A Return to Davidson

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Two weeks ago, the town of Davidson became inundated with students as Davidson College began freshmen orientation and the fall semester. For the last four years, I have been among the ranks of students visiting the bookstore in droves and moving an unimaginable amount of stuff into my small dorm room. But, this year is different, I am not a student but an outsider surprised at the transition from the quiet summer months to a busier fall with an extra 2,000 or so young people in the area. With the knowledge of hindsight, I can now look back on my time at Davidson College and how my perspective has changed as a Davidson Impact Fellow now working here in Davidson.

After graduation, I knew that I wanted to live and work in the greater Charlotte area; I imagined myself working in Charlotte, a somewhat unknown, big place where I would embark upon my first “real” job. Fast forward six months and here I am working as a Davidson Impact Fellow at the Davidson Housing Coalition (DHC). DHC’s programming is focused on four main areas: affordable housing, financial literacy and homebuyer education, job search assistance, and emergency home repairs. My role is the Management and Development Fellow, which means that I am the office manager (wearing many hats on a daily basis) and I also play a major role in fundraising and grant writing for the organization. I started my two-year position in the middle of June and with excellent training from the former fellow and current co-workers, I dove into my new title. In the ensuing two and a half months, I have learned so much and am so grateful for this amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and make a real impact at DHC.

Working in this community, outside of the supposed “Davidson Bubble” of campus, has given me a new perspective of the town. Part of my job description is to be the first point of contact with anyone that calls or walks through the door at DHC. This means that I am able to have conversations with the people that our organization serves, providing me much-needed moments of personal contact to break the monotony of staring at a computer screen. Through speaking with our clients and viewing the neighborhoods in which some live, it has been eye opening to see the side of Davidson other than the idyllic college town, the so-called “other side of the tracks.” This side of Davidson is one in which many people live in substandard housing and/or in financial instability, one emergency away from not being able to pay their bills. Thus far, I have been fortunate to get the chance to get to know to the clients I serve, many of whom I immediately recognized as the friendly faces that work around Davidson. At DHC, we strive to provide safe, affordable, decent housing; I now comprehend just how necessary the services we offer are and what the consequences to individuals and the community would be if we didn’t offer them. Unfortunately, during the last several months I have also come to the realization that there are many people that need assistance that our organization simply cannot help, due to a number of circumstances. These experiences underscore glaring needs in the community, such as the lack of emergency housing in the area. Although this other side of Davidson is not as glamorous as what I was used to, the work I do makes a tangible impact in the lives of the tenants that I have come to know and respect.

Conversely, my time spent at DHC has also shown me some of the best qualities of the town of Davidson that I couldn’t appreciate as a student. While I was a student, I realized that Davidson was a close knit community; yet, during my time fundraising at DHC, I have gotten a new appreciation for how much community members and restaurants support local organizations that in turn strengthen the community. When there is a fundraiser for an organization or a family in need, action is taken immediately. Similarly, I have been amazed by the DHC board members’ dedication to the organization and inspired by the energy they bring to the table. Their example has provided me with a new definition of service, giving their time and their skills for the good of the organization. Lastly, by working with both middle school and college students in Davidson, I have realized just how important these young, inquisitive minds are for social justice and change, especially when these minds are encouraged and guided wisely. Local schools and the college cultivate this powerful combination of learning and service in the community.

Overall, my time at DHC has been one of transition; I have been learning a lot but have also started new projects and continued with ongoing ones. After two and a half months on the job, it is fulfilling to contemplate the change in perspective that (I hope) has made me a more informed member of this community that I am honored to serve as a Davidson Impact Fellow.

The strangeness of starting my professional career

By Whitley Raney ’13

Last weekend I had to make the jump from being a student to taking ownership over the knowledge that I supposedly gained as a student. It was a weird concept to think about, and I’m still not entirely sure that I am ready to take that responsibility and change of identity.

FHMM is participating in a continuing education course for community facilitators. Since I wasn’t here for the first few sessions, I wasn’t obligated to go, but I’m really glad that I did (After all, I’m enough of a nerd that class is appealing—even on Friday night and Saturday morning—and as a Davidson grad, I hardly know what else to do when I’m not in class or on a deadline to work on something).

When my coworkers and I went around to introduce ourselves to the visiting professor from Mexico City, we had to tell him our names, what area we worked in, and what we are. Everyone said that they were psychologists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, economists etc. I introduced myself, and said that I had studied anthropology. The teacher then responded (after misunderstanding and mispronouncing my name no less than 4 times before finally giving up), “Oh, you’re an anthropologist!” I guess I went to school for 4 years and President Quillen gave me a piece of paper to make that distinction, but that was the first time that I was given the opportunity (read: forced, because I’m still not sure how I feel about that “opportunity”) to assume responsibility for my education and assume a certain degree of authority for the expertise that I should have. Since the course dealt with a lot of anthropological theory and fieldwork concepts and things that I should know a lot about…I got to actually feel like I did have some kind of expertise, which is always positive.

