Learn from people who are different

Kyle Hightower

I didn’t know any of the three young ladies who died so tragically last week traveling across the highways and byways as so many of us do daily without thinking. Like many other of my fellow Western peers, I only know their names and have seen the sorrow and outpouring of love and support that their untimely passing left behind.

I didn’t get an opportunity to attend the memorial service held in their honor, but when the hour in question came up they were on my mind. Even as I write I think about the lessons that a tragedy leaves behind – from the simple to the profound.

The simple: I now buckle my seat belt even when I’m cruising just to campus from my apartment, which is barely four blocks away. I didn’t use to always do that, even though I always knew I should.

The profound: I say a prayer every morning for those people who will never get to see the simple and profound lessons their lives teach to people they leave behind – including those they never got a chance to meet.

I think now about the simple things about college and college life that I have taken for granted as I stroll through my final semester. I wonder if we as college-age people truly realize the social and cross-cultural opportunities that we have at arms length. Opportunities that, sadly, I’m not sure we are taking full advantage of or even fully recognize.

I say this all to say it bothers me that I didn’t know one of these three young ladies. It bothers me not because I’m saying that amongst the 18,000 other students I should have run into them randomly. I’m well aware that odds are on a campus our size that wouldn’t happen. But as a fellow Greek, those odds should have swung greatly in my favor, and they didn’t.

I can only leap to the conclusion that a probable reason that I never did at the least attend an event in which both our organizations were purposely in the same location is again simple. We simply aren’t making a good enough effort to practice unity. Not just, but specifically amongst predominantly white Greek-letter organizations and historically African American Greek-letter organizations.

The only reason I bring up “Greekdom” is that I am a member of one of those historically African-American Greek groups. I share an apartment with a member of a predominantly White Greek group.

I’ll pause for the collective gasp.

I must make the point that I met my roommate only through our shared membership in a campus organization – otherwise I wonder if we would have had the chance to cross paths.

I opted to room with him not because we were such great friends, in fact at the time we were probably just good acquaintances. Yet, because I recognized that by living with a white roommate with views, practices, habits and peer groups that were different from mine, that I had a chance to learn.

I’m learning not just about him, but about me as well. I could have easily lived with a friend from “my own group of friends.” But I stepped outside my bubble for a change. And you know what? I’m glad I did.

I wouldn’t call my roommate a best friend now either, but I’d like to think we have developed a friendship. And I know that sometime in the future after graduation in May that we’ll keep in touch and maybe share an adult beverage and some memories.

Still that is just one friendship, and one barrier that I feel like I have broken down this year by stepping outside of the usual. That is why, when tragedy struck Western and Phi Mu, I wished I was able to hurt more for them than I did.

There are lessons in this tragedy for us all. Read my lesson here. I implore you all to teach your own lesson to somebody else. Then and only then will we start to be a community and not just people going to school with other people.

Kyle Hightower is a senior print journalism major from Paducah.

This commentary does not reflect the views of the Herald, Western or its administration.