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Margaret Hendrickson
Seattle University

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I grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, a suburban area that has been deemed a city in terms of
population, but definitely not in its likeliness. The population of Bristol is predominately middle
class, white, and Catholic, a norm that was set as a standard for me as I grew up. It created
pockets of those who somehow fell below that standard in different neighborhoods of our city.
Their names, like The Drive, became infamous with crime and underachieving members of
society, and to me were nothing more than ambiguous, dark places full of scary people doing
scarier things. These were neighborhoods that some of my classmates would walk home to
everyday, whom I quickly associated with as troublemakers, less than, and dirty. Many of these
classmates were people of color and low socio-economic status. Everyone that I came into
contact with, including my teachers and school officials, seemed to be within an agreement that
those who came from these areas would and could not be successful.
I accepted this as a norm, and continued to operate within the bubble that was
comfortable with classmates who were like me. To think of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies telling
of The danger of a single story, it is clear to me as I reflect on my K-12 educational experience
that I fell into this single story view of not only the people who lived in these areas of my city,
but more generally, those who come from lower socio-economic positions and are of Latino/a
ethnicity. I have carried this single story with me even through my undergraduate career, where I
guiltily found myself surprised to meet or hear from individuals who challenged this story I had
been fed growing up.
A positive component of my K-12 educational experience, however, also comes from my
interactions with people of color. Throughout this time, I always had friends who came from
African-American, mixed race, and Middle Eastern families who were all integral parts of my

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life. But it is not the fact that I was a white girl who had friends of color that makes this a
positive part of this development; it was that I began realizing during middle school that I saw
these people of color differently than those who came from the neighborhoods I mentioned
previously.
I realized that because these friends were more like me in how they talked and dressed,
and because they were in higher-level classes, Girl Scouts, and other familiar extracurricular
activities, I had an easier time of accepting them as someone I understood. My first thought is to
say they challenged the single story I had about people of color, but instead I will say I realized
growing up that I felt that I could connect to these people better because they were viewed as
exceptions to the rule. Because these friends had qualities that I deemed as more like the white,
middle class people I knew, I accepted them as people I could relate to. I realized that I was
calculating the whiteness of others during high school, as my friends who are of color began
expressing their discomfort of not being fully accepted into any racial group. These individual
interactions led to realizations that did some of the groundwork in breaking these barriers apart.
The educational system of Bristol itself, however, did not do much to aid in this.
Likewise, I chose to attend college for my undergraduate degree in one of the few places
that made Bristol look rich in diversity; the University of New Hampshire. Walking on campus
at UNH, it was easy for me to only see people who exteriorly looked like me. Consequently,
most of what was deemed as different and diverse showed up in other ways.
Having come out as gay during my senior year of high school, I came to UNH feeling as
though I knew exactly and fully what it meant to be marginalized. Looking at my experience
after coming to Seattle, it seems that the organizations, administration, and activism on campus
at UNH catered to that mindset. If you were gay at UNH, it was assumed that you understood

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social justice and what it meant for all people to be discriminated against. So when I left there, I
believed that I was well versed in what being inclusive and knowledgeable about what the
implications of diversity meant.
Despite as skewed and incomplete that my understanding was, I am grateful for an
influence that I can accredit my multi-cultural competence to that not every student at UNH
received. Having studied in the College of Health and Human Services, all of my classes
integrated aspects of working with people who come from a variety of experiences and how to
cater the services we provide with a basic universalism and adaptability so that they are
accessible to as many clients as possible. It challenged the way I viewed every program,
marketing tool, or conversation I had with others, and I quickly realized that not every degree
program was integrating this into their curriculum.
Bringing this challenged way of thinking home with me during school breaks helped me
realize the pieces of my family upbringing that had hindered or encouraged my multi-cultural
competency development. Connecting back to the make-up of neighborhoods and the widely
accepted notion of what constituted less-than in my hometown, I began noticing discrepancies
through how I was trying to navigate through life as an educated and aware adult and how my
mother navigated hers. My mother played into these racist and classist ideas that permeated
through my educational and social upbringing in Bristol, despite how much she preached being
fair and understanding of everyone. Through comments muttered in grocery stores or the locking
of car doors in certain areas of town, I began picking up on these tendencies my mother had that,
looking back now, clearly added to this view I had of those who looked different than me.
While this prejudice from her own upbringing bled into my views of the world, I am
grateful for her choice in another area. My parents, intentionally or not, never raised my sister or

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I with religious influences. My mother and father came from different sects of Christianity, and
either did not know how to incorporate both into our upbringing, or by default opted to leave
both out entirely. So my sister and I were left to choose a religious path, and because we were
given no guidance in this or any indication that there was a path to choose at all, neither of us
have ever felt a connection to religion or spirituality. This created some dissonance between us
and our peers who attended CCD every week, but overall I attribute it to the curiosity and
appreciation I have for learning about all types of religious, rather than just one.
Having moved to Seattle less than two months ago, I have already felt within myself a
breaking down of preconceived notions I have been carrying with me all my life. Working in
Housing and Residence Life, we have gone through social justice trainings in three different
contexts. In each of these, I find myself feeling happily embarrassed when a new way of thinking
or viewpoint is brought up. I am at a place right now where I know that there is a lot I do not
know, but I am excited to figure out what all of that is.
Coming from Connecticut and New Hampshire, I never had to worry about walking into
a room and feeling like I was in the minority. But within these last two months, it has happened
at least a dozen times. I have felt myself become suddenly aware that I am one of the only
women who is white in the room. It has sat uncomfortably, but I am grateful for that. So
currently, in a para-professional position here on campus, I feel obligated to look at this critically
and view the process through a students eye because these feelings are being felt amongst the
students I work with now and will work with in the future. Digesting this privilege has been
challenging because I always considered myself to be someone who was competent and aware in
these areas, but it is clear that that competency has been incomplete. Being in a position that

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requires me to facilitate these learning processes for others while undergoing it myself is a
challenge I was not even aware that I could have.
Through the SDA program, I hope I can explore this and learn how to bring balance to
what I am wrestling with as I support others who are wrestling with things themselves. I have
formal training and personal experience in activism and education in areas concerning sexual
orientation, gender, and gender expression, so I consider those topics to be strengths. I hope to
learn how to take the experiences I have had with certain identities and broaden them out to see
how they apply to those I am not well versed in. I am striving to have strength in being able to
accept criticism and suggestion graciously. In turn, I hope this program will provide practical
ways of helping students, particularly first-years accept feedback in this way as well. My work in
Residence Life comes from a love I have for community, and being willing to promote and
support every member and identity of that group is something that inherently crucial to that
community.