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Finding My Choice

Finding My Choice

By Alexander Jasienowski

12919738_10156682336945398_6347453400125733083_n As a young girl, I remember my grandfather saying to me, “You’re black, you’re black, you’re black. It doesn’t matter how much white blood you have, you’ll always be, and always be seen as black.” My black grandfather said the words but my white relatives reinforced the message with their actions.

Growing up with a black mom and a white dad has been central to my life experience. I struggled to fully fit into one identity as each side of my family imposed its views on my identity. The black side of my family said it directly: I could never completely fit into the white community. My white grandfather, aunts and cousins were never comfortable enough to directly confront the strain that race placed on our relationships. Yet the tension of race always slipped into our encounters.

When we were young, my father would regularly take my sister and me to visit his family in upstate New York. Looking back, these memories are tinged by recollections of strange behaviors. One day, after my sister and I took one of our many swims down to the lighthouse, my aunt looked at our hair and said, “your hair is too wild, it’s so difficult!” I cringed — her words filled me with disgust and frustration. The behaviors of my father’s family continually pointed to this singular difference of race — when they gave us skin colored band-aids (which were actually too dark for our skin tone), volumes and volumes of Temptations CDs, and the strangest gift of all, eleven black dolls dressed in different animal costumes. With each visit upstate, my feelings of discomfort became stronger. My sister and I were always included in the family, but there was a growing sense of awkwardness that seemed to justify the words of my black grandfather. No matter how hard my white relatives tried to make it appear that they were comfortable with our racial differences, their behavior ultimately helped push me to choose an identity, black.

The choice proved to be complicated. I began to identify as black internally, and at the same time, externally, I was still seeking acceptance from the white community. Early on, I used my hair as a way to conform to white expectations. I tamed my wild curly locks by straightening them, changing an aspect of myself so that I would blend in with my friends at school. Gradually, I realized that more of my friends were people of color, and I experienced a level of comfort I had never felt before. By the end of 9th grade, after years of conforming to the expectations of others, I let my hair go natural, freeing both my hair and myself. Feeling liberated, I felt a new sense of confidence and pride in my multiracial identity as I embraced my black heritage more than my white roots. I made this choice under pressure from both my black and white sides. They made it seem that one culture had to dominate.

Looking back, having to make a choice at all is unsettling. In making one side dominant, I abandoned a piece of myself. People shouldn’t feel that it is necessary to abandon a part of their identity in order to be accepted.

Now, identifying as multiracial, I am learning to get beyond the pressures that were placed upon me as a young girl. While my connection and sense of affinity with the African-American community grows increasingly stronger, I continue to lean into my multiracial identity, although I sometimes feel a lingering sense of unease. I work through these vulnerabilities by reaching out and supporting others who seem to be experiencing similar struggles. Every now and then, I feel the urge to safely lock away my curls, but I do not give in to this temptation.

Alexander Jasinowski, a graduate from The Spence School, graduated from Pitzer College last Saturday

Why Columbia & Pitzer’s Values

Why Columbia & Pitzer’s Values

untitled-6423Why Columbia

by Victoria Van Amson

Since my days at Greenhouse Nursery School, art on Columbia’s campus has engaged me. Whether it is taking form on the Quad or at Baker field, the Scholars’ Lion enlightened me to the kind of institution to which I wish to contribute over a lifetime. The core curriculum is a significant manifestation of the Lion’s remarkable ability to unite Columbia’s community with shared motivation. I have diverse interests which make the foundation of a liberal arts education necessary for the full explorations of my passions. On Columbia’s relentless education of generations of students lies the edifice upon which the wisdom of Alma Maters’ owl, and the perspective of The Curl rest. Throughout my high school career, I enjoyed giving speeches and facilitating dialogue on topics that are not normal to classroom discussions. One-sided mindsets challenged me as I encountered classmates without interests in looking at issues from multiple angles. Many of my peers blast our beloved society, choosing to ignore our abilities to profoundly improve our culture and democracy. This potential is inherent in everyday actions. Columbia would surround me with the values of others who understand my admiration for what the owl and The Curl represent to me; wisdom and perspective. Columbia understands that there is a stark difference between diligently standing before a metal sculpture that one may acknowledge as aesthetically pleasing, and taking the time to walk around it and conclude that it embodies something deeper and possibly more intense. Columbia would satisfy my hunger to master the quest to go beyond the surface of facts.

Victoria Van Amson, a 2011 graduate of the Nightingale Bamford School, received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology with a concentration in Business Management from Columbia University last week.

image1Pitzer’s Values

by Cameron Carr  

Prompt: Founded in 1963, Pitzer College was built upon four core values that reimagine the purpose of a college education in a progressively changing world. These values are social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning and student autonomy. Almost 50 years later, our students feel that our founding values help prepare them to address the issues of their time. How do you feel these values will help you find solutions to the evolving challenges of your generation? (Maximum of 4000 characters)

Malcolm X sits in the corner of the boxing ring with two coaches tending to his bruises—Barack Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King. They stand over him as he waits for the bell. I created this drawing a year ago and struggled with which of the three men should be the fighter and which should be the coaches. My strong affinity to Pitzer is tied to my confidence in the institution’s compatibility to wrestling with a question like: Which man has an inner character and belief system that would make it necessary for him to enter a boxing ring and fight against inequalities in society?

