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February 8, 2012 / HandsOnCorps

Sunday Supper, What Better Time to Stop and Reflect?

Two and a half years ago, I graduated from college eager to step into the ‘real world’.  As a student majoring in Sociology, I spent my years as an undergraduate discussing, researching and writing about race, class, and gender, with very little opportunity to engage with the issues first-hand. Sure, my student body was diverse in race and class (though as an all women’s college, not gender), and yes, I studied in New York City, perhaps the most diverse city in the United States. But still, within the walls of an academic institution, explorations and engagements with the sociological questions in my seminars, and the topics in my readings, was limited to the imagination and simulated realities of a college campus.

In the first half of my year of service at HandsOn Greater DC Cares, I have had ample opportunity to apply the things I learned in class, and truly engage with the issues that challenged me as a student. In my outreach and work with non-profit partners, as well as in my exploration and learning about the dynamics and complexity of Washington DC, sociological themes play a central role in the work that I do day to day.

While I have gained tremendously from the opportunity for such real-world application, it wasn’t until two Sundays ago, at the Americorps-organized Sunday Supper I attended, that I realized what I have lost in the process. While I now work in communities and on issues that are directly affected by the racial, class, and gender realities of the greater Washington DC region, I spend almost no time critically analyzing or discussing these issues.

The Sunday Supper was a terrific opportunity to use one example- of persisting segregation in a high school in Mississippi –to discuss broader themes of race in American society. Alongside community members, we watched a film entitled ‘Prom Night in Mississippi’, in which a high school struggles to put an end to a long tradition of segregated proms. The actor Morgan Freeman intervenes in this tradition in 2008, offering to pay for an integrated prom if the students take the lead in organizing it. This film sparked a discussion about the status of race relations in our country, and specifically, how geography plays a major role in the evolution of integration and tolerance. The conversation continued with one of my colleagues on our way home, as we acknowledged the role of class and gender in any conversation relating to race, and vice versa.

In 2009, when I left the Ivory tower, I looked forward to a professional career in which I could actively engage with the social problems I studied so abstractly in college. While I have been privileged enough to do exactly that in my position at HandsOn Greater DC Cares, I am also grateful for the opportunities to occasionally don the academic hat and stop, reflect, and discuss, too. I think doing so is an imperative component of growing as a professional, and as a person.

Sara Draper-Zivetz

HandsOn Corps National Direct Member: HandsOn Greater DC Cares

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