By Zoe Gierman
Two years ago, I went to Cape Town, South Africa for sixteen days with a class from high school called Hands for a Bridge. This trip was the culmination of an intensive yearlong program that focused on conflict resolution and unraveling social norms by bringing students of different cultures together.
Distinctions between my life and those of the people I was meeting became very apparent in conversations: when I found out a South African girl who I had become very close to had lost both her parents and her only sibling to AIDS; when four little boys lead me to their “playground,” a mattress with springs popping out that served as a trampoline on pavement lined with shards of glass; when I went to school with students who didn’t have pencils or a lunch in their backpacks and who were going home to shanties with little safety and no electricity.
This trip could not have stressed more the importance of not only seeing life through the lens of other cultures, but also the reexamination of our own society and lifestyle here in the United States. The institution of apartheid may be gone, but it is quite clear that the implications of it are far from over. However, when we come back home and look at our “post-segregation” society, have we really gotten rid of racially-based injustices? It remains the status quo for people from the U.S. to think that it is other countries that need “fixing.”
One of the many advantages that an ethnic studies program would bring to Beloit is the chance to reverse that destructive cycle by realizing that change needs to start within our own societies.