As a child I was always taught that no one could be the best at everything, no individual had all the answers, and ultimately it takes many people to accomplish a significant task. Growing up with this mindset gave me an interest in the stories other people had, the experiences I lacked and how I could use the perspective of others to form opinions rooted in something other than my own personal path.
Here at UConn, the value of perspective is a key component to working with others. In a community that brings people together from all walks of life, our success depends on our ability to welcome differences and weave them into one complex communal story.
For me the story began when I first arrived at the Waterbury Regional Campus, where I spent the first year of my UConn undergraduate career. At the time, I was milking cows morning and afternoon at a dairy farm a half an hour away. Often, I would arrive on campus smelling less than ideal for class and definitely had a fair share of comments thrown my way. Many of my fellow students were from urban and suburban minority communities and virtually none of them had ever seen a farm, let alone worked on one. This led me to realize how different thirty minutes of travel by car can be in our small state. To put it bluntly, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
As the days and weeks passed in my first semester, I began to make new acquaintances at the campus, fellow peers with different backgrounds and skin tones, who, just like me, were trying to find their piece in the larger puzzle. I would talk to them about the farm, cows, and corn they would often say things like, “I didn’t know we have farms in Connecticut,” or “I can’t believe people still milk cows.” All of this was fun really; what I learned from them about living in an urban area, not seeing open fields or traveling by car to every destination and what they learned from me about a more rural life broadened the way we looked at our thirty minute separation. However, out of my entire year spent at Waterbury, one experience made me realize how we can never take our own perspective for granted. As a white, rural, male freshman, I had made several friends with students from races, genders, religions, and economic backgrounds different from my own.
One day when I arrived at school, still wearing my chore clothes from that morning and reeking of cows, I saw my friend Woody with a group of his friends and decided to walk over and greet him. Naturally, as we always did, we shook hands and talked for a few minutes and I went on my way. Later that day, in the class we had together, Woody sat down next to me and said that his friends, who were all African American, like he was, had been surprised that we were acquainted. He explained to me that his friends had thought I was racist due to the way I dressed and the job I had. That’s why up until that point they never talked to me. Our different lives, locations, and appearances made them believe I was something I was not. Just as I could draw up assumed conclusions about them before having ever talked to them. I asked myself then how many times were they thought to be something they were not? How often are we all judged on first glance, without any connection made?
This single event made me realize how valuable perspective is in every single case where two differing stories meet. After that experience, I realized that the most important tool I had to make friends with anyone was perspective. When used properly, a wider perspective facilitated by the stories we share helps us realize that people share a common humanity even when their lives may appear very different. It is human nature to judge–we all do it; however, we cannot let our first-hand judgements become our lasting impressions. In a community like UConn, we can either see the differences around us as isolating who we are, or we can embrace the diversity and connections we have to expand our view on the world around us.