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Learning More Than One Story

Every topic becomes a hot topic as the issues become more personal, especially when human lives are threatened.

When I read the news, all I see is destruction and blood. Hurricanes matched with poor infrastructure destroy homes, while displacing and killing residents. Mass shootings with increasingly unheard numbers of casualties and hundreds of injured persons. Stories of Black and Brown bodies killed without just cause. These tragedies become political in our current climate. They become a battle to be won, ground not to be lost against our political enemies. It feels like the left demonizes the right for placing profit and power above human rights and the right demonizes the left for politicizing people’s suffering with what it sees as faulty science and false causation arguments.

The problem with the demonization of one another, is that we stop seeing the people behind the opinions, but rather see, what for us, are extremist values. We forget that the media we are fed polarizes our opinions further, making it harder for us to see those who disagree as anything but unforgivable. We assume that those with different opinions must have completely different values, goals, and wishes; and that all of their motivations are contrary to our own.

This year, I have reached many points in which I wanted to give up because of what I read in articles. I rarely have had the opportunity to speak with real people whose opinions differ from mine, to see what their narratives look like. I am exhausted from battling the “other” in my head or over Facebook, and have been grateful to be surrounded by people who think like I do as a form of community and emotional support. However, that bubble I’ve created doesn’t seem to change anything and my exhaustion is furthered by the images I conjure of “others” that make them seem unrelatable and uncaring.

While there are people who will fit the stereotypes I hold in mind, it is important that I do not let those stereotypes rule the way I engage with everyone from the groups I see as “other” and that I create spaces for real engagement and listening. As the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells us, “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

After the presidential election, the first thing I did was write a proposal to have Queens College students meet students from a red state and learn about each other’s multiple stories before looking for common ground on which to rally. I wanted us to see each other as more than what we had been fed throughout the election cycle and what we are continuing to be fed by media.

Since then, CERRU has realized that, while valuable to meet people from different US geographic regions, it is important to create a space for re-meeting our “enemies” right here at QC.

QC is diverse in many ways including values and politics. Due to the mostly liberal beliefs held by the staff at CERRU, we are partnering with Republican organizer Pierry Benjamin to make the proposal into a reality through our “Political Leaps of Faith” project. We recognize the importance of this effort being a true collaboration in which students who are interested in leaving their bubbles feel supported to join because everyone will be hearing stories that go against their beliefs and will therefore make them uncomfortable. We are seeking students interested in entering this brave space of re-meeting and working towards a shared goal. While CERRU creates spaces for students to discuss topics across difference regularly, Political Leaps of Faith will focus on political leanings and will be a multi-week process.

I will host a brief info session on Wednesday, October 11th from 12:15-12:45pm in Powdermaker 114, where we will make applications available. Anyone interested can also approach me in my office, Delany 215, as well as our next Lunchtime 2.0, #TakeaKnee: Peaceful Protest for Black Lives or Act Against the Flag? on Tuesday, October 17th, 12-1:30pm in the Dining Hall by the OneStop. Lunchtime 2.0 is an opportunity to have a 10-15 minute conversation with a stranger about a specific topic. We provide food, questions to stimulate your conversation, and candy. The topics are meant to be responsive to current events and students are welcome to suggest topics through our Lunchtime 2.0 Facebook page for future dates.

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