I am an artist and an aspiring entrepreneur who is committed to social justice and capitalism. At Pitzer, those identities would be nurtured, challenged and expanded in the classrooms, dormitories, internships, study abroad programs and countless clubs. I do not see a divide between the pragmatic and intellectual components in my college education and life beyond.  Pitzer values blends between liberal arts foundations and pragmatic views of the world. It is inherent in its progressive mission that brings a Postmodern version of the Dewey model of education, which is why I am drawn to an innovative institution like Pitzer.

My attraction to Pitzer extends from my commitment to the idea that diversity brings people together as a community and allows them to educate each other about their own unique backgrounds – leading to an atmosphere where a group of people can embrace differences. I pursued this mission by coordinating diversity workshops in high school. Once diversity becomes a comfort zone of a community, education reaches an ideal that carries the mission of exposure and growth at multiple levels. I want to join the Pitzer community because the schools fosters values centered around that ideal of growth through engaging diversity through academically innovative classes, creative extra curricular activities and social experiences. I want an education that challenges me to learning more about  myself and “the other.” In the process, I will continue to wonder which man is best suited to box and which two would be the best coaches?

Cameron Carr, a 2011 graduate of The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, received his Bachelor of Arts from Pitzer with a double major in Media Studies and Visual Arts.

Destruction and Growth

By Cameron Carr

My family was destroyed on a beautiful day: August 19, 2006. My dad packed my things from camp into the car and it was time to leave Orson, Pennsylvania. I said goodbye to the girl who I was crushing on the whole time I was there, and she gave me a kiss goodbye.  Nice.   After that I hopped into the car with a big smile on my face as we made our way back to New York City.

The smile was fading, but still on my face when we stopped at Wendy’s. My dad was oddly quiet while I ate my chicken tenders, carefully dipping them in barbecue sauce with the precision of a bomb surgeon.  However, I did not know that a bomb was literally about to explode.  “Cam,” my father said nervously as he steered back to reality, “Your mother and I are getting a divorce.” How does a 13-year old react to that?  The barbeque sauce in my mouth instantly lost its sweet flavor and began to sting.  All I could do was stare blankly into the open canvas of road rolling by the window. I uttered my first response in a shaky, confused voice.  “Wh-y?”  My dad responded, but I heard nothing but a monotone depressed voice smothered by my mind’s traffic jam.

It was a three-hour ride before I saw my mother anxiously awaiting my return at the door. I stepped into my house, and suddenly it didn’t feel like home. It was a tall brownstone that stood out from the rest on the block, but it lost its glow and swallowed us as we entered.  Like myself, my house was in pain, exhausted from trying to pull our hanging family back from the edge of the cliff. The house’s oak glazed floors had been beaten down, and easily creeked, screeching whenever you pressed your foot down on its body.  It was no longer my beloved brownstone, but was a war zone as my both parents ambushed me with their sides of the story. My parents’ voices simply went into one ear and then quickly out the other. I transformed into a different person that day.  Not only did I begin to look at marriages differently, but I started to see adults as humans–no longer heroes.

Ironically as I began to look at adults more realistically, my relationships with them grew much stronger, as they became less intimidating. I saw this a year ago when I started a job as a sales representative for Cutco, Cutlery Company.  My target customers are middle age adults.  As a salesperson, I easily understood the secret of intriguing the potential buyers–establish a relationship. My first sale was to a woman with 30 years on me. Her age did not stagger my conversational skills. She lived in an elegant brownstone. I told her I used to live in one.  Eventually this branched into my school and whether it was the right place for her child. I fueled the discussion by improvising, wherever the conversation flowed. Engaging in deep discussions with adults feels natural. This helped me win the top salesman award in my first week with $2,974 dollars in sales. I love my job because it tests my speaking skills and self-confidence.  Many adults like to present their authority and status, yet they appreciate the character of a teenager who knows how to challenge them with a confident, but not obnoxious, attitude.  I demonstrate this persona with piercing eye contact and a firm handshake.

The divorce taught me to take action during stressful situations, which once saved two kids from excessive bruises. It happened at a community home for 30 children who have suffered abuse. I was selected as one of 20 students to serve as mentors for children, ages 8-12, at the Ittleson Community Home. Under the supervision of adults who work at the home, we lead sports activities, arts and crafts and other fun events for the kids. One afternoon, two boys started fighting. The Ittleson adult supervisors watched them, commenting on the fight as if it were a boxing match, while I instinctively ran in between the kids and broke up the brawl without any help from the adults. I also convinced the boys to apologize to each other.

It was easier to go between two kids than to split time between my parents who still battle for full custody. Despite my growth, I can’t ignore the weight of the stress from the divorce. It imprisoned parts of my personality.  I did go to my Dean at school for advice and he told me “the people who struggle now are conditioned for life in the future yet to come.” His words became the source of my determination to let nothing stand in my way to success, and compelled me to see the benefits of the change in my character after the divorce.

When I now confront pressure and stress, I strongly adapt in order to stay sane and deeply involved in school, sports, art and community.  I have developed a toughness that has allowed me to resist emotional breakdowns when problems occur. The maturity I acquired from this divorce was well worth the rough journey I experienced in high school, and will act as a crucial necessity for life and careers yet to come. This is a form of adaptive evolution, as my personality was shaped into a more mature character. Over time, my comedic side was able to reappear just as it was on the day I received that kiss at camp.

Cameron Carr is a Sophomore at Pitzer College and a 2011 graduate of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.