Tuesday, December 13, 2011

B.I.C Memoir

A white woman stared daggers into my person as we ate cookies and exchanged Obama stickers on the sub couches – an obvious McCain supporter. The atmosphere tensed and the night progressed culminating in a speech given by our nation’s President: Barack Obama. We danced, we sang, we cried, we watched as crowds of people flooded onto 5th street to march in celebration. After picking up our things from inside, we followed suit. November 4th, 2008. That night would serve as one of my many crash courses in Race Relations in America 101.
The scene I met outside the S.U.B on 5th street brought me to tears. I had seen this scene in black and white in my textbooks. Police cars littered the streets. Students were divided racially along the street amid a sea of yells, screams and confusion. I heard the following statements flung around.
“What happened?”
“What’s going on?”
“Why are you crying?!”
“Are you hurt?”
“We should pray.”
“No, we should fight.”
Moments before we caught up with the marchers, a group of white students had unleashed waves of racial slurs, rocks, tennis balls, spit, and shoves – much of which was not publicized – on the unsuspecting marchers. I stood huddled together with a few friends that had gone before me – most of us female. Large pick-up trucks filled with rambunctious white males were spotted driving around and for fear of our safety, the men around us would not allow the black females to return to their respective residences unaccompanied. This brought me to tears. I remember, my roommate at the time, my best-friend from high school, sighed, shook her head and said: “well, I’m gonna go home.” I was stunned. The gravity of what had just occurred had apparently evaded her. I know it was not her skin color, but her life perspective that impeded her from being profoundly moved by the situation. Yet, I found it hard to shake my anger with her.
I was escorted home in a group. I walked in numb. Sat on my bed. Cried. Called my parents and had a conversation that will follow me to the grave. Both of my parents are very emotional and passionate people. The apple didn’t fall to far from the tree on that one. However, when I spoke with my father the tone of his voice was so atypical to what I would have expected. In general, he is the most excitable of all of us. Nonetheless, as I cried my situation out to him, he sat in silenced. His first question was of my safety. He then proceeded to tell me the following: “ welcome to the real world my love. Racism is not dead Kyneshawau. There are still a lot of ignorant people out in the world who hate you, would like to hurt you, or kill you just for the color of your skin; many of whom you can’t change. Just be safe, stay aware of your surroundings. We love you.”
A sobering thought. I was so na├»ve as to believe that racism was a dying art; existing on life support in the backcountry of the boondocks. Not so. Racism was alive and well and on that night had reared it’s ugly head in a more overt way than usual. I began to reconsider staying at Baylor. Perhaps all the things that my family and friends had told me about this place were true. A conservative institution, steeped in racial and social discord and intolerance. Further evidence for these claims were provided when there was news of a noose found on campus, later discredited. However, this sparked a stream of attention of previous hate crimes that had occurred on campus; attacks on Muslim students, harassment of Jewish students, a noose hung years prior. I really began to believe that this place was not me, not somewhere I needed to be. After all, this institution was part of a community that had celebrated and picnicked the burning and lynching of a man.
The next event that altered my view of this institution, the world, and my enrollment here involved issues of sexuality. I am queer, although, I did not come out until spring break of my sophomore year. Prior to coming out, however, I identified as an ally – a staunch ally. Growing up in Austin, rainbows were welcome reminders of tolerance and acceptance from the community. I knew Baylor could be a hostile place towards my LGBT brothers and sisters. Consequently, my roommate and I drew a rainbow on our white board surrounded by words like “equality,” “love” and “peace” as well as the phrase: ”this is a safe place.” We hung it up on our door. Several days later, my CL visited us; requesting on behalf of the residential hall director that we take it down. Baylor has a strict sexuality policy that does not allow for such signs. How this sign was more offensive than the posters of Abercrombie models, and “I like boys” signs, was beyond me. I had become so very disenchanted with Baylor. I had reached one of my lowest places in my Baylor career, and seriously contemplated leaving.
Several weeks later, as I sat at a desk outside my door finishing up some homework I felt a poke at my back. I turn to see a familiar face. She asks me if I was the one who had the rainbow sign on my door. I brace myself for the pending condemnation, stare her forcefully in the eye, and reply: “yes.” She loosens up and a flood words follow. She speaks of her roommate who was gay and alienated. Her roommate saw the sign and had not stopped talking about it! She was so happy to discover individuals where she wouldn’t have to hide aspects of herself. I was stunned. In just a short amount of time, that little sign had impacted one person’s life. Little events like these would ultimately contribute to my decision to not just remain at Baylor but to seek to actualize change.
