University of Pittsburgh | OaklandHeinz Programming Area:
Andrea spent six weeks in South Africa studying South African History and the effect of social change on education and identity. She traveled to Johannesburg for one week, allowing herself to see firsthand the past and post-apartheid struggles by interacting with the families in surrounding townships. In addition, she analyzed a variety of monuments and museums pertaining to the recent era. Her classes greatly enhanced her cultural experiences in South Africa by learning the history, listening to key speakers that lived through apartheid with Nelson Mandela, and then reflecting on her experiences in a journal pertaining to day to day life. All these reflections were discussed in class and on excursions. Studying history was stepping out of her educational comfort zone and from the inspirational students on the trip as well as many other students met at school visits she continued to improve her global education and cultural awareness based off her learnings. Andrea learned the importance of conserving water and energy through a country wide conservation effort. She appreciated the courageous leaders like Nelson Mandela who chose a path of risking their lives so that their children and future children could live in the free country South Africa is developing into today.
One of the major highlights from her trip to Cape Town was visiting an after- school program in a township called SOWETO. The teachers and volunteers explained how they valued education for the younger generations and that is why they gave up their current jobs to teach at these schools so that the future students can attend University with academic scholarships. The country had a sense of unity between those affected by apartheid and an inspiring open dialogue differing from the United States educational system. Controversial topics of race and religion that were currently occurring in other countries were encouraged in round table discussions at all levels of schooling. Andrea found this refreshing and an important aspect in life that America could adapt in education at young ages to making for a unified and equal community. Not only did she gain a global perspective, but she saw some of the most beautiful sceneries she has ever experienced. She learned through other women and families whom she interacted with at her daily coffee shop that in life it is important to take a step back, embrace the beauty and love the people who surround you because that is where happiness stems from.
CEE Title: (Un)Consciously (Un)Comfortable
(UN)Consciously (UN)Comfortable was an event meant to open the doors for conversation by our campus community about difficult or uncomfortable topics. We took a step towards transforming our campus culture in creating safe spaces in all conversations about topics thought of as taboo. The event began with the attendees entering to a survey, where they were asked to circle their top three uncomfortable topics to discuss from the list provided. Uncomfortable topics included: politics, religion, feminism, sexuality and sexual identity, mental health, abortion, immigration, recreational drug use, race and racism, and gun control. Once these topics were chosen there were round table discussions for the most circled topics for the group to break out and discuss pre-set questions. Before discussing these topics, the cohort of 2018 expressed their experience abroad and encounters with taboo topics in their perspective study abroad countries. This “safe space” was then created for a complete group of strangers to get to know each other and openly discuss questions relating to the top three topics chosen which were race and racism, mental health, and sexuality/sexual identity. For example, in the sexuality and sexual identity category a question brought up the discussion of the LGBTQ+ community on campus. This question provoked students to question what it meant to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and to dig deeper into how often we openly talk about this community on campus. Another question that provoked a lot of great discussion about mental health addressed how our University recognizes mental health and if it is enough for the students.
After all the attendees got to know each other and discussed these topics, we opened the entire room for a discussion about these topics, whether that meant talking about the specific questions or in general how taboo topics are discussed in the United States. The room was transformed from the beginning of the night, with many volunteers not afraid to bring up their thoughts on mental health, and the various cultures and communities on campus. Before closing the night, some students gave feedback on feeling more comfortable talking with people in the LGBTQ+ community because after learning more about it and asking questions, they did not feel scared to talk about some of the challenges this community may face on campus. (UN)Consciously (UN)Comfortable closed with some takeaways shared by our cohort. We hope that our community will now challenge their personal expectations and biases, be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and educate themselves on these topics to feel like they can spread the trend of safe spaces for open discussions.