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2014 Winter Issue 7 (February 28, 2014)

More Than the Sum of Its Parts: A Response to “Slices of a Story”

March 5, 2014
By Gaston Lopez

Scrutiny is the essence of doubt, and thankfully, we have a modicum of it that can let us call things out when need be. Already, I read the CLAP criticisms of our paper’s Friendsy story, and just these past few days I’ve heard undercurrents of criticisms over the opinion piece that my colleague, Anna Schmiel, wrote in the past issue.

Specifically, this had nothing to do with her rebuke of fragmenting the story of a person, but more to do with what I understand to be a misunderstanding about the Posse Scholars here in Carleton. Now, I am in no position to truly know the meanings or purpose of Posse at this point, but I will say that there is more than what was perceived by the sensitive description of “low-income and minority”.

In fact, that statement itself is a generalization in and of itself. It does not matter whose opinion this originated from, whether it be from Anna herself or the Posse Scholar she spoke with. The reduction of Posse, or any other person belonging to a “low-income or minority” group, carries the same danger as all the reductions that we are capable to do to each other. We are multidimensional – there are simply too many factors that make up a person.

I proceed, however, not to make an identical argument as my colleague did this past week. I would like to go further on how we can treat our multidimensionality. Anna had left our readership with a damning admonition of how we can’t assume other people, which I will not contest. I ask then: how do we decide to handle multidimensionality beyond simply not assuming? This conversation needs to be expanded beyond admonishing endemic mindset, and I will begin this with another conversation.

A month before this past fall term, I went to California, representing Carleton as a liaison for a training conference for the collegiate Quest Scholars Network. (You may have heard of its high school partner organization QuestBridge, described in this paper as “an organization that helps low-income students apply to highly selective colleges”, of which Carleton is an affiliate since the admission of the Class of 2017. The organization is relatively new compared to Posse, but like Posse, it cannot be simplified as merely helping “low-income students”). In the midst of conversation with my colleagues, we came to talk about what their peers were like in schools like Princeton and the University of Chicago. It was a burning topic that I knew nothing of. I was still unsure what class interactions were like in halls like theirs, and what may potentially bode for me in a month.

What struck me about this conversation as the minutes passed by was not the mention of peers who were the heirs to large companies, or the children of foreign politicians, but how these peers were “normal”. These were classmates who you’d see walking on the green, who you’d sit with at lunch, who you’d play games with – they just so happened to come from a higher status in society, as though they were mutually exclusive. Of course, there were the quintessential jerks of the high class, but it was not always the case. These were real people. The point that Mahir, my colleague from Yale, wanted to get across was that I could not just let class get in the way of understanding people, that there were genuinely good people regardless of background. Having internalized the somewhat dangerous concept throughout high school of “working harder” to make up for what I – and my parents – did not have, this was an entirely alien concept.

After nearly two terms of Carletonalia, I can now say that I know what he meant. Surely enough at a school that would rather be apart from the Ivies and similar liberal arts schools, class is not as acute as I am sure it is in my counterparts’ schools. And surely class differences bleed through sometimes – vacation photos of classmates were sometimes an indicator of luxury.  Yet I knew, as everyone did, that nobody was wholly defined by where they came from, in all senses of that idea. Thus, multidimensionality. Throughout parts of the conference, we came upon this as we sought to define the organization and identity as Scholars: that “that where you end up doesn’t have to be defined by where you begin.” It is a statement that works both ways: class doesn’t define our well-off peers strictly, and neither does it define lesser-off peers. This was a summation of who we were and what we wanted, knowing well the economy has not been helpful in being meritocratic. In fact, it’s something you believe in, especially if you’re the person with about ten to twenty different interests and backgrounds; that’s about all of us here, folks.

I was at this conference because, to put it bluntly, I am a Quest Scholar, part of a handful of a chapter that has just begun this year at Carleton. We’re from all stations of life, from the rural country of the Northwest, to the streets of Chicago, and the suburbs of Florida. We don’t really care where we’re from, not that we are apathetic, but that we know it shouldn’t matter, period. And so then what matters is where we’re going from here.

Moving forward with multidimensionality of our student body, in seeking to understand it and reconcile differences, we must support each other in how we go forth from our point in life here at Carleton to life beyond. In any case, we are here for ourselves and for those who have believed in us – family, friends, loved ones. Ideally, we then ought to define ourselves by being ourselves, and doing what’s best for ourselves and for each other. We ought to aim for meritocracy this way. This will all come in different social and physical forms, with some students possibly needing an extra push more than another student does. It won’t be perfect, but we ought to try. And we should hope that our administration and campus always support our efforts in moving on from where we came from.

Is this concept of helping each other out and moving on from where we came from a part of our mentality at Carleton? The jury is still out on this one, although the earlier generalization that Anna’s article brought out reveals some continuing generalizations. This will merit future understanding, but perhaps for now at the closer, personal level. Our chapter will soon become part of this greater conversation.

In the meantime, we already know that we’re more than the sum of our parts. I know I am. So is our campus, our town, our nation, our world. Let’s move on.

The author is the Liaison for the Carleton College chapter of the Quest Scholars Network.

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