Chicago Center Alumni Jean Boen, May 2006, recently shared with us a speech she gave at her home college, Bluffton University. Jean writes:
“I found this reflection that I wrote to give as a speech at Bluffton University in 2006, after I returned back to campus after my experience at the Chicago Center for Urban Life & Culture in the South Side of Chicago. (At that point known as the Urban Life Center) The Chicago Center is a life changing experience that is located in Hyde Park. I was looking through a text book from college and this speech was folded up inside. Even though it’s not incredibly well written, reading over this now is so interesting. My experience at the Chicago Center really shaped who I am in just a few short weeks. It was like striking a match, which slowly…through life experiences since then, has turned into the fire that keeps me moving each day in my job. I’m forever grateful for the experience that was the catalyst to getting me where I am today. So here it is….
“Thou shalt not be a perpetrator; thou shalt not be a victim; and thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.” This quote perfectly states what I learned from my cross cultural experience in Chicago. Throughout the years I’ve had many experiences that have forced me to rethink what I believe and be able to state why I believe in something. However, a few weeks after the experience, my passion begins to fade, my convictions become less and less noticeable to those around me, and soon I let what I learned become only a distant memory. I am proud to say this was not the case with my experiences with the Urban Life Center. I became so comfortable with my neighborhood that wrongly has the reputation for being dangerous and run down. This is best descried by an excerpt from my journal. I wrote this on the bus on the way back from the loop in downtown Chicago…
“After walking through the fair, overhearing many authors reading excerpts from their novels or poetry, after dodging many strollers and rollerbladers, as I walked by the booths, I began to find myself overwhelmed by the amount of people in the small area and decided to head back home. Home I call it, home it is beginning to feel like, the home I respect because of its diversity, it’s openness, it’s unique beauty, it’s culture, the home I call Hyde Park.”
The experience at the ULC has taught me to take my knowledge and do something with it. It’s not enough to know about injustice and feel sorry for those who are oppressed while facing what seem to be unsurpassable challenges. We have to realize what is going on in our world and do something about it. While listening to instructors, artists, and citizens talk about the issues that Chicago struggles with; I have learned that many of these issues reach outside the city limits. While I was hearing more and more about the extreme segregation here, I thought about the segregation at Bluffton. Why is this? Why are we comfortable with this? And why aren’t we doing anything about it? Why is it that cultural events at our University seem to have the least attendance out of any events on campus? Why is it that this cross cultural program is the only one I know of in which students continually interact with people from a city INSIDE the US? Why aren’t more of our cross cultural experiences under the supervision of other institutions like the ULC? Why are we simply taking professors out of the classroom setting to teach the exact same beliefs that they teach in the classroom? Are we not supposed to be exposed to anything different? Why does it seem that sometimes we are encouraging spoon feeding instead of giving students opportunities to see both sides of an issue and decide for themselves? I have struggled with many questions while on this trip. I can now say that when hearing racist jokes that yes, believe it or not, are still often stated on Bluffton’s campus… I won’t be afraid of speaking my mind and telling them how incredibly ignorant they are.
By spending time in Chicago I have learned that YES, we have freedom, but we do not have equality. I know now that we have much farther to go than most people think, and if our generation doesn’t do something, we will continue to sit at a stand still. I have learned to not be satisfied with where we are. I am committed to sharing what I have learned with others. I will do my best to point out the injustice that I see in my small corner of Ohio. I will not be a victim, I will not be a perpetrator, but most importantly…I WILL NOT BE A BYSTANDER.”
Some will say this was written by an idealistic college student? Yes….I know. But I still stand by it.”
After leaving Chicago and graduating from Bluffton University, Jean began a Housing Program in Wooster Ohio at a Social Service Agency, Liberty Center Connections. They house two smaller agencies, STEPS (a substance abuse and treatment facility) and Every Woman’s House (a domestic violence shelter, mental health counseling facility, and batterer’s intervention center). She began the “Liberty Center Connections Housing Initiative” in April of this year. Liberty Center Connections received the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) Grant for our County. Jean’s role as the program director is to develop awareness of the housing crisis in her area, develop case management models to help clients achieve housing stability, and work to achieve community partnerships and leverage resources.
“My May Term experience at the Chicago Center, even though it was short, made a definitive impact on my career path. In fact it was the catalyst to a complete career path change, to social work. I’m so thankful for everything I learned, and the tools Chicago Center gave me to develop a passion to inspire change. I left Chicago with a new outlook on the communities we are involved in. I truly don’t believe that I would be where I am now without my Chicago Center experience, and I certainly wouldn’t have the passion for my job without the knowledge and experiences that I gained through May Term.” – Jean Boen