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A Sense of Community

By Madhura Nadarajah

It is only August and 2016 has already been tumultuous. There was a disgusting amount of violence — mass shootings, police brutality, civilian brutality, animal cruelty…the list could go on and on. Arguably, the most incriminating thing is that polarizing disunity is the byproduct of all the violence. These heinous acts are tugging on extremes: coexistence vs. religious intolerance, Black lives vs. Blue lives, and the privileged vs. the underprivileged. It doesn’t stop there — even those who do not offer their opinion on the current crisis are scrutinized for being ignorant pacifists.

So why do I mention all of this weariness in the Orientation issue of the Minaret? Is it to get our Spartan readers, especially freshmen, nettled? Or am I just adding fuel to the fire? It is a bit of both actually. In regards to the former, I want everyone to be aware of the past and present indecencies in our society; moreover, not just the single perspective but the holistic one. In regards to the latter, as hard as it is to believe because we live in sunny Florida, school has started; that feeling of easiness, laziness and freedom that summer carries is now gone, and what takes its place is the harsh burden of autumn.

My entire goal is to remind Spartans that while at the macro-level, coexistence may seem like alchemy, it is possible. Don’t believe me? Then take a minute and look at where you go to school. UT, even if it is a micro-level example, is a community that exudes coexistence, not blinded bliss.

The UT student, faculty, and staff body are comprised of different races, beliefs, political alliances, socioeconomic upbringings and areas of study. For instance, UT’s CNHS poster presentations highlight student-led research from all departments. Senior Sarah Ballentine, who presented in this past CNHS, spoke on the importance of having events because it promotes unity amongst difference. She stated “having an event that is able to represent all individual interests of UT students [while] educating those around them unfamiliar with the topics, provides a sense of community between different departments.”

In regards to non-academic differences, Spartans view these more as an innocuous nuance than a major strife. Spartan alumna, Fatin Amin experienced this first hand as she cheerfully recounts that her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is ironically unknown in her home country of Malaysia.

“I come from a country that is rich with diversity. I understand the basic principles of accepting and working together with a different race and I feel that UT has embraced that trait,” she recalls. “The perfect example that really brings out the best in all the students at UT is when my friends invited me to their home for Thanksgiving. Being able to experience three Thanksgivings in the US really opened up my heart. I felt overwhelmed that I was able to be invited with open arms into a home of a different race and to be accepted as family. That is what I believe to be the sign of hope.”

Resource is a synecdoche of community. Spartans are able to coexist in this community as well as utilize UT as a resource to both constructively voice their opinions and have their opinions challenged. How productive is it, though? If we look strictly at statistics, not only are students from all 50 states present, but a staggering 140 countries out of the 196 countries in our world have been represented in our student body. More precisely, that means there are roughly about 8,000 voices that will engage, challenge, educate and come together with you.

During February’s Black History Month, communities came together peacefully yet passionately to educate and encourage peers to join the Black Lives Matter movement. Moreover, when the tragic shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub occurred, it seemed like the rest of the world wanted to wrongfully place blame on Muslims or reiterate their disgusting hate towards the LGBT community. However, Spartans, specifically the UTampa Pride club, turned a blind eye towards the discrimination and held a vigil for all the souls lost during the shooting. This is what a successfully functioning community does when violence is committed. They come together; they don’t antagonize.

Thankfully, this sense of community is not only present when tragedy strikes, but is something that Spartans carry with them on and off campus during good times as well. For senior nursing major Megan Cote, it was during her department’s trip to Monteverde and San Jose, Costa Rica this past May that she learned developing community through communication did not necessarily require the same language to be spoken.

“I experienced and observed UT students interact with Costa Rican natives in a very open and loving way,” Cote recalled. “Even though most of us could not communicate by speaking Spanish, we were still able to communicate through body language; I felt as though they realized that we really cared for them. I was proud of our sense of community, even for those who do not live the same lives that we do.”  

With that said, I urge Spartans, especially freshmen, to look at their UT community as their “Bridge over Troubled Water.” During these times of peril and mistrust, look around and know that coexistence is possible because we are living in it right here at UT.

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