(Edited - content added. Bear with me, if you will, as I wind through this story, which I may add to over the next few days with forgotten aspects. Also, warning, I may go off on tangents lol - that is because as I was writing this, I realized it was a more significant series of events than I initially realized, and changed the course of my life more than I realized - so I worked it out for myself now, as I wrote it - hopefully, you can follow ;)
So I mentioned in my last post that I briefly toyed with the idea of journalism in college, right?
So this happened after receiving surprising accolade for an article that I wrote for a featured guest opinion for UK's student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel (lol, I know) which was in response to a front-page article that I found ridiculous lol.
In fact, as a result of that article, general classroom debate, and a sociology project, all in 1992 - I ended up getting elected to a brief stint as the College of Social Work Representative to UK's Student Government, without actually running - some fellow students wrote my name on the ballot unaware, telling me later they did it was because I had proven I was brave and could stand alone against the system, especially since it had been four years since we even had a representative on SGA lol.
In hindsight, however - though I appreciate the gesture - did I need to "stand alone" if so many felt the same way but weren't "brave" enough to say so?" I say this, of course, because of what happened ...
Because I ended up disappointing them, and I'm sorry - and is the reason I say a brief stint, because I quit a few months into it - as I've mentioned many times, I actually don't like public speaking or being the center of attention, I'm extremely uncomfortable with it, I couldn't handle the attention - but I also couldn't handle the backlash of being "brave" and "standing alone against the system."
Regardless, it was that article, my classroom debate reputation, and one sociology class project that become campus-famous were responsible for my somehow landing on SGA.
It was a group presentation, but as usual, only two of us actually worked on it, the other four just signed off on it, of course, as is usually the case with college class projects lol.
Everyone had voted for my idea, I think mostly because they knew it'd be me and one other male student who did the actual work while everyone else partied and signed off on it lol.
So I went door-to-door of each of the white sororities and fraternities and handed out an anonymous survey, asking them anonymously if they'd ever accept a person of color, someone of a different faith, someone disabled, or someone who was gay, as well as what type of person they wanted for their organization.
You would NOT believe the answers I got in 1992 lol - or maybe you would?
I couldn't believe they even bothered to actually answer the questionnaire at all, much less the way that they did.
Essentially, let's just say they all but one said "No" - with various degrees of emphasis and punctuation - with some using racial epithets to emphasize their point - and one sorority even added the only races they'd allow other than white were "We have accepted some Jewish, as well as a few Filipino or East Indian, if they were Christian or otherwise came from a good family."
Though I didn't add what I'm about to say to the project presentation, because it's conjecture - I just presented the answers and let the room decide - allow me to interpret my personal opinion about what that last bit means - if not Christian, then they just come from a non-broken home, and most importantly, have money ;)
I must've gotten "Pretty, happy, fun" at least 20 times on the sorority questionnaires, with the second most popular answer being, "ability to pay our steep membership fees."
The fraternities answers were similar - also including "fun" or "good-looking," but were a bit more broad, and also included "sports ability," "like-minded politics," and "smart."
However, not so for the women - interesting, yes?
EXCEPT - as mentioned above - there was one single exception - the oldest white sorority on campus, answered "Yes, and we have accepted all of the above" but added "however, they have to be able to afford the steep membership fees, which is often too challenging," and as for type of person they wanted was "smart, socially conscious, environmentally conscious."
(In fact, because of their answer - had I money, I would've considered joining, if they would've had me - but of course I didn't have the money.)
I appreciated all of them answering, though, without being paid, just to help out my project research, so I can't be too hard on them - plus I did get an A.
However, it did confirm what I already suspected - and yet still, the answers shocked even me lol.
It was like anonymous social media before there was social media - people told you what they were really thinking behind the fake smiles, which we all kind of knew already.
Now I had grown up in a wealthy suburban Cincinnati - and even though I had a lot of friends - I never fit in completely with the wealthiest cool kids, which I always blamed myself and my crazy family situation for, embarrassed.
