In order to understand who I am, one must first start with my family. I grew up in a small town, Somers, situated in the Connecticut River Valley. Growing up was bonfires, and humidity, and tobacco fields, and 30 minutes to the grocery store. The street I lived on was a little too busy for my mother’s liking, and the demographics of our neighborhood were more akin to a retirement community than a residential space for young families. The closest playmate I had was my sister. Our imaginations were only tethered by the amount of blankets and chairs we had to make forts. If all else failed, we retreated to the backyard to play whiffle ball. I look back upon my childhood fondly, even remembering the not-so-good times, which ultimately served to inform the person who I am today.
(Here is a picture of my sister taking me under her wing at a very young age. She is my closest friend and confidant. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, and I miss her very much!)
Somers, Connecticut was not the liberal mecca that I craved even at a young age. There were few people of color in our schools. They often endured racist remarks and micro-aggressions from ignorant peers. It was not unusual to see confederate flags, and while I was told that these were offensive, I never questioned why they still hung proudly from flag poles, trees, and the backs of pickup trucks across town. I was beginning to ascertain that I did not have nearly as many worries as other people simply because I was born into a white, middle-class family. This was the start of recognizing privilege. I was beginning to develop a hermeneutic of suspicion, which I was attempting to apply to my own life. I desired the vocabulary and critical skills to address the questions I had about my reality, but often was rendered silent by those around me.
The thoughts I was having varied drastically from the viewpoints I heard on the radio in my conservative grandmother’s car. My grandmother played a large role in raising me, often dedicating her time to carting me off to extracurriculars such as piano lessons and sports games. My grandmother relished in Howie Carr and Rush Limbaugh’s borderline violent rhetoric. When I was with my grandmother I learned that climate change was not real, illegal immigration was a threat, and democrat was a swear word. By the time I was 14, I was thoroughly confused by the disjunction in my feelings about social equality and the fixed political identity which was cast onto me by certain members of my family.
When I was 15, my mother and father elected to send me to boarding school, rather than the public high school. I was excited to challenge myself academically, meet people who did not grow up in the same environment I did, and to discover my own beliefs. In moving away from home, I embarked on my journey of self-discovery and independence before most people my age. I read more about politics, developed critical thinking skills which prompted me to question everything, and began to understand more clearly what I believed. This also cultivated a love for writing and poetry. I found that outlining my ideas on paper and expressing myself through language was key for discerning my own convictions and making sense of the world around me.
During my time at boarding school, I also took advantage of the leadership program, a class unique to Suffield Academy. Freshman year we focused on breaking out of our shells and discovering what types of leaders we were. Sophomore year some students proposed class projects, which allowed everyone to apply the knowledge they had garnered in the previous year. I suggested that we grow a community garden in an empty space behind a dorm. The project entailed educating people about organic farming and the importance of locally grown foods. I delegated different roles such as planting, cultivating, and harvesting the crops. This included addressing and mitigating problems amongst group members. The project sparked my interest in environmental issues, while simultaneously testing my abilities to effectively communicate in a group setting. I look forward to exercising and improving these skills through the fellowship.
(Here is a picture of the community garden my class and I started in 2012-2013.)
I still face the challenge of acceptance within my family. My liberal thoughts are often shut down by people I love dearly. It is hard not to take their arguments against me personally, especially as the political climate has increasingly involved questions of morality. It is hard not to engage in these discussions with my grandparents as I would with my peers, but this has provided me essential skills. I feel comfortable navigating difficult conversations in a respectful manner. Additionally, while I believe strongly in my opinions, I can appreciate that other opinions do exist, and belong to people with an equally strong adherence to their beliefs.
(Here is a picture my grandmother, Nanny, making her special “brown macaroni.” This is a dish that everyone in my family looks forward to during the holidays. When it is served our differences seem to disappear.)
Despite my own adversities, I still like to acknowledge my rather small world-view. Apart from a short vacation to Jamaica, the only other place outside of the United States I have visited is France. In an effort to learn the language with a cultural context unavailable in the classroom, I spent the summer between my junior and senior year of high school with a host family in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, a small town outside of Nice, France. People spoke faster than I had imagined, I did not know where I was, and to put it simply, I was terrified. I felt exposed and often experienced bouts of self-doubt. However, it was this vulnerability and naivety which allowed me to flourish--a socio-cultural tabula rasa on which I was allowed to draw a new, improved version of myself. By the end of my stay, I was a better listener and observer, understanding first-hand the value of learning through the experiences of others.
In considering my time abroad and my own place within the world, I’ve taken extreme interest in women’s rights. I make it a priority to read accounts from intersectional women who seek to have their voice heard. One of the most moving experiences I have had was marching in the Women’s March in San Francisco following the presidential election in 2016. While I know that far more can be done to make these movements more inclusionary for everyone, I felt that it was a step in the right direction for gender equality.
(Here is a picture of me at the Women’s March in San Francisco. The cold, rainy weather was no match for the tens of thousands of people who marched.)
At Santa Clara I have continued to pursue my interests in English and French. My two majors have allowed me to explore the power of language and how culture functions to create a personal and common identity. When I first received an opportunity to promote adult and child literacy through the non-profit Friends of African Village Libraries with economics professor Michael Kevane, I was ecstatic to know that I could combine a variety of my interests. Professor Kevane and I, along with a team of other francophone people, correct the grammar and formatting of small picture books created by people in Burkina Faso. After the books are finalized, they are printed and sent back to Burkina Faso, in order to fill public libraries. I love doing this work as it is informative about the daily lives and traditions of people within the country. However, the distance between the beneficiaries and myself leaves me feeling like my work is incomplete.
(This is an example of the types of books that we send to Burkina Faso.)
In accepting the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, I am excited to engage directly with those affected by social enterprises. Moringa Connect and Famerline both work to facilitate a sustainable environment in which rural farmers can leverage themselves out of poverty. I can’t wait to learn with people within these communities, and provide valuable research for the social enterprises, the Miller Center, and future fellows.