While on the bus to New York City on Wednesday night, I met a student from Smith who noticed that I was reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal, and she asked me if she could read one of the sections of the paper that I had already read. After willingly giving it to her, we introduced ourselves and had a short conversation; turns out, we’re both sophomores and both math majors. I mentioned that I was on my way to New York for a summer internship interview, and after she asked me about my post collegiate endeavors, I asked about hers, to which she answered with an enthusiastic “I’m going to be a CEO!”
Her response coincided with me having just read an article in the newspaper about Ruth Porat leaving her position of Chief Financial Officer at Morgan Stanley to become the new CFO of Google; that article proceeded to describe how women are largely underrepresented in management circles in Silicon valley.
I’ve recently been pondering the value of my liberal education outside of Amherst – in the so-called “real world” – and how it has impacted and will continue to impact my views and thoughts about society, especially with regards to gender and race relations. This has become much clearer to me not only as I get older but also as my interactions with others and experiences outside of the Amherst bubble have begun to mold me as not only a person, but also as a future employee and an adult.
Over spring break, I was disheartened to read about how a high school in upstate New York had to apologize to district members about reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic in celebration of National Foreign Language Week. Now my elementary school in central New Jersey did this too when I was younger: one day we’d hear it in Spanish, the next day in Hindi, then Chinese or one of the variety of languages that were spoken by my classmates at home. But although the New York school eventually apologized for offending some people who had lost family members in the war in Afghanistan, where Arabic is not even widely spoken, I could still not possibly understand why one had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in English in order to be considered an American.
Why has our society’s general political ignorance and intolerance for certain people reach such a level that it incorrectly classifies and stereotypes against a group of people just because they speak a certain language? Maybe I’ve been living in my own Paul bubble for these last twenty years – a bubble that consisted of neighbors with different ethnicities who always treated me with kindness, classmates who celebrated their religious holidays with everyone else in school, and coworkers who were gay but it didn’t matter because they were damn good at their job – where this type of blatant intolerance and a lack of consideration for people who were even minutely different from myself was not tolerated by community, my peers, or even by myself. In a world where everyone has something to contribute, why should I let something as irrelevant as the country where your great-grandparents were born affect my opinions about you?
If there’s anything that my liberal education has taught me, it’s that everyone should be given an equal chance in society, regardless of their gender, their religion, the languages they speak, their sexual orientation, or any of a variety of classifications that were all invented anyway to assert some sort of social dominance. While Amherst isn’t perfect and still does fail some of its students in ways, such as micro-aggressions in the classroom and administrative assistance to the disabled, the environment that it fosters, for dialogue and conversation, gives us the tools to think and work collectively to achieve solutions. Here, we can all contribute something because we have all had different experiences, and this presents us with the opportunity to use our voices to improve our community that much more with our activism, our words, and our rallying, especially since we have the ability to do so – and that’s something very special to appreciate.