In an age of an ever growing, ever public push for a less divided and more inclusive society across a broad spectrum of categories, particularly here at the University of Oklahoma, I would naturally like to flatter myself that I am the sort of individual who never passes up a chance to combat racism, classism, or other forms of injustice in every day scenarios. However, it is something innate in the very core of human nature, I feel, to have a desire if not a raw need to view oneself in the best light possible, and to dismiss sneaking possibilities that might risk dragging down this high horse we’d like to ideally align ourselves with. And perhaps this is why divisive community practices such as classism or racism continue to be prevalent, despite the fact that the general society will almost always agree that such practices are immoral and otherwise wrong. This is because in order to effectively combat such things, individuals must accept partial responsibility and walk down the road of life for a turn with people truly different than themselves – something rather difficult to accomplish from the perch of a high horse.
While the depths and twists of unfortunate societal norms and why they continue to be perpetuated could be discussed and pondered endlessly by many a scholar more educated than myself, the purpose of this piece of writing is to describe a single situation in why I personally found myself in a position working to become more inclusive within my environment. As I mentioned above, I would like to think that I am an individual so in tune with my surroundings that I am consistently and boldly stepping out in everyday situations to combat behaviors that I witness obstructing such inclusivity. However, I would also like to think that I possess enough self awareness to know that this is certainly is not an accurate statement about my life. As a young adult still immersed in the substantial process of self discovery undergone during the first year of college, I will be the first to admit that there is still a lot that I am learning about how to recognize and act out in situations inhibiting inclusivity in the daily occurrences of life that I may encounter. Nevertheless, I have been fortunate enough to been spurred along in growing in this realm through various programs and situations that, although less definitively natural, have been very enlightening in my journey of becoming more educated on the world around me and its measure of inclusivity. For me, the most influential of these programs so far has been the OU Cousins program that I had the privilege of experiencing this past fall semester.
According to the official OU Cousins website, “the OU Cousins program was created in 1996 by President and Mrs. David Boren as a way of developing understanding, friendship, and unity among U.S., International, and exchange students at the University of Oklahoma.” I first decided to join OU Cousins on a whim after listening to a presentation on it during one of the first two weeks of school at a meeting of the President’s Leadership Class. I was eager to accumulate on campus extracurriculars, and had always sustained a deep curiosity related to international affairs and cultures. The woman giving the presentation spoke glowingly of the programs possibilities, speaking of how often international students spend their entire time at OU not feeling like they ever were really able to experience the culture of the university or even the state itself. And so, I signed up.
The first event of the program is entitled the “Matching Party,” where all of the international students and all of the American students interesting in finding a “cousin” gather in Jim Thorpe to participate in a whirlwind of facilitated get-to-know-you-games and an almost speed dating-esque atmosphere designed to better acquaint students with potential Cousins. Once a partnership has been established, you register together in the computer system, exchange contact information, and make tentative plans to get together sometime in the next few weeks. For me, this partnership was found in the form of a quiet yet cheerful girl from South Korea named Juyeon. After exchanging phone numbers and yes, social media accounts, we awkwardly said our farewells and walked off our separate ways. At this point in the program, I was a little bit unsure of how everything would turn out. The program itself is very loosely structured, leaving the depth of the relationship established to be almost entirely dependent on the effort put forth by the pair of cousins in question. It was clear at this point in our relationship that we weren’t entirely certain of what we had in common, if anything, besides the desire to participate in the program, on top of the fact that there was also a distinguishable language barrier between us. However, throughout the next couple of months, we grew to establish a friendship that I can assure you I never would have predicted based solely upon that fateful first day. In order to introduce her to and/or help her become more familiar with different parts of OU culture, we partook in activities ranging from simple things like eating lunch together in the Caf to attending a showing of the latest Disney movie in Meacham Auditorium to even attending a local church together after her expressed interest upon hearing about my normal Sunday schedule. When she traveled to Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday she sent me a postcard in the mail, and even presented me with a traditional Korean fan as a gift. In the final main event of the semester before her return home, we attended and OKC Thunder game together along with over 50 other pairs of OU Cousins, complete with face tattoos, overpriced concessions, and even the opportunity to take a photo on the court following the game.
Although externally we participated in many fun activities, it was the things we exchanged under the surface that I now reflect on with the greatest fondness. From learning about the educational culture she grew up in compared to what she was experiencing at OU to answering questions about seemingly normal things on the OU campus that I never would have even thought might seem confusing to someone coming from another nation, to seeing the spark in her eyes when she truly seemed to feel a part of the place she’d traveled halfway around the world to learn at, having the honor of being Juyeon’s OU cousin was one of the most unique highlights of my first semester of college. Although in hindsight I will always think of ways I could have even better attempted to enhance her time at OU and her feelings of being included, I feel that without the OU Cousins program this bridge of inclusivity may as well as not have existed at all. And while this friendship may not have formed in the most typical or natural of ways, it was the meaning and heart behind it that I will always treasure, no matter how many miles or languages come to separate us.