At the same time however, real life and real jobs aren’t measured on any basis that I am equipped to navigate. The ability to ration my time and energy and sleep while still making it to class and meetings and activities and lectures and back to my apartment for desert night with my roommates is a skill that I’m still trying to learn how to adapt and apply to my life. There are no grades, there are no syllabi that outline the specific guidelines, and office hours aren’t quite as easy to come by. It isn’t enough to be able to write about the progression from structuralism to functionalism, I need to understand how that applies to community outreach work and the development of projects that have real budgets, real timetables, and affect real lives and real health outcomes.

There is a much more superficial level to this changing identity as well. As a break from the identity as a student that I have cultivated for the past 17 years of my life, it’s considered polite here to refer to people by their titles. In the United States we do that for doctors, maybe judges or ministers, but everyone else pretty much just graduates from college and goes on with their life. But in emails or formal interactions, I get referred to as la Licenciada Whitley. Which is basically an impressive-sounding way to acknowledge that I have a college degree. Which basically means that I need to get used to the fact that I can’t hang on to being a student, something that I got pretty good at over the course of, well, my entire life since I can remember. I get to apply all the student stuff, and half the time I can’t decide if that’s more pressure or less. It’s a strange jump to try and make.

And the funniest change to my identity as a young adult living and working in Mexico is definitely my name. Besides the fact that no one can pronounce it and I usually end up being called Wendy, there have been various forms to fill out that require both given names and both last names. People really don’t like the answer that I only have one last name (because, well, my birth certificate and social security card and passport and anything that legally gives me an identity says so). That explanation seems to make very little sense. So I get my two given names, my dad’s last name and my mom’s maiden name.

I’m la Licenciada Whitley Raye Raney Hensdale and I’m an anthropologist. I might need reminding occasionally, because I’m not entirely sure what to do with that information.

 

What I Wish I Had Learned in College

By Melodie Mendez ‘13

It has been one month since I’ve started my job as a Public Policy fellow at FHMM in Merida, Yucatan. I’ve enjoyed almost the entire experience but I would be amiss to say that had it not been for extreme patience (which I didn’t always exemplify) and great feats of flexibility (which I did not always exercise), this experience could have been on the brink of horrifying.

No.  I’m not exaggerating.

I don’t want to go into detail on the mishaps, but let’s just say that culture was lost in translation. Besides, the mishaps are not important. What is important is that I never really learned to fully function in a world outside the comforts of Davidson. Davidson did not teach me how to live a hard life.

I lived a luxurious life at Davidson. I had my own room with bathrooms that our dorm keeper took care of, meals cooked for me right when I wanted them, CVS near by, deadlines/ tasks/ expectations all clearly laid out for me right with the handout of a syllabus. Sure, I pulled all-nighters every month; sure, I didn’t always get the grades I wanted; sure, I was a part of way too many clubs… but these were all choices. Davidson afforded me choices and for the large part if I was unhappy about something I could make an effort to change it.

Life, on the other hand, just says “no” to most of your efforts and hands you a bag of ambiguity and other obstacles for you to delve through.

I wish Davidson had taught me how to simply “deal with it.” It sounds so much easier when reading and writing the words.

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But it’s just harder in the real world (and, believe me, as I write this I’m realizing how much of a comfy life I’ve lived). Anywho, that’s just the professional setting, where I can’t just lounge in the Union pull an all-nighter when I want to and submit my work, but instead I am forced to sit on a wooden chair crank out some work for an undisclosed time with undisclosed specifications. It often times feel like I have no professional power and being President of XYZ club bears no weight on anything except… wait no, absolutely nothing.

Then there is my life outside of the office. I recently had a conversation with one of my housemates (also a Davidson 2013 grad) about our social lives at Davidson. It was a very structured social life. You knew where you where going to eat and with whom. You knew what times you had this and that meeting. You knew that you would probably goof around for X number of hours and then rush to complete an assigned reading. The weekend came and you partied the night/ morning away, slept in, went to Commons, went to the library.

Rinse.

Repeat.

It was relatively planned and known.

I have started a new life outside of Davidson and outside of the US and, for starters, I don’t even know what I like to do [on a budget]? I wish Davidson had afforded me the time to develop a hobby. For the past four years my interests consisted of sleeping on command during any available time, joking around with my friends in the dorms or in the Union, and writing lists upon lists upon lists of things I needed to get done.  But what do I like to do? Or maybe a more appropriate question is, who would I like to be?

At Davidson, I was a workaholic and I loved it and, for the most part, was relatively good at it. Some might ask, “well what did you do before Davidson?” Well, I was at a competitive boarding school and before that I was a Prep 9 student that conducted college prepatory classes starting at age 13. Complimented by my strict parents who wanted to be nothing other than a Doctor or lawyer, I had no life outside of school. I didn’t mind that at all to be honest. One thing I know for certain, I love to learn.

Nowadays, I guess I’m just learning how to be.

 

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