Tuesday, December 9, 2014

RCAH 292 Final Reflective Essay

 This is a copy of an essay that I wrote as a final reflection for one of my classes this semester. I'm really proud of the way that it turned out and I wanted to share it with you guys.

I am a product of every person that I have ever met. I am my father’s selflessness and my mother’s kindness. I am my high school history teacher’s thirst for knowledge and my best friend’s witty humor. I firmly believe that everyone I have met and everyone I will meet plays a part in shaping who I am, and I look at every day as a chance to meet new people and continue to define myself through my interactions with them. Before coming to college, many of the people that I met were like me- middle class, suburban, mainly white- and although I don’t want to minimize the impact that all of them have had on shaping me, I also believe that coming to college opened me up to a brand new pool of people just waiting to leave their mark on my identity. That is what drew me to this class- the emphasis on interaction and the power of storytelling in forging relationships and impacting change not just in ourselves, but in each other, and in our community. I feel that through this class I have met people who have allowed me to continue to grow and change, and develop my own definition of civic engagement.
Obviously my engagement group played a huge part in my growth throughout the semester. Through our open and honest conversations I found that we were able to grow together as people and learn things about each other and ourselves through the process. Terrion is unlike anyone I have ever met. She is smart, outspoken, and incredibly wise. She taught me so much in our short time together and the wisdom she instilled in me will stay with me for a very long time. The most crucial lesson that I learned from her is that you cannot plan your life. Whatever your “Plan A” is, you also need plans B,C,D,E,F and G, because nothing is going to go the way you planned. Emma is diligent and hard working and I admire her motivation to succeed. Although we are so different we are also alike in so many ways and through this class I have come to treasure her as a friend. Through the process of our engagement, I made sure to be open and honest with my partners, and provide them with the same care and attention that I expected to receive. It is not easy to share explicit details about your life and your experiences with strangers, but as the experience progressed I feel that Terrion and Emma became more than just my group partners, they became my friends. I felt comfortable telling them things that I couldn’t necessarily go to my friends about, and I found over time that our meetings became somewhat therapeutic.
I believe that this experience of sharing stories has been the most impactful act of civic engagement that I have completed to date and has worked to transform my ideas about civic engagement as a whole. As Marshall Ganz so eloquently puts it in his article “Why Stories Matter”, “The story of now is realizing, after the sharing of values and aspirations, that the world out there is not as it ought to be. Instead, it is as it is. And that is a challenge to us. We need to appreciate the challenge and the conflict between the values by which we wish the world lived and the values by which it actually does.” (Ganz, 2009) Through using stories as a method of engagement, I have come to realize how we can work to engage with people, rather than serve them, and work together to recognize flaws within our society in order to begin to impact social change. That is what was and continues to be so compelling to me through this class- the idea in order to truly participate in civic engagement you have to do just that- engage. Once I fully engaged in my interactions with my group members I feel that I was able to truly appreciate the experience and finally understand the importance of civic engagement.
Overall, I was incredibly proud of the final product that my group produced. I think that our collaborative work not only reflected who each of us are as people, but the joint nature of our poems also allowed us to show how we have grown together over the past few months. I also find it interesting that we chose to use the topic that we had discussed in our first meeting as a group- I liked seeing how everything came full circle and they very fist topic we discussed became the focus of our final presentation. The performance also allowed us to share some of what we had discussed in our group meetings with the class as a whole, and I find that level of personal sharing to be incredibly special. I feel much closer to everyone in the class following our presentations, and it is my hope that they feel the same way towards me.

My civic engagement journey is just beginning, and while I know that this experience has given me the building blocks to continue to grow and change, I look forward to future experiences that will allow me to further engage and meet more people that will continue to advance my growth in the same way that this experience has. Had it not been for this class, I probably would have never spoken to either of the women in my engagement group, but through our interactions and the work that we did together, they have both left a lasting impact on me, a handprint on my identity, and it is my belief that that is what defines civic engagement- experiences that define you and shape you and make you different. People you meet that take who you are and what you think you know and change it and transform it until you come out a different person than you were when the experience began.  That’s how I understand civic engagement now and although I’m sure my view will change as my journey continues, I’d say it’s a pretty good place to start.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why I'm Not Ashamed to Admit That I Love Taylor Swift

