“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” — Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems
Before I started attending college, I had never taken a class that provided histories that did not align with the dominant white Western narrative. Whether I was reading novels from a Eurocentric literary canon or learning through the perspective of European colonizers in my high-school “world” history class, I have found that the “official” knowledge I cultivated in my primary and secondary education has been filled with the stories and discoveries of white men, with their perspectives establishing women and people of color (with a unique treatment of women of color, especially) as inferior and consisting of an “otherness.” As my perspective of the world became structured by white men when I went to school, I found that my life at home did not fit into these narratives constructed by men whose privilege allowed for access to opportunities that still to this day, sometimes feel closed to me.
After I left high-school, I found that the variety of classes that would be offered in college, specifically at the University of Washington, was much more extensive than I could have imagined. One of the first college classes I took focused on racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States (quite literally—that was the title of the class.) As I started to hear about stories and histories of marginalized groups of people and individuals in an academic setting, I began to critique the experiences I had predominantly learned about in my previous 12 years of education. As a student in the English and Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies departments, I find that I am provided with many opportunities to learn about different histories, narratives, and stories that converge and diverge from my own. However, I recognize the diversity in majors and areas of interest at colleges and forcing students to study in-depth in these departments would be inefficient in cultivating a better understanding of our world.
Nevertheless, most college students are required to take a class that falls under some diversity/society requirement. Even if there is no requirement pertaining to diversity, college students often have to take at least a single class in the humanities or social sciences departments. Regardless of major or areas of interest, I strongly recommend that college students should take a class that focuses on stories that they are not accustomed to hearing. With the education I received growing up in two suburban cities in Northern California, my knowledge of “official” stories and narratives matched those of a contemporary high-school U.S. history textbook. Since many college students in the United States are accustomed to such an education as well, I have found that being limited to these stories and narratives does not allow us to really grasp why social change has always been fundamental for people whose stories are left in the periphery.
When we are taught that the only narrative that is important is the one filled with dominant white Western androcentric stories in our primary and secondary educations, our perception of the world is inevitably structured by this colonizing perspective. When we are not aware of the stories of people who do not identify as these white Western men, the false conception that oppression and discrimination is “just the way things are” is continually perpetuated. Crucially, as a college student who is a part of the U.S. educational institution itself, hearing and understanding the stories of groups of people that have been historically marginalized and oppressed in the United States and globally allows us to see how oppression functions on an institutional level, importantly connecting the ideas we learn in the classroom to the political sphere. We begin to understand contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, and protests against immigration bans. We learn to see and understand how the personal is political.