When I think about what I have learned throughout my time at both Brandeis and at my internship, I realize that appreciating diversity is crucial to my success in every environment. I am overcome with this realization whenever I enter the Adolescent Skills Center (ASC) office, which is filled with bright, friendly, and unique faces. A central aspect of the work that we do here is that everyone comes from a different background and no one’s story is the same. Most people are afraid of the unknown and are made uncomfortable by new environments. To some extent, I am too, but at my internship, I learn about new people, places, cultures, and how inequality and oppression can affect a group of people.
I come from a privileged, predominantly white suburb of New York where I would never encounter most of the struggles of teens in areas like the Bronx. Growing up, I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from or whether I would be able to graduate high school. I chose to immerse myself in the world of these Bronx teens because I believe it is important to understand different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds.
My first year at Brandeis was influential in shaping my perspective on diversity. I originally fell in love with Brandeis because of the institution’s appreciation of diversity, whether racial, cultural, or intellectual. Brandeis is a place where students are eager to learn about and support each other. This is the attitude that I bring to the ASC office every day.
I am incredibly grateful to have this knowledge and perspective of diversity as a result of my experiences at Brandeis. Understanding how to respect differences has helped me navigate the more difficult and troubling interactions that I have had with students at the ASC.
Last week, I met with one of the three students that I am advising this summer to discuss his progress on his vocational, educational, and social-emotional goals. He spoke to me about an incident that had happened to him in the past week in his neighborhood. He told me that he was walking down the street with his friend when a white woman started screaming at them about the texture of their hair. She screamed that they shouldn’t style their hair and that it is “awful.” When I asked the student about how he responded to this attack he said he and his friend “just ignored it and walked away.” When I asked him about his thoughts and feelings after the incident, he told me that it didn’t bother him because he knows that there will always be “people like that” in the world and that he is “proud to be black.”
Though I know that people experience attacks like these regularly, my student’s story was particularly hard to hear because it happened to someone that I know and support, as well as someone that is my peer. I realize that hearing of this attack was so disturbing because it would never happen to me, but it happens so often to so many other people. This is the moment where the concepts of diversity and oppression go hand-in-hand, which is exactly what we are combatting through our work at the ASC. Through my eye-opening experiences at both Brandeis and the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center, I am able to positively contribute to our fight against oppression.