Flash back to my freshman year of high school. I was madly in love with a guy who had no idea I existed, and each night I swiped open my iPod touch to Taylor Swift’s newest album falling asleep to songs of unrequited love and fairytale romance. I felt as though Taylor sang the words of my diary. Whatever I was feeling, she understood me. I didn’t have to explain anything to her, she was my friend, she understood my heartache and she had song that fit almost every situation I encountered.
Then last year, something tragic happened. In the aftermath of Taylor’s relationship with Harry Styles (which I am still convinced was a publicity stunt, but that’s a story for another day) I began to resent her. I began to realize that Taylor had a nasty habit of turning herself into the victim and I started to resent her for her good girl attitude and refusal to admit that she was ever the one at fault in her relationships. I felt like my friend had been lying to me, like our entire relationship had been based upon me believing that she was someone that she was not. With each appearance, new song, and performance, I found my dislike for her grow more and more.
 The downward spiral in my love affair with Taylor happened at the same time that the entire Internet seemed to be turning against her, so it made it even easier for my disdain to grow. My rage was fueled when she performed at the VMA’s last year and made a blatant jab at Styles (reciting the “I miss you” line in her song We Are Never Getting back Together in a clear mockery of Styles’ accent). I couldn’t believe her immaturity, that an artist who I had once loved so much could be so cruel. For the months that followed I allowed my rage to spiral, blatantly spewing my disdain for Swift at anyone who would listen.
But then, something happened- this summer on my way to work, I heard Shake It Off on the radio. I tried to pretend I hated it, I tried to resist, but every time I heard the first few notes come through my speakers, I was transported back to my freshman year, dancing around my room to Taylor Swift, loving her with absolutely no shame. I remembered how her music always made me feel like someone “got it”, like even in the peak of my high school angst, someone understood, and what’s more, didn’t belittle me for the things that I was feeling. I also remembered listening to Taylor when I was getting ready for school, or to get pumped up before a performance and feeling empowered. I began to think that maybe I had been too hard on Taylor, and I was forced to reluctantly admit that not only did I like her new song, but also that I might have been wrong about her.
With this admittance I began to realize some things about Swift. Though she is far from perfect, there is more to her than meets the eye. For instance, the media is constantly bombarding us with information about Swift’s latest conquest, but how often is it that they address the massive amounts of charity that she engages in? In addition to her work with countless charities, Swift also frequently takes time to interact with her fans. Whether it’s something as small as leaving a comment on an fan’s Instagram photo, or as large as throwing a private concerts for a six year old fan with leukemia, she has shown time and time again that she truly cares about the people who love her music. (MTV) She also topped People’s list of most charitable celebrities in 2013. So while it is easy to see Taylor solely as a serial dater, it is important to recognize that her boyfriends are not her number one priority.
            Taylor is also a marketing genius. She recently published an article in the Wall Street Journal on the future of the music industry, but much of the advice she gave is relevant across the board. She talks about the importance of knowing your worth, a concept that is illustrated in her recent removal of her music from the popular streaming site, Spotify. When asked why she made this decision, Swift stood her ground and defended her belief in knowing your worth. “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art... I think that people should feel that there is a value to what musicians have created, and that’s that. She also added that people still have access to her music “if they get it on iTunes” (TIME). In addition to the value of her music, Swift also knows the value of social currency. She is incredibly active on a myriad of social networks including Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, all of which feel incredibly personal. It is clear that Swift runs the accounts herself rather than leaving the task to a social media team like many other celebrities. All of this is clearly paying off for her- her album 1989 sold 1.287 million copies in the first week, the largest sales week for an album since Eminem’ s The Eminem Show in 2002 (Billboard).  Many things can be said about Taylor Swift, but you cannot deny the fact that she knows what she’s doing.
 I will be the first person to admit that Taylor Swift is far from perfect. She has a tendency to play the victim and give her audiences an unrealistic expectation of what to expect in a relationship, but she is also a human. Her songs, much like my own personal diary, are a reflection of the things that have hurt her and the things that she still dares to dream about, so of course they are raw and messy and at times unrealistic. But Taylor is also not the villain that the media attempts to paint her as. She is not some hormonal twentysomething with a victim complex. She is a philanthropist, she is a brilliant performer and businesswoman, and she is a strong woman who is doing remarkable things.  So no, I am not ashamed to admit that I love Taylor Swift. And you shouldn’t be either.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

What Nobody Wants to Say About White Privilege

Something that I wrote in light of the recent events in Ferguson.
The words “white privilege” taste funny on my tongue.
Heavy. Metallic. Even dirty.
I do not like them
I do not like the idea of being at fault for the actions of people who share an aspect of my humanity that I cannot control.

