As I pondered upon the ways to best explain how Denison has influenced my development through engaging and interacting with diverse perspectives, beliefs, and values, my mind began to wander down a road of self-reflection.
I came to Denison as an emerging adult from the urban southern city of Memphis, TN. For those of you who don’t know much about my city, I would like to proudly inform you that Memphis has the largest population of African Americans (Black people) in the state of Tennessee, and is the city where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in the infamous Lorraine Motel. My childhood school field trips no matter if it was elementary, middle, or high school, always consisted of going to the National Civil Rights Museum. Being an inner city youth from such a historic city, I thought of myself as an expert of Black history and oppression; however my views were soon challenged.
During the spring 2012 semester of my first year at Denison, Trayvon Martin was murdered and this tragic event caused uproar across the nation. Right around this time, the members of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., were hosting events for new interest and I attended one of their events, which was a talk about black masculinities and the murder of Trayvon Martin. Being a young and naïve freshman unaware of the daily microagressions that people of color face on a daily basis, (because in my city, microagressions are so normal that people have become apathetic to them), I nervously raised my hand and waited to be acknowledged by the speaker of this event, Dr. Gladys Mitchell-Walthour who was then a Political Science professor here at Denison University. She has since moved on to Harvard. Anyways my comment to the conversation went a little something like this, “maybe if Trayvon wasn’t walking around looking like a thug, he wouldn’t have been followed… Why was he walking around with his hood on his head? ” Dr. Gladys Mitchell-Walthour promptly responded as politely and articulate as possible that I sounded like a fool. She then listed the various reasons why in a very articulate way.
Three years later, I, De’Garrica Elliott (“DG”), the self-proclaimed Black, Womanist, Feminist, Queer Rights activist, same gender loving Sister, would never say such a thing, especially after meeting the Mother of Trayvon, Ms. Sybrina Fulton. Even though at the time I felt embarrassed by Dr. Gladys Mitchell-Walthour’s response to my ignorant comment, I am glad it happened because she challenged me to open my eyes. Being a person who values self-reflection, I am always open to be challenged, but only if you come correct like Dr. Mitchell-Walthour did. Throughout my Denison career, I discovered feminism, the fluidity of sexuality, that language is heavily gendered, and that there is no such thing as picking yourself up by your own boots straps, when your boots don’t even have straps of equal length, if you have any straps at all. Let’s face the facts we are not all born on equal playing fields. Because baby I was born and raised in the “projects” to an OG and his lady in South Memphis, and often times I set back and reflect on how lucky I was to just be at the right places at the right time, meeting the right people. Luck is the only reason that this DG ever got to a good ole “prestigious” PWI like Denison. Luck! Not boot straps, anyways that’s another story. Back to my Denison self-reflective journey.
Now that graduation is quickly approaching I am excited to take the knowledge that I gained through the intellectual challenges I encountered at Denison, back to my little historic city of Memphis, TN. In hopes of informing the minds of my three Black, hoodie-wearing little brothers. My ultimate life and career goal is to reach the Black youth in the “hoods” and to bestow upon them what Dr. Gladys Mitchell-Walthour, along with countless other professors, students, intellectuals, and every day Joes have bestowed upon me: the ability to be a critical thinking, conscious, discerning moral agent and autonomous thinker.