People Get Scared

“It feels very human nature to me, but I think it’s wrong.”

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Transcript for People Get Scared

I grew up in Miller Beach, which is a neighborhood of Gary, Indiana, and my dad grew up there, too. That definitely shaped my perception of myself as I was growing up–that I was the only white kid in my elementary school. I guess my family has an interesting mixture of being very aware of their position as different, and my mom sort of assuming that, yes, of course, she’s different than everybody else; it was not a big deal to be different.

I visited Butler University and was having a great conversation with one of the student guides there, and he asked where everybody was from, and I said, “Gary,” and he said, “Ugh,” and he turned around and walked away. When I came here, I did not have that.

The first time I really experienced that kind of prejudice was at a meeting about this project that a group of CORE students had been required to come to, and I was paired with a football player who was telling me about his experience of diversity and how he felt that he had been discriminated against because he’s an athlete. But he had a lot of prejudices himself, and one of the things he said was–“I don’t understand why Muslim students come here. Don’t they have any Muslim schools they can go to?”–that sort of thing. So put in a context of having people have a conversation about this directly was the first time that I experienced that.

That guy was not the only one that was saying things that, like, alerted me to we could be doing a lot better. They showed us videos of Chinese students explaining the kinds of slurs that they’ll hear and prejudice that they experience walking down the street, and I think it was not just in the town of Valparaiso, I think it was also on campus sometimes.

And I don’t know how to, I have no idea how to change that because it’s been going on for a very, very, very long time. That people that are in a place feel that they are privileged to it, they have ownership over it, and they’re more comfortable if everybody else in it looks like them and thinks like them and speaks the same language they do. And when you have a group of different people come in–and the bigger the group, the worse the effect–people get scared and they want to protect themselves, and they assume that it is their right to protect themselves and their culture, their tradition. It feels like a very human nature sort of thing to me, and I think it’s wrong.  And I don’t know how we as an institution, as a group of people who recognize the wrongness of it, would best go about changing it, except in the very subtle way of inviting people to widen their perception.