Distance vs. Proximity

On January 28, I attended Bryan Stevenson’s talk in Richardson Stadium, and heard some of the most inspiring words I had ever encountered. As a privileged white woman, I am rarely forced to consider the devastating effects of mass incarceration on people of color in the US. Even when those in positions of privilege and power do take the time and effort to learn about this under-addressed atrocity, we tend to remain distant from those who are suffering. We are afraid to get proximate to the injustices in our country. Stevenson challenges this fear. His advice for realizing our capacity to create a more just world consisted of four simple points: don’t be afraid to get proximate to people who are suffering, change the narratives that sustain injustice, maintain hope, and be willing to do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient.

I realized that I have spent all year learning about institutionalized racism and social structures in my classes at Davidson, yet I have done very little to help dismantle these structures or even get proximate with those suffering from them. Under social distancing rules, it has become harder to get proximate, but once it is possible to do so without endangering others, I want to show up physically for people, rather than merely spreading awareness on social media. I am going to be a Humanities fellow next year, and one of the main changes that I will suggest is that we incorporate more physical service and community interaction into the program. It is easy for students, especially those in positions of privilege, to stay inside the Davidson bubble, learning about our country’s problems without reaching out to those in the surrounding communities to help, or even just to listen. We need to teach Davidson first-years to burst that bubble early in their college experience so that they understand that the issues we are discussing affect people living only minutes away from us, and even many of our fellow students.