As a college teacher for many years, I prepare assignments that will not only meet the requirements of the courses I teach for knowledge and skill development but also meet my hope for students in terms of the more illusory objective of emotional growth.
Those who pay little attention to research or commentary on college students might feel that this is a privileged group in American society and can be defined by the cars they drive, the clothing they wear, the wild parties they attend, their joyful faces when the television camera operators at The Ohio State University or the University of Kentucky sports events pan the audiences.
There is so much more to my students from the 14-year-old enrolled as a College Credit Plus student to the 50-year-old seeking a degree required in his company or to the woman who knows that a degree in a health-care field will enhance her employment possibilities for the remainder of her work life.
I realize the power of the written word to give a permanence, a reality to an experience as well as the power of words to heal. As part of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize events, each fall my students write about the obstacles, challenges, and horrific situations they have faced and the ways in which they have come to peace with them — or not.
I’d like to share with you some of their topics so that you can see college students as the complex human beings they are.
Several years ago a Marine veteran wrote about the grief he feels at not being deployed to Afghanistan because of a shoulder injury and a friend who was deployed and died there. He believes he might have saved his friend’s life. Another veteran wrote about being warned by a father and son that the convoy in which he and members of his unit were riding was about to be ambushed. The convoy took an opposite route but later came across the man and his son, murdered because they had given a warning to the enemy, American forces.
One of my students wrote about being “set up” in a robbery, sent to jail, and in handcuffs giving birth to her son.
As students write these personal experience essays, it’s their task to be reflective, to tell their story — and they do so in prose that resonates with me.
Recently, a student detailed her mother’s drug addiction and her acceptance of the reality that her mother will probably never be clean and sober. Another wrote of power lifting that has given her confidence and pride in her body.
When another student indicated that she was going to write about dying, I was curious about her approach. Her essay detailed brilliantly a medical mistake that caused her death following what should have been a routine surgery and a subsequent resuscitation.
Finding a path out of deep depression is another journey a student detailed recently, and another wrote of meeting with hostility and rejection in a church where she assumed she would find acceptance and spiritual growth.
The list is long, and my students explore bullying, the death of a parent, parents who fail in their responsibilities, addictions, disease, sexual abuse, and being “other”: African American in a world dominated by Anglos, homosexual with some religious denominations proclaiming they are on a pathway to hell.
As Thanksgiving arrives in this turbulent world, I want to thank my students for sharing their lives with me, for having the courage to explore and write their truths. I am blessed in many ways; however, working with students brings me joy.
I encourage my readers to find their joy in things small and large as they discover ways to find peace with the challenges/atrocities of their past lives. Embrace the good; be thankful. Maybe you’ll even consider writing a short essay!
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.