With finals winding up/down here at the UO, I hope to have some posts about exciting things going on here and across the state in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Inside-Out classes from the UO had their closing ceremonies last week (more on that soon as well), and I thought I’d share the letter I wrote to the class I TA’d for, an honors college class called “Culture Wars in America”.
Here it is:
“In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck writes of the community formed among migrant people on the road, people with a common dream and circumstance but divergent histories, families, and to varying degrees, cultures. He says: “The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It’s wool. It was my mother’s blanket—take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning—from “I” to “we.”
He’s writing of solidarity among people not for personal gain, but for the sake of connection, generosity of spirit, and interaction. “Every night a world created.” In many ways, I think his words speak to our experience in class. Every Monday night, we create a world in which we can share our experiences despite sometimes diverging beliefs. Our time together is enriched rather than limited by our range of cultures, histories, and identities. I have seen everyone in this room enter with a spirit of generosity, willing to listen and consider what other folks have to say. And I have watched everyone take pleasure in simple human interaction—seeking out commonalities rather than fixating on divisions.
As we have explored the topic of culture wars, we have seen the complex interplay between identity, labels, stereotypes, personal experience, and ideas of self, community, region, and nation. Both John Steinbeck and Junot Díaz tell us that culture wars are not easy to navigate, and they don’t offer us worlds of peace, equality, and unity. Instead, both authors expose the rawness of the human experience—the pain along with the joy, the suffering, the division, but also the human capacity for compassion, connection, and hope.
For me, Inside-Out operates in a similar way. This class has exposed the tensions that can divide people. We have spoken about our fiercely-held beliefs and seen some stark divides. Yet, when “the night draws down” this class has been more about what we have in common then what keeps us apart. I feel lucky to have formed bonds of friendship in this class, and to have witnessed similar bonds in formation.
Steinbeck points out that this transition from “I” to “we” is “the thing to bomb”. And he’s right that it’s powerful. When we remove ideas of “us” and “them” we create a powerful unity. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we respect and recognize the dignity in each other. The community that we’ve created, bridging divides of all sorts and at least one tangible wall, is a powerful testament to the human ability to form friendships and break down limiting stereotypes when we create a space for dialogue and interaction. When we came together face to face, despite bringing along our histories and our cultures and our biases, seeing each other as humans and as friends was remarkably easy.
I have been honored to have met each of you, and to be a part of this community. I will carry our interactions and my memories of our conversations with me, and I hope that each of you will do the same.”
Inside-Out Alumna, UO