I was the most hated kid in my ninth grade American Government class. Weekly, we would congregate in the dim fluorescent lighting to confer on issues such as same-sex marriage and the Arab Spring. One crisp winter day, our topic of discussion was Affirmative Action. Being the political scholar I thought myself to be, I asked, “Isn’t the entire concept systematic racism towards whites?” Twenty-seven faces exchanged looks of liberal disgust, and they spent the rest of the period making show of my clear lack of comprehension of racism in America.
I was immediately out of place in terms of political and social beliefs in the passionately liberal environment of Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA). I was brought up in an agricultural town that was seemingly insular from the rest of the world. Fervently conservative, white, middle class values sculpted my universe. My favorite pastime was debating political views with my friends. We would converse about how needing welfare was a symptom of laziness and how we didn’t need to worry about racism now that slavery had ended. We were very kind to the black family in town. Our social circle loved to “argue” about politics, but our exchanges were ones of faux intelligence; the discussions were completely unilateral.
BSA is a unique learning environment because of its diverse student body. Every year over a thousand applicants from all different walks of life audition for one hundred spots. The application process favors city residents. These circumstances sculpt classroom settings in which there are students who live on welfare sitting beside students who regularly fly to Europe, African-American students beside white students, transgender students beside cisgender students, and Christian students sitting beside Atheistic students beside Islamic students beside Buddhist students. What I found most irritating about my liberal classmates was that they were so much more seasoned than I was on the issues I felt I knew. Meanwhile, I found myself being taught by black women and gay men for the first time. I had never met an openly gay man and I had never had a black teacher. I felt completely companionless in my upbringing and agitated that I had never before been exposed to those perspectives.
The importance of diversity in life cannot be underestimated. I started at BSA seeing one side in a classroom of people who saw only one side and the main difference was that their side completely opposed mine. As a collective, we approached the issues the same way and, eventually, I started listening to their views.
The perspectives of rural and urban people are starkly different. For instance, rural people generally do not understand the issue of racially charged police brutality because in their small towns they only see the police kindly interacting with people of their same race. However, that works both ways. Urban people don’t understand the cultural significance of owning a rifle and hunting because the only rifles they know of are the ones used to kill people in movie theatre massacres or street violence. Issues such as those are approached from positions of “this” versus “that” and people on either side are typically unmoved because their experiences don’t compare to that of their opposition. People cannot grow if they do not seek variety in their exposure to the world.
In high school, I was thrust into a version of the world most people never see and it shaped me into a person I am proud to be. Many people never get to experience the social enlightenment that living in a diverse setting can bring. My goal as an actor is to continually place myself in different worlds, take on different points of view, and, in that way, become a more developed artist and human being.