On this campus, I have grown by having friends that don’t look like me, and on this campus, I have grown by having friends that do look like me. I am African American and from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which feels like a completely different world now compared to Madison. Milwaukee was racially diverse (something that we cannot say for the university), so I did not know how vital it would be for me to pursue a same and different look of friends. In my time in Madison, I have learned so much from other people’s stories, the stories I could and could not relate to. My friends on campus have taught me that the only way to get the holistic Madison experience is to have friends that don’t get your life but want to and have friends that already understand your story.
For the friends that don’t reflect my pre-UW experiences, they have truly inspired me to know others and myself better. In getting to know others and their life experiences, it pushes me to have an holistic approach to my education. It forces me to know that what I learn in the classroom and how I apply it will impact a variety of people. It makes me know that life is not one dimensional but a complex puzzle that does not always fit perfectly. These friends that don’t all look alike push critical thinking, because all the overlapping and strictly opposing experiences are difficult to comprehend. In these friendships that are completely different, I have learned how to put my experiences in adequate language. I have had to dig deeper into my experiences, and I have learned that my experiences are valid. The same value I get from their stories, they get from my own.
For the friends that do reflect my pre-UW experiences, they teach me that it is okay to feel pain and it is good to feel joy. It is not a secret that it can be a challenge to be black and attend UW, but to know that others are going through similar trials can give a sense of security. The transition of being surrounded by people who look like you to only seeing a handful can be difficult to adjust to. However, to have that handful stand by you in hardships is very empowering. From that empowerment can come a special type of happiness. The happiness of overcoming and triumph, despite having the odds stacked against you. It is a collective joy of understanding without having to explain it. It is a comfort level that we all need as first-year students.
This campus could easily allow me to pick: only have friends that don’t look like me or only friends that do. Yet, I have already seen how much that would limit me. There is so much inspiration and knowledge to pull from one and so much strength and fortitude to pull for the other. To feel a need to pick one or the other would be a cap on becoming complete, better students and holistically better people. For me, I ultimately want to surround myself with people who love my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and that is how I truly think I’m making it through my first semester, being in communities that love the Gospel and love people. In pursuing all of this, I am pursuing a better me.