Additionally, I got by with a little help from my friends and the B.I.C. program. Many of my closest friends I have today I met through B.I.C. We connected over long nights measured in ounces of coffee, slices of pizza, shared raged, and philosophical debates. The friends, intellects I’ve come to love in B.I.C reminded me that I was not alone. That I did not rage against the prejudices I experienced here alone. I took solace in that fact and ultimately re-evaluated my situation at Baylor. Essentially, I’ve come to know adversity as my greatest teacher. Opposition only sharpened my ability to articulate what I believed, giving me the ability to truly understand beliefs. I realized that leaving Baylor does nothing for my personal growth and welfare, nor that of the institution. In all humility I say that Baylor University needs me and my perspective (as well as those like me).
I had been warned of Baylor’s small population of African Americans, sordid racial history, caustic atmosphere to liberals and overall conservative environment. These assertions were made in hopes of deterring me from enrolling at Baylor University. The fact is those are precisely the reason’s why I, and others like me apply and should continue to apply. I discovered that I must be where the fight is. Hiding within places of comfort yields stagnation, impedes growth and thwarts the realization of change. The only way to bring change is for the faces of those who comprise the University to become diverse. I am a colorful addition indeed.
I am a queer black female; a minority three times over. My socio-cultural identity forces me to be cognizant of different set of cultural rules, societal currents and attitudes. By virtue of birth and circumstance, I am equipped with intimate knowledge of the issues regarding underrepresented sectors of society. Nonetheless, my perspective is often times lacking from the literature discussed in academia and indeed the world at large. Even in B.I.C., rarely did we discuss the works and contributions of individuals whose faces resembled mine, or who identified sexually as I did.
This is an important critique I would offer of the B.I.C. I felt as though, although some professors made particular efforts to make the voices of women and minorities heard – it did not occur as often as I would have liked. Often times I did not hear the voices of my ancestors articulated in any meaningful way. For instance, I recall a lecture given on the civil rights movement (an ongoing struggle that actually spans centuries) was reduced down into one 40 min lecture on Rosa Parks, accompanied by a lecture on gospel music. Feminist history, historical contributions of women, and feminist theory were examined, which was greatly appreciated. However, too often this was largely from the perspective of white, middle class women in western society, whose interests at times were not as relevant to the everyday condition of minority women. This is true of the institution as a whole.
Nonetheless, B.I.C. was often times an oasis of thought. I had heard horror stories from my colleagues in General Education about the type of things said, and the way various subjects were approached. The interdisciplinary approach is something without which, I don’t believe I would have been able to remain at Baylor. This program and the approach towards education tethered me to this institution and added fuel to my desire to be active. From the Examined life course to Capstone, B.I.C. calls for a deeper educational experience – one that extends beyond the classroom. A recurring theme for the programs has been: “The unexamined life, is not worth living.” It doesn’t view liberal education as a means to an end but rather a tool that will equip one to be an eternal student of life; asking questions, staying informed, and self-examining constantly. Although the students were not always as open and culturally aware as I would have expected the faculty maintained the integrity of academic studies in a liberal arts tradition. It was refreshing to hear of other cultures, other ethnicities, and religions other than Christianity examined in ways that were not degrading, patronizing condescending or paternalistic.
B.I.C. validated things that I had already held true: be weary of blindly submitting to truths with a capital T, there is worth and value in all cultures, all aspects of the human experience are to be examined together - parceling them out yields an inadequate picture. Most importantly B.I.C. celebrated dialogue! Dialogue, exposure, the sharing of ideas and opinions – the debates held in class (and even outside of class) will always stay with me. This approach challenges you: how can one be said to have an opinion if it can not be articulated. By rubbing up against opposition, the true jewel of thought, the core of our beliefs is exposed. The ability to do that is acquired and is something that will benefit me lifelong. Furthermore, this approach aided me in my social activism on campus.
