By Jewell Porter ’16


An elderly man told me a couple of years ago that our life experiences are defined by the books we read and the people we meet. This immediately resonated with me, but I’ve noticed that this idea has grown on me each time I remember those wise words.

In the past few months, I’ve tried to spend more time observing and learning from those around me because each person I meet, each obstacle I

am faced with, is a learning experience.
Interestingly enough, some of those experiences can be learned from people who are a lot like you in terms of their personal characteristics but very different than you in terms of the experiences that they’ve had.

For example, one of my roommates is a lot like me: Type A, argumentative, regimented, mildly intimidating, imposing. We both have strong personalities, and we are often unwilling to back down from controversial debates and conversations.

But what I’ve learned from our conversations is that sometimes, it’s not about winning a debate. Instead, it’s about listening to each other not to respond but to understand.

The intelligent, insightful conversations that we have with people on this Hill are important because we all come from different parts of the United States, we all have different socioeconomic backgrounds and we all have different values.

This is a gift, and we’re all lucky to be here at Denison to receive it. But what’s important is to take advantage of it. The problem is that there are so many students at Denison who place too much value in comfortability.

It’s important to know who your people are and to know what makes you happy, but it’s equally as important to embrace discomfort because this is the first step to embracing diversity.

For me, that means allowing myself to be a little more vulnerable and a lot more open to listening to the experiences of the people in my life with the end goal of understanding their experiences.

For others, this could mean changing up your routine a little. Branch out, embrace diversity and never make assumptions about people. Go to a La Fuerza Latina meeting (Thursdays at 7:30 in the Mo-Hutch space), talk to someone you likely would not interact with or take a class outside of your major just because it seems interesting.

This worked for me, at least. When I felt like I didn’t have anything worthwhile to do to spend my time, I started volunteering for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I was immediately assigned to a “little sister,” who, at the time, was in second grade and seemed to really need someone to talk to.

Three years later, I still consider that to have been one of my best decisions at Denison. I help her work through her problems and in other ways, she helps me get through mine, too.

This is the beauty of the liberal arts, especially at a place like Denison: there is so much to learn.

Sure, there are a lot of problems that we need to address at Denison, but maybe taking the time to understand rather than respond and to embrace discomfort are the right paths to fixing them and making us a little better as people in the process.