Kevin Ressler is executive director at Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and co-founder of the Lancaster Action Now Coalition. He attends Community Mennonite Church […]
Ben Wideman is Campus Pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania.
Cindy Lapp’s recent reflection on her experience at the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests stands out to me in a number of different ways, perhaps none greater than her emphasis on the need to see the humanity in those with whom we disagree. This seems so urgent in a moment where our country continues to polarize and divide because of our culture of fear.
My local context feels like a microcosm of the country. I’ve witnessed students shouting at their political and ideological counterparts, as well as glimmers on our campus that trends like White Nationalism and the Neo-Nazi movement is bubbling up here. We also are seeing Anarchist and extreme leftist movements. The Penn State and State College, Pennsylvania, community provide me and other people of faith with a unique opportunity to try and find some of that empathy and compassion that Cindy is calling for.
It can be easy for my long-residing neighbors to reject the student population as foolish young people who party too much and don’t respect their community or neighborhood. This perspective lacks empathy and it requires a shift so that we begin to see ourselves in these students. This slight adjustment allows us to offer empathy in ways that this community has sometimes fallen short of providing.
College provides a chance to consider how you’ve been raised and the values you’ve accepted as truth, perhaps without personal reflection. College may be when you start to make sense of your calling and the pathway that has brought you to this moment. It is a period of life that can be heavy with the fear of the future, but also filled with potential optimism and possibility.
As I walk around campus in these early weeks, I try and look around at people’s faces. Does it seem like students are connecting? Are they discovering how they fit in with this community? How are they identifying and what signs are they projecting to let people know who they are?
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