye-opening and as life-changing as traveling is if you pick a project you're passionate about and take just a few steps off campus.
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