Belleville Township High School East in suburban St. Louis is not exactly a bastion of environmental awareness. We had an “ecology club” but my when my parents could not afford the 75 bucks they required for a wilderness weekend in Canada, I gave up on the environment for the time being. Instead, I decided I would either be the next Emily Dickinson or the first woman major league baseball player.
But when I got to college I got mad. There were so many problems with this country and the world, and I felt powerless to change anything. St. Louis University, a private college steeped in Jesuit tradition, is heavy on Catholic values and light on political activism.
I had never thought about doing anything even slightly political before, but three years ago when I went to a meeting of the one lone activist group on. campus, I was reborn. In the midst of a typical conservative Midwestern campus, the Missouri Public Interest Research Group was advocating solutions for the environmental deterioration and social inequity I saw all around me. At the time, we were a minority on campus, and the fraternity/sorority majority made fun of our Birkenstocks and loud voices for campus change.
Friends have wondered why I don’t high-tail it to a liberal East or West Coast college. But I feel anchored here with the people who have attended Catholic, Midwest schools all their lives.
Midwestern students have grown up in rural towns and suburbs that are only now changing in ways that the rest of country has already experienced. In the last three years, St. Louis University gained the beginnings of a recycling program, an environmental committee and began to purchase recycled paper. A campus animal rights group, a gay and lesbian alliance and a gender equality organization all have been formed.
And back in my hometown of Belleville, the city just approved an affirmative action plan after it was discovered that the city had not hired a single African American in its 175-year history.
The people I go to school with and work with are just waiting to be challenged so they can challenge others. They are not extraordinarily apathetic or monstrous or born to be Republicans. They just have not had the opportunity to see what kind of world we can build through change on every level of living – from high school to college to town council to the steps of Capitol Hill.