Applying Knowledge to Serve

What is an activity or an extracurricular that you’ve been involved in that has been particularly meaningful to you?

I’ve done a lot over the time that I’ve been here, but the one thing that has been the most consistent is my involvement with Baptist Campus Ministries. I came to school not expecting to be in a campus ministry, but a friend convinced me to go. It’s been a really interesting space for me to grow, because I come from a very conservative family. There was a disjunction for me because I didn’t grow up believing in the same sorts of things that my parents and my church supported. Coming into a space that was more inclusive was very meaningful, but also being able to be a part of that and come to terms with a lot of negative feelings I still had towards the church has been interesting. I’ve also been a small group Bible study leader for the past two years. I’ve tailored our discussions to be about how we can talk about the church in a more critical light to make it a more inclusive space for people of different sexualities, gender identities, and things like that.

How has your personal perception of religion changed as a result of your involvement with the campus ministry?

I definitely came into college as an atheist, but through Baptist Campus Ministries I’ve found a renewed faith in some form of a higher power. My spirituality is very different than a lot of Baptists. I think that most people who are involved in campus ministries have a very well-formed, concrete idea of their beliefs. But for me, I had to reconnect with religion through thinking about how I can use this framework of Christianity and my understanding of Jesus to better emphasize love and compassion and care for others in a way that makes sense to me.

What are your thoughts on how religious organizations on campus can progress and change for the better – do you have any specific ideas about that?

Definitely – something that has been important to me is bridging the gap between the rest of campus and the campus ministries because I think we can tend to be very insular and isolated from the rest of campus. I’ve noticed that people within campus ministries tend to only hang out with other people in the campus ministries, and it’s seen as almost negative to be a part of other things. There’s a certain level of worldliness that this ought to take precedence. But I think Christians have a calling to go out into the world and seek out people that are different from them and to have an exchange of viewpoints. If we’re having these exchanges, then maybe I can show you Jesus through my experiences and then through listening to others, I can better understand perspectives that are different from my own. I’ve tried to bring people that aren’t associated with campus ministries into our discussions and then to bring people in campus ministries outside of their bubbles. It’s really been my goal to combine those two worlds to form a more inclusive and understanding community. In particular, my small group this year focused on science and religion, and how science and Christianity often conflict. We’ve been exploring how that’s such a false dichotomy – you can believe in a higher power and faith, but you can also believe in the Big Bang and physics. We also talked about climate change earlier in the year, and how that’s so important in the discussion of communities that are more affected by climate change in relation to environmental racism. There’s a Christian moral imperative to address that. So again, just bridging the gap between this bubble that Christians often live in and the rest of the world has been really valuable to me.

The individual that nominated you for Women of William & Mary also mentioned your involvement in Vox: Planned Parenthood Generation Action. In what ways has your faith contributed to or possibly conflicted with that?

I haven’t been as involved in Vox this year as previous years, but in previous years I’ve tried to be an advocate for people that are pro-choice. That definitely conflicts with the typical views of the church and church doctrine. I actually had the chance to speak at a Vox event about being religious and pro-choice, and I think again it comes down to having a social justice mindset. All Christians are called to love others, and I think there’s nothing loving about deciding that people can’t make choices about their own bodies. It’s been an interesting tension because a lot of people in campus ministries don’t have that same mindset as me. But at the same time, there’s still been a space for me to share different viewpoints with those in the campus ministries, and I’ve really appreciated getting to talk about Vox in our large group meetings. If we can start a dialogue, we’ll be more likely to get things done and find commonalities. Pro-choice or not, we can agree that we want less people to have abortions. But that’s not the narrative that people who are pro-life may not acknowledge about people who are pro-choice. But when we start conversations and both sides try to understand the other more, there’s a greater chance for compromise. This year I’ve been able to start a community within my small group where we specifically talk about issues that Christians don’t typically like to talk about, like abortion, sex, and what’s it like to be in the LGBT community and the church. It’s an open space for conversation, its judgment-free, and we’ll all still care about each other at the end of the day.

Is your small group only female?

No, although I would say Baptist Campus Ministries as a whole has more girls in it, but there are a few girls in my small group.

That’s interesting, because I know that some other religious organizations on campus specifically separate their small groups by gender. I’d imagine that it’s actually really productive to have both included because it provides an opportunity for more perspectives to be shared.

Definitely, and I’ve been aggressively against having specific male and female small groups in Baptist Campus Ministries, just because I think that when you really get down to it, the experiences of men and women aren’t all that different.

Another aspect that I remember from your nomination is the person stating that anyone can study or talk about doing something, but you would be the one to actually step up and directly face an issue. Why do you think you choose to be a participant rather than just an observer?

Particularly at William & Mary, I think we have a tendency to lean towards academia, but that isn’t necessarily where my strengths lie. It’s great to talk about issues, but I like to figure out what the actual impact of our words are. Everything in theory is only useful for its practical value. I want to explore what we can do with information and how we can take actions that will actually invoke change in communities. At the end of the day, my mindset is “can I do something with my life that improves the lives of others?” Although I think academia and the pursuit of knowledge are incredibly worthwhile, what is knowledge if you’re not using for the benefit of someone else? I think that people in academics and William & Mary students have a responsibility to acknowledge that they get to go to college and should explore how they can use the things they learn to impact others.
I grew up in a very rural community, and quite frankly, going to college was not the norm or the expectation for people from my area. I’m a first generation college student, and I think maybe twenty to thirty people, out of my graduating class of one hundred and forty people, went on to a four year college. I grew up around people who did not have access to knowledge, and who were stuck in a lot of cycles of poverty, addition, poor healthcare, and all these negative things. There’s this whole other realm of people who are talking about these issues that people face, but aren’t making any attempts to address them. As people of privilege, we have a moral imperative to do things for other people who are in need. So I think that’s been what drives me to want to take direct action within communities, specifically bridging the gap between the bubble of William & Mary and the broader community.

How has that mindset been apparent in your involvement with Greater City Williamsburg?

I was involved with Greater City from my sophomore year to my junior year. We know that poverty in Williamsburg is a big deal, but Greater City tried to bridge the gap between what we know and what we’re doing. I think Greater City does a really good job of getting into communities, talking to people, feeding people, fostering friendships, and creating a space where students can create relationships with people that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I think the median family income of William & Mary students is something like $75,000, and that’s insane because so many people in Williamsburg are living below the poverty line. So, I really appreciate the work that Greater City does in bridging the gap between what we know and what we can do for people.

There were so many activities that were listed in your nomination application, and I feel like that really speaks to your commitment to community development.

For sure, those activities have made my time at William & Mary so meaningful – Baptist Campus Ministries, Vox, Greater City, and then I also work for AidData, Virginia Institute for Marine Science, and I’ve been an RA.

One final question that we’ve wanted to ask all of our Women of William & Mary nominees is, what’s a piece of advice that you would give to other female students?

I think what a lot of William & Mary students struggle with is being confident. So I would say, if you’re doing what you love, then you’re doing something worthwhile. Know that you can do it, whatever it is. If you love it, do it even if it’s hard and even if it seems like it’s not worthwhile at times. You should never feel like you have to apologize for who you are or how you interact with the world. I’m thinking in particular of a friend of mine that I’ve been getting to know better recently. She always apologizes for things, and I just want to tell her that I can see how well she’s doing and that she doesn’t have to be sorry for trying. I think we all get to William & Mary and realize that there’s a lot of smart people here, and so we feel the need to apologize for not being good at everything. But no, you’re doing amazing, and the people around you here are happy to help you realize that.

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