I imagined life would be different once I left, because most communities aren't that privileged, especially in Kentucky.
So I didn't start college until two years after graduating, now working and going to school full-time, and thus, I sort of missed out on the on-campus life.
However, I noticed that not much had changed since high school - the wealthiest white kids were still in charge of social activities and they were very exclusive about them. They'd give formal, public invites to things, but didn't really expect you to show up lol - it was really only to inform other Greeks.
I can honestly say, they weren't mean, though, really, at least not to your face - but in Kentucky, niceness is tricky - everyone smiles in your face, but behind your back is a completely different story. At least in Cincinnati, if someone doesn't like you, they don't fake it - you just know.
So it's not that they were mean, it's just they made it clear that there was a tiered-Greek system that ruled campus life, and if you weren't part of the system, they simply weren't interested - even though there were far more non-Greek than Greek on campus.
So when I did this survey, it confirmed what I long suspected behind those disinterested fake smiles - that if you don't fit the "pretty, happy, fun, rich" world of white, intact-family Christians with money, you didn't belong and you were never going to, no matter what you did, unless you went to Hollywood - but after a brief stint with fame as a child (after being cast in a TV movie), I wanted no part of that.
This was the exact turning point where I stopped being so embarrassed of my background and my family circumstances, and I started to question things - that perhaps we weren't the problem after all, dragging the others down - perhaps this socioeconomic system we've got going may be the problem instead?
So I presented the results to the class, which was about 100 kids - and they went nuts.
The students that were non-Greek, of color, Jewish or Muslim, gay, disabled, poor, worked and lived off campus - which were actually the majority of students - said, "WHAT?" or started laughing loudly - not at me, but like in a "HA ha" sort of way - making it clear that the white Greeks were just exposed for who they really were.
The members of white fraternity and sorority members, however, became enraged, demanding to know who wrote them - which of course I refused to identify, as a true journalist never reveals the identity of her sources who have asked to remain anonymous ;).
(EXCEPT - I did reveal the name of the single sorority that answered they'd accept all of the above, but the fees were a challenge - for the record, that sorority was Kappa Kappa Gamma - that's at least how they answered, at the time, at the University of Kentucky, though I know Greeks differ in reputation at different universities. At the time, at UK, the Kappas were the oldest sorority, and were well respected for being the smart girls, but they also were second wealthiest/most expensive sorority on campus.)
Then they said I must've made it up, until I showed them overhead projections of the handwritten pages, which blocked out the names of the sororities and fraternities, revealing the handwriting to all be from different hands.
So then they called me a troublemaker, creating "prejudice problems" that didn't exist.
I remember looking at Dr. Hardesty, who simply rested her head on her hand, looked around the room, sighed, rolled her eyes at them, and then smiled and mouthed, "Keep going."
I explained that I didn't create these problems, I simply was shining a light on what was already there - this was actually the reality..
However, my heart started beating fast, I started sweating, but I just ignored them - maintained my composure just enough to just continue the presentation right overtop of them.
However, I did start to take this on internally - "Was I a troublemaker? Was something wrong with me for seeing the world so differently than other white people did?"
In fact, once I got on UK's SGA, considering the fact that even though we had a few black Greeks, most of SGA were rich, white college Greeks - let's just say my efforts to be more inclusive and celebrate diversity were even less welcome than they are now, at the University of Kentucky, in the early 1990s.
Don't get me wrong, they were still very nice to me, despite being the only non-Greek member on SGA at the time. It's just we saw the world differently and had different life experiences, and they were very comfortable with the current system, and I wasn't, but where i was coming from simply didn't compute and thus my ideas for more inclusion and diversity in university events was consistently voted down, especially in the early 90s.
I think that affected me worse than it would most people because though I may have appeared confident, inside, I was crumbling - it seemed like confirmation that my family was right about me.