The incidents from freshman year that I mentioned above involve issues that mean a lot to me - racial and sexual equality. Thus I became involved with organizations on campus that sought to address issues of racial and sexual prejudice on campus. I'm a tenacious person. If there is something I want, I will move to acquire it. Thus, in addition to an education, I wanted change here on campus. This was such an intangible concept. However, in the spirit of B.I.C., I believed changes inception resides in dialogue. It was a frightening thought. However, I knew courage to not be the absence of fear, but rather action amid fear. Harnessed it can yield mobility, not paralysis. So I began to speak; to become involved in organizations that fostered dialogue, discussion between opposing parties, forums, etc. Additionally, I began to let my life be something that invited dialogue. As terrified as I was, I came out. I marched with for multiculturalism. I've participated in the grassroots efforts of two groups on campus that have fought for recognition and dialogue for LGBT students and issues regarding sexual identity. I have participated in coalitions lobbying administration for greater multiculturalism groups, events, services, and spaces on campus. I spoke and conversed with all who would listen and engage and have not turned back since. I've had to defend my beliefs, my activism against colleagues, friends, strangers, in papers, and in forums. I have not turned back since. Again, some of biggest supports, and the greatest source of validation on campus were in the B.I.C. B.I.C. students and faculty alike championed equality, fairness, tolerance and pluralism right along with me.
B.I.C has truly affected my life; not just in the terms of the social support and validation I have received. I believe the B.I.C has greatly affected the religious and vocational spheres of my life for the better.
I am a native Texan; born a San Antonio rose but cultivated in Austin. My father’s family is a mix of Mexican and black cultures – a product of San Antonio living. My mother’s family were sharecroppers in Arkansas. I was raised in a traditional southern black Baptist family/church. This meant church every Sunday, unquestioned faith, Jesus was freedom, heaven is above us, hell down below, fire and brimstone, repent sinners and unbelievers – the whole nine yards. Growing up in Austin, however, there was a certain liberal trend that permeated my religious belief. My personal faith was more inclusive than my upbringing would have suggested. I had always took issue with the exclusionary aspects of Christianity as it was taught to me. During my senior year of high school I really began to examine what it was I believed religiously. The idea of Hell became less a place and more a frame of mind.
Some would say that coming to Baylor made me “lose my faith.” I’d actually beg to differ. Although I do not identify as a Christian I have become a much more spiritually oriented person. I can call my faith my own, not something based on what I’ve been told but something I actually hold to be true. I am not driven by blind doctrinal subscription and deontological commands; instead I fostering a true relationship with the Divine. A great catalyst to this was the B.I.C. At the beginning of freshman year Dr. Hanks opened our discussion of religious plurality with a quote from a conference he attended. In it were representatives from different monotheistic faith traditions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism. After bickering, arguing, and banter back and forth Dr. Hanks said that a Hindu stood and stated that perhaps God delighted in the multiplicity of worship. This is another transformative B.I.C moment I will never forget. Multiplicity of worship – this meant more than one path to God, Allah, Yaweh, Brahman. The idea was revolutionary, finally there was a word to place with the ideas that had been stirring within me. I knew that God.
The first religious belief system we examined was Hinduism. This belief system actually really resonated with me. After reading the Ramayana and listening to lecltures I decided to do reading of my own. I check out books from the library on the Vedas, writings on chanting, meditation, sage wisdoms and more. I came to understand Hinduism as a universal faith. Quite simply Hinduism, from what I’ve read, celebrates the multiplicity of worship, and asserts the existence of different paths to God. Validation. Once again, study and exploration had yielded me words to define what I had already held to be true.
I shared what I was learning with my roommate, who was also experiencing a spiritual awakening at the time. I remember one night, she came home from an Antioch small group – she had joined months earlier in attempts to examine her faith – visibly shaken. I asked her what was wrong and she burst into tears. She told me she did not believe the Gospel as it was written, did not believe that one must believe in Jesus Christ to obtain salvation, yet feared for her soul. The prospect of hell, by virtue of her unbelief petrified her. This is a fear that I witnessed not only in my roommate and many individuals back home, but also within myself. I knew that faith and spirituality should not be mediated by fear. Faith through fear is a hollow faith, in my opinion. Others may say that I lead a hollow life and have a faux faith because I do not take the Gospel at face value. However, I believe in the law of Love so fully. I believe redemption is actualized through love and salvation is not from eternal hell fire but from ourselves, from hell right here on earth perpetuated by the perceived separation from the Divine. Fear and love cannot dwell together, such dissonance does it foster any meaningful relationship with the Divine. I came to understand faith and spirituality as the eternal process to become Love incarnate – become the God within us, the God around us, the God in our neighbors.
