Continuing on with my first two posts about teaching tolerance, I have been thinking about my time here at Kutztown, and even my experiences growing up. My family moved from a very diverse town to a town that had very little diversity along the Jersey Shore. You could essentially count on one hand, maybe two, the number of non-white students in my graduating class. We had 3 Asian students, 3 Black students, and a Pakistani girl, and that’s about all the diversity I can think of- and I was friends with all of them. Although there was very little diversity, there were never incidents of bullying or racism that occurred within my class during our high school experience.
Fast forward and now I’m in college in a very different area than I grew up in, I had never experienced the “rural life” and it was definitely culture shock when I first arrived. Horse and buggies aside, I quickly got used to having to drive a minimum of 20 minutes to reach anything, despite having grown up in an area where everything was within a 5 minute drive. I met a lot of people who were very similar to me, some people were also from Jersey, some were from the area but shared a lot of similar ideologies. I found the campus to be overall pretty liberal and accepting, but I believe that most colleges are.
The one thing I found very interesting about Kutztown University was overall acceptance of the LGBT community. I had made many friends who were either part of the LGBT community, or who were accepting of my being a part of the community at the very least. While the college students have are for the most part very accepting, I have found the people of the town of Kutztown as well as people from the surrounding area to be not so tolerant. When one of my friends asked if I would like to join her and her boyfriend (both from Berks County) to go to New York City for the day over winter break, I said, “Sure, Jenn (my girlfriend at the time) and I would love to” and my friend said back to me, “It would probably make my boyfriend uncomfortable if you were there as a couple” as if I was supposed to be okay with them being all over each other but not being allowed to spend my day with my own significant other to make sure he was comfortable.
I let the conversation go, I just said I would check my calendar and let them know, although I had already decided that I would not be able to make it. Aside from occasional stares and a few comments here and there, I did not have a lot of other negative experiences with the people of Kutztown or the students of the university.
Then disaster struck. Election 2016.
Tearing families and friendships apart. Half of the campus was mourning Bernie losing the democratic bid, a quarter was wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and screaming to “Impeach Hillary”, and the last quarter was sure that Hillary would win because there was no way Americans would actually be dumb enough to elect “The giant angry Cheeto” into office.
Following the results of the election, a series of White-nationalist posters were found on campus, and there has been a nation-wide resurgence of intolerance. What is this word coming to? How is it that there had been so much progress and suddenly people are openly hating one another?