"It's always a good idea to re-evaluate our presentation, but sometimes, even when you present things with textbook good communication, with extra sugar on top, even with lightening jokes, people still get upset; they may even twist your words and intent, make themselves the victim out of a situation that doesn't require one.""But just because they didn't react in the way you'd hoped doesn't automatically mean that something is wrong with you - that what you said was wrong or inappropriate. It could also mean they just didn't want to hear it, likely because it contains some truth they don't want to face, and thus they have to make you the problem. Always take a second look, but don't assist them in scapegoating you for problems that would exist without you, too, by always blaming yourself, too."
She also said that she had always she thought that when these things happened, not only was it because I was the most principled person in the room, but often the smartest, and neither attribute always sits well with people.
However, though I believe the integrity part, I don't buy the smartest part - and she knows that - so she just focused on not immediately doubting myself every single time I say speak up for something I believe in that may be unpopular - especially if I've thoughtfully considered my presentation and what I'm going to say beforehand lol.
Anyway - it was that project, plus my classroom debate reputation, plus this article I wrote, that put me on UK's SGA - but ultimately resulted in me sending me into a spinning top, with no safe place to land ...
As for the article, it preceded the group project, and I think I titled it something like "You, Too, Can Shovel Your Way to Prosperity, In 3 Simple Steps?" or something like that, because it was a reaction to a fellow Republican's classmate's story about his grandfather "shoveling chicken seed into trucks during the depression until he created a business empire, and how if we all just worked as hard as his grandfather did, then we, too, could be rich business moguls today."
So because he was a political science major, we were in a few of the same classes as part of the social sciences, and his bow-tie, blue-blazer, khaki-wearing arrogance, clearly loving to hear himself speak, already annoyed me greatly.
So in my reply - which shocked me by being the featured guest opinion, taking up half the page - I think I pronounced his article "bombastic rhetoric" and that was he was "shoveling something all right, but it's not a path to prosperity, just more unrealistic American fantasy, perpetuating the American myth that the harder you work, the more financially successful you will be - without taking into account that most people don't have the same opportunities that he has been afforded by his wealthy white grandfather, particularly if they are a person of color or female (or both) - and thus they become unskilled and uneducated manual hourly-wage labor, but nevertheless end up working harder than we ever could, at jobs we, the educated, think are beneath us, and yet still imagine we've worked harder and are more deserving."
Okay, so - "bombastic rhetoric" might have been a little harsh and antagonistic and OTT? ;)
That was my young, ignorant, "change the world days," which as you can see, turned out well, didn't it? lol.
I've since learned to temper my opinions with humor and chill out a bit (mostly), as life teaches you, now that I can somewhat speak again - but in my one small defense, you should've read his ridiculous fantasy article, too, also written by a person with even less life experience than I had lol.
Regardless, I saw him that weekend, as he came in the restaurant where I worked while in college. Interestingly, he smirk-smiled at me, then walked over, and without saying a single word, held out his hand to shake hands, gave me this kind of emphatic, weird salute, and then left - which I took to mean, "I don't agree, but well done?"
I'm not sure, but despite the fact that I thought he was a pompous ass and he thought I was a bleeding-heart liberal, we somehow were able to maintain our prior level of mutual respect during debate in classes after that anyway.
Unfortunately, the rest happened, as above - I made other life choices (or just didn't care what happened to me, after that) - which would ultimately let know just how on point I actually was with how broken our culture and socioeconomic system actually was - so thus went my brief dalliance with the ideal of journalism lol.
Probably a good idea - I'm likely too biased and opinionated to be objective enough for journalism.
Which I think is actually a prerequisite for today's journalists, I think, and yet still, probably not a good idea for me - especially if I can't handle the backlash, right? ;)
Because if you want to speak up, you need to be be prepared to handle the backlash - and if you can't, then don't say it, right?
But also, as a result of those experiences, I would now say it's just as important - after double-checking yourself to make sure you're not mistaken, but coming up with the same conclusion - to not take back what you said, despite it being unpopular, if you're sure it's the right thing to say or do, particularly if on behalf of others - even if the rats in the room scatter all over you, or people you thought were friends prefer to run with rats, just because they are more of them than you :)