Laurence Lundy (Class of 2021) is a senior from Plano, Texas majoring in History and Journalism. He is a research assistant for Voices of SMU, a resident of the SMU Service House, and works with his fellow peer, Nia Kamau, in the Champions Mentorship Program, aiming to provide underprivileged youth with a firm foundation both spiritually and intellectually.
A saying I have heard throughout my life is that, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In the grand scheme of things, I believe that to be true. Children are shaped and molded by their experiences, and also by who teaches them and guides them. However, this is applicable to more than just people. Institutions, organizations, and colleges by their very definition generally require multiple people to pour into them and create the myriad of modern businesses, universities, and groups we know of today. Voices of SMU (VOSMU), considering I only joined the program in December of 2019, has taught me that and much more. Ultimately, it taught me to rein myself in because you simply cannot listen if you are too ready to scream. Additionally, you can never be ready to listen to an interviewee if you are ready to create your own answers. People are not puzzles with pre-defined parameters and one-size-fits-all questionnaires. They are individuals that deserve and require the full attention of whoever is talking to them so that their stories can be told. It takes a village to raise a child, and each child is a bastion of their own thoughts, conclusions, and reasons for why they feel as they do. To really engage with another person, you have to consistently make an effort to look outside of your own village and take a moment to see what helped comprise theirs.
I became a part of this project because of someone in my own village. I learned about VOSMU through Nia Kamau (my fellow classmate), who I was already working with in another program. And to be completely honest, it has been one of the most enlightening and simultaneously disheartening programs to take part in.
Laurence, Nia, and Camille attended the Black Excellence Ball in the beginning of 2020
My interview with Nariana Sands was one of the most interesting ones I had in light of what I believe about institutional villages. Throughout her time at SMU, she noticed when teachers seemed less willing to give her a fair share of attention or respect. I was compelled to find that implicit bias is not just something projected from the actions and thoughts of teachers, but students too. Her experiences, or at least that small snippet of her story, speak to the idea of the lone student of color, singled out simply because people have preconceived notions about communities of color. What was even more important was that she found that some students could be ignorant, while students of color were more intimately aware of such circumstances. If that divide is so palpable that an individual can describe it concisely, then how pervasive must it be for others? How many people have simply given up when faced with that invisible pressure? And ultimately how do we cross this invisible gap between people?
The adage of taking a village to raise a child should come with the corollary that some villages genuinely do not know how to raise children. Or perhaps the people that live there cannot be bothered to do it right. Either way, through my relatively short experience in VOSMU, I have seen how institutions and groups fail people. Of course, a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) like SMU is going to have imperfections and cracks in the perfectly paved sidewalks that all of its students must traverse. The most frustrating part is listening to those aggrieved by the university and fellow students/faculty they held faith in. When your school consistently has less than five percent black students across the whole body (in some cases decreasing to three percent or less), it becomes easy to see where systemic problems crop up. For me, what was most notable was how people responded to these situations. Some were resigned. They saw it as either an inevitable part of SMU culture, atmosphere, or overall social landscape. Others were angry, the mistreatment they had felt while on campus radiating off them even over video. It is strange to see and feel at times, that palpable sense that the experiences someone is relating to you might have irrevocably changed them in some form. Others still were happy, determined, and made a place all their own. They are not the same people that came to SMU, for good or ill. (And of course, for some there is no change at all). That is what really drives me when it comes to interviewing and making sure peoples’ perspectives get their fair share of airtime. The effects of imperfect systems leave behind stitched up wounds and scars unseen with the naked eye. Such structures additionally leave behind the spirits of people, through which the past and its status quo can become set. They surrender in their wake names, numbers, triumphs, and losses. Those are the kinds of things that make up a voice, and they are especially poignant in the voices of children who were left behind by their village.
People are not immune to the failures of those around them. The very concepts that bind us are products of dealing with and responding to the botches of our environment. We are kind not only to treat others as we wish to be, but to push back against hatred and division in our communities. Voices of SMU is a program that makes progress towards those ultimate ideals, for me at least. It is not saving people from burning buildings or creating cheap water purifiers. However, it does allow me and others to save the voices of other people. It allows us to observe and work to create bridges of understanding through which changes can be made and actions can be taken. Overall, individuals can feel heard in a way they may not be otherwise, and for that I will forever be thankful for the Voices of SMU project.