This post is one I've been thinking of for a great many months.
I write this blog to recall my experiences around the world and of course it would be a little odd to spend a full two years somewhere without ever really explaining the experience. However, explaining my time in Mississippi is no easy task.
I've spent the last 2 years attending Ole Miss and while I have had enjoyed many wonderful experiences in the South, I've never had a place encourage me to reflect so deeply about society, myself and social issues before.
Coming from the Toronto area, a very multicultural place, I anticipated Mississippi to be a little different of course. I ended up experiencing many more differences than I expected. Here are just a few examples.
Ole Miss is located in Oxford, Mississippi and is known for being the school for children of extremely wealthy southern families. A fellow student once called her Mercedes SUV, "a really good college car," meanwhile the school is located just a short drive from a region, The Delta, riddled with poverty.
Sororities and Fraternities are still almost entirely divided by race. I met an African-American girl who was the first of her background in her chapter of hundreds. It's 2016 and it's still unusual for a lady of color to be a sister of a Panhellenic sorority at Ole Miss... Furthermore, it quickly became apparent to me upon arriving on campus that only the white Greek Life organizations have houses on campus.
I noticed the Square (the downtown shopping and bar area) seemed to have a different racial makeup from the rest of the campus and town. When on the topic with an African-American student they told me that they felt unwelcome on The Square and would prefer to make the 1.5 hour drive to go out in Memphis instead because they felt more welcomed and comfortable there.
I was inducted into an honors society where myself and the other inductees were praised for our academic excellence. As a person who is white and has grown up with some deal of privilege, I can say that I have an immeasurable advantage over so many others when it comes to my education. I sat there noticing the disproportionate number of white students and began to feel wrong for being praised. I had so many opportunities that others did not which helped me get to where I was...
While these experiences and realizations were unsettling at times, I can't help but find that every place I go, there is always good in people.
For every unexpected experience I had, I met a southerner who demonstrated to me people's extraordinary capacity for compassion, love, kindness, and humour. Oxford is filled with kind souls and truly good people. The state is however still struggling with issues that have already come and gone in many other places in the country which was at first surprising to me.
For those who head to Mississippi or Ole Miss after me, know that you'll be heading to a place filled with unique history, a strong southern culture and an impressive capacity for throwing a standout football tailgate party.
Tell me, have you ever had an experience of heading to a location and realizing it was vastly different from what you expected?