Smashing stereotypes

March 1, 2023 - 12:00am -- Living City

To me, to live as a child of light means to try and love others as God loves us, even if this can be difficult.

I lecture at a private university, and I often have student athletes in my classes. Sometimes they come from economically and educationally disadvantaged environments; they are gifted athletically but their academic background can be weak, putting them in a difficult position in the classroom.

What emerges is that such student athletes tend to sit at the back of the class and entirely cut themselves off from their classmates and everything else that happens in class, adopting a laconic and disinterested façade.

I find this heartbreaking. Semester after semester, I make it my mission to smash this terribly damaging stereotype. I am not always successful, but recently something very special happened.

I met with two student athletes who wanted to do their project together. I was skeptical about this. Their class attitude had been markedly disinterested. I told them that their disengagement hurt them and hurt me. They said they were used to students thinking that they were dumb and that they didn’t care. I said that I cared. Deeply.

Then I loosened up the atmosphere and started discussing their shared project. Turns out the project was smart, demanding and interesting. While we were talking about it, we started joking, and I felt the glass surrounding our respective roles begin to crack. We parted friends.

The following day a guest lecturer, a poet, came to our class and engaged the students in a complex poetry exercise. I was sitting at the back of the class, next to one of the two athletes. At the end the poet said, “I don’t often do this, but there is a line here that struck me as particularly beautiful.” She went on to read that line. Now be aware that there are 30 students in class and each one had written three lines.

The moment the poet said it out loud, S. looked at me and whispered shyly and proudly, “It’s mine!” I could have cried. Here was this kid whom I had tried to love as God loves her, and what did God do? He told me, pretty much in so many words, “I am operating through you; trust in me.”

G. P.