Opinion

Thank you, Macalester, for curiosity

My fall break included aged-orange leaves framing interesting high school reunions, continued parental and sibling rivalries, outdoor adventures, half-hearted homework and, most importantly, sleep.

Perhaps your break shared all, some or none of these aspects? I especially wonder if you felt grateful for our Mac community during that time. I know I was grateful, specifically to Mac, for instilling a greater sense of curiosity in me.

Our community encourages curiosity in unique ways. We are the top college in National Science Foundation undergraduate research grants received per capita. Organizations of all kinds support interests and commitments in countless disciplines. Our humanities, arts and social science departments are especially unique, compared both locally and worldwide. We strive (without always achieving) to share and represent non-U.S.-centric views, to uplift identities and ideas that are underrepresented or altogether silenced, both near and far.

When I returned home for fall break, the most common curiosities I heard from family and friends focused on U.S.-centric ideals and current pop culture. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it speaks to the privileges of my hometown. I was humbled to be reminded that having the time and resources to evoke and indulge diverse curiosities is a different kind of privilege in itself.

Thus privileged with time and resources here at Macalester, I’ve seen us create a very specific campus culture of curiosity. Here, individuals who have experienced oppression (institutional, cultural, etc.) have opportunities to indulge the curiosity of what it feels like to have your identity represented and heard. Granted, these opportunities are still lacking. I hope they continue to increase in effectiveness and number. Individuals with privileged identities have opportunities to indulge the curiosity of what it feels like to not have your identity represented or heard. Perhaps these latter opportunities are a chance to sit back and listen, more than speak. Especially with my various privileges, I know I do not engage the latter nearly enough.

While curiosity is nurtured in different ways for different people, I still believe that it is a universal Mac value, both in and outside the classroom. Additionally, every curious incoming student knows (or quickly learns) to humbly acknowledge how little they, as individuals, know. Newcomers may be shocked by the bluntness with which their at-times-offensive ignorance is revealed to them. “Shocked” aptly describes one aspect of my first year at Mac. That said—I was and continue to be inspired by the humility, hard work and compassion of my peers that has only increased the longer I’ve been here.

Now that’s it’s been inspired, my curiousity asks even more about everything, especially regarding our Mac community. For example: in our selective communal curiosity, do we ever project too much judgment on certain identities, beliefs and values? Do we do this without having even heard the stories that formed them? What would an even more compassionate, collaborative and forgiving Macalester community look like? What would it be like to have everyone feel welcomed to share their narrative here, both those privileged and oppressed? What do we need in order for this to happen?

Regardless of whether or not I find personal answers to these questions, I’m still grateful to Mac. I rarely ask the right questions, if there even are any. More elusive is discovering an answer. And rarely is it an answer I like. Yet frequently, I’m humbled by the fact that my privileged background means the answers to many questions will not affect me in the same way—if at all—as they will some of my peers. Especially in light of that, I’m grateful for being able to ask and hear/read/watch them pondered in the first place. So for that, Macalester: thank you.

November 7, 2014

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