But this is not about me
This is not about my discomfort
This is not about the fact that up until now I haven’t had to think about my skin color
None of this is about me.
Because my skin color is the “default”

I haven’t had to face sideways glances from store clerks concerned that I am a thief
or judgmental glares from restaurant owners, or skinned knees patched over with band aids that are three shades too light
I do not have to wake up every day and think about the pigment of my skin and whether or not that determines my right to survive
None. Of. This. Is. About. Me.

I am privileged
But I am furious
And my rage in itself is a privilege
The fact that I can be angered rather than terrified at the atrocities and inequalities in our so-called justice system is itself a manifestation of my privilege

I am outraged, and if you are not then you are not paying attention
This is America
The year is 2014
And racism is real.
Enough of the denial
Enough hiding behind our privilege

If you say nothing,
And do nothing,
Then nothing changes.

So no,
This is not about me
But I am privileged 
And I am outraged

And I am telling you that something needs to change.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What Books Have Made a Major Impact on Your Life?

It seems this question has been popping up a lot in my life over the past week. It all started Monday when my English professor assigned us with an essay to write about our life experiences and how they have shaped our views and biases regarding controversial issues. Immediately the wheels in my mind started turning, and I decided that it would be a brilliant idea to write about the books that I have read and how they have shaped me as a person. For those of you that don't know, I am an avid reader, and I truly believe that a good book changes who you are and how you view the world around you. Buzzing with excitement about my essay plan, I returned home Tuesday night to check what my Journalism discussion question for the week was. To my surprise the prompt was "Name Five Books That Have Changed Your Life". I then logged into my Facebook and found that my friend Andrea had tagged me in a status requesting that I name my top ten favorite books because, as she so eloquently put it, "our taste in literature often conveys a truer sense of who we are than the projections we choose to display." So without further ado, here (in no particular order) are some of the books that I feel have shaped me as a human being. Keep in mind that this is only a short list, and choosing which books to put on here really was like choosing between my children. 

1. The Book Thief- Marcus Zusak

 It is hard to capture with my own words the beauty and profoundness of this book. Narrated by Death, the images portrayed in this novel of friendship, love, and loss in Nazi Germany are wonderfully vivid and horrifically tragic. I laughed, I cried, sometimes at the same time, as Zusak's brilliant imagery opened my eyes to the power of a child's love and the resilience of individuals when faced with tragedy that I cannot even begin to comprehend. 

2. Perks of Being a Wallflower- Stephen Chobsky

Since the book was released as a movie I will be the first to admit that it has become highly overrated (If I see one more tumblr post of the night sky covered in the words "we are infinite" I might actually kick a baby) However, when I read it in 10th grade it came as a revelation. I really identified with the main character, Charlie, and his experiences touched me in a way that I can't quite explain. This book was like my bible through my early years of high school, the wisdom within it helped me through some of my hardest days, and for that I will always be grateful. 

3. The Giver- Lois Lowry

I read this book in 7th grade and it was the first school required reading book that I genuinely enjoyed. Reading about a dystopian society which eliminates all pain, choice, and human emotion was an eye opening experience that really changed the way that I view my own emotions.The choices that Jonas is forced to make throughout this book are inspiring and heartbreaking, and through him and the choices he made, I found a story that will stay with me for a very long time. 

4. Room- Emma Donaguhe

This was one of those books that left me with a hole in my chest as I turned the last page, having been so deeply touched by the characters that I was unsure how to comprehend the fact that their story had come to an end. The entire story is told from the perspective of Jack, a just-turned five-year-old who is living in Room with his Ma. What Jack doesn't understand is that he and his mother are actually being held as captives in "Room", the only home he has ever known. The immense lengths that Ma goes to protect her son despite the horrors she is faced with and the immense bravery that Jack displays made this a story that sucked me into its own world and forced me to reconsider my own. 

5. The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling

 Having started reading these books in first grade, I can honestly say that I cannot imagine a life for myself that didn't have them in it. These books shaped who I am as a human being.  I have read and reread them countless times and every time I open one of them, I manage to find a new piece of magic within the pages. They showed me the meaning of friendship, family, loyalty, and
most importantly, as cliche as it sounds, they gave me a home within their pages. I wish that I had the words to explain all that these books have done for me, but my own words fall short as I attempt to capture the massive impact that they have had on my life. 

So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite books, and I hope that this has inspired you to read a few of them. Hopefully they can do for you what they have done for me.