As a white female, I never thought much about race growing up. I went to a very large, diverse high school and was constantly surrounded by both people who look very different from me and vice-versa. It wasn’t until I came to Penn State that I started to notice a change in the way I perceived race.
I noticed people referred to others of different races on a daily basis. “That Asian girl” or “my black friend” became common in everyday conversation. At first this was strange to me, but when I looked around in any given class or situation, I was surrounded primarily by people who looked just like me: white. I then began to realize that maybe Penn State wasn’t as diverse as I thought it was.
Approximately 70% (give or take) of Penn State University Park students are white, which is astonishing considering the 40,000 + students that we have. While I don’t think the campus is exceptionally diverse, I’ve spoken to several other students from small, primarily white towns who experienced a bit of a culture shock when coming here. For me, it’s a bit of the opposite; I feel more surrounded by white people than I ever was in high school.
This semester, I’m enrolled in a course called SOC 119: Race and Ethnic Relations. The class is taught by Sam Richards, an open-minded professor who teaches beyond the standard pages of a sociology textbook. The class focuses on critical thinking regarding race and ethnic issues in our world.
Part of the course requires you to post 6 tweets a week using the handle “#fresheyes” to illuminate something you experience in the real world and look at in a different light. While at first this seemed like a burden to me, it’s actually fairly interesting to take topics that we discuss in class and apply them to my everyday life and the things I see around me.
It’s amazing how little we empathize with others who are different from us, and SOC 119 has really helped me open my eyes to that. Just because it’s not your problem doesn’t mean it isn’t someone else’s. Being white comes with privileges we don’t even think twice about, but they automatically put us “ahead” of those of other races. We must see that everyone’s struggles are different and equally important in understanding others.
Looking at the world with #fresheyes might not solve the problem of racism, but it’s certainly a good start.