Another religious belief system that B.I.C explored was Islam. I found myself glued to my copy of the Qu’ran. I distinctly remember reading it in Concert Choir rehearsal and I looked up to find a young man staring at me. He stooped to look at the book cover, read it, looked up in horror, our eyes met and he went to his seat hurriedly. We all have our misconceptions of Islam and all that it entails. I am so glad B.I.C. took time to explore this beautiful religion. Although I do not identify as a Muslim, many of the practices and beliefs resonate with me. I believe in the oneness of the Divine, of submission, good works, Justice, etc. I’ve even taken to fasting during the month of Ramadan as a means of connection to the Divine. Although, I do not believe everything the Qur’an asserts, fasting during this month serves as a constant reminder of the Divine presence in my life. Hunger pains signal self-reflection and observation, make me cognizant of why I am fasting (as a means of worship), and to behave in a more Divine manner. Ideally, this spirit would transfer to all months of the year. . . this is an ongoing struggle! Nonetheless, I have been impacted for the better by the B.I.C’s examination and intimate approach to differing religions and cultures.
I guess I would say that my religious beliefs are a mixture from different faith traditions: I believe in reincarnation, redemption, and the Law of Love. Essentially, the fundamental aspects of my belief are that: God is Love; our purpose here is to Love Divinely (this being our salvation from separation from the Divine); and that there are numerous ways to foster relationship with the Divine. My faith is dynamic and constantly growing. I do not believe I would be where I am spiritually without B.I.C - the genesis to my religious education and awakening.
I think my experiences with B.I.C and religion also played a role in my decision to enroll in the Yoga capstone. It appeared to encompass all that B.I.C had offered over the years. I figured there would be a lot of self-reflection which comes at a great point in my academic career. Everything has come full circle. The five dimensions of Examined Life we begrudgingly studied freshman year were realms that I actually witness evolve throughout my college career. From what I understood of Yoga in the beginning, the practice of Yoga tapped into all those vital aspects of my life. The asana and philosophical knowledge I’ve acquired in the class are things I will take with me after graduation. I will continue to practice and share yoga in the future. The peace of mind and restorative quality it provides for me will be much needed in the upcoming years. I believe that courses such as these (with more dialogue, introspection, self-reflection, and community) are better suited as capstones than the typical B.I.C course. It punctuated my B.I.C experiences so poignantly. I wasn’t necessarily worried about papers, projects, or grades but wholly entrenched in what the class had to offer from a more personal level.
As I’ve said before, B.I.C is a more personal approach to education. The program extends well beyond the classroom and fosters a more intimate connection with the lives of B.I.Cers. In addition to the religious aspects of my life, B.I.C’s exploration of vocation is something I believe all students should experience in the University setting. Most people view their major decision as a final step in pursuing a career that pays well. However, the B.I.C offers an alternative view; a major is a means of exploration and by no means fetters one to a specific domain. What I took from the B.I.C’s instruction on vocation, was that my career is where I feel led to be, where my greatest passion and skill intersect. Prior to enrolling at Baylor, I was dead set on becoming a pediatrician; partially because it paid well and partially because I loved kids. However, upon arriving I switched to Psychology and music. That decision was something I wrestled with for at the very beginning of my academic career. Yet, once again, B.I.C entered and offered me a sense of validation.
I enjoyed people, their minds, and the way they behave. I then realized that my natural inclination towards social activism and championing underdogs could be achieved within psychology as well. So after much deliberation and getting my feet we t in the discipline I decided to become a Social Psychologist. My desire is that my research be an expression of activism, to provide answers to relevant social phenomenon such as sexual prejudice, homophobia, in the hopes of creating interventions. I have already begun that process. I will be conducting an independent study in a social psychology lab on campus next semester. I am quite frankly geeking out on my research. I have definitely settled into my calling – my vocation affirmed.
I am graduating on Saturday after three and a half years at Baylor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. My Baylor experience would be lacking without it. I look back over all the experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met, nights and conversations I will never forget and leave at peace. I would change not one aspect of my experience here at Baylor, negative or positive. The person I’ve become is a result of all that has happened before me. I stand now at a new height in life looking back down from where I’ve come. No matter how rocky the road may have been at times to get to where I am, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Sic ‘Em Bears!