The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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Making the decision to teach and serve

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By Stephanie Newland

When I think about my time here at SMU, I think about a whirlwind of incredible experiences. But I also think about that gnawing question that always lurks: What in the world am I going to do after I leave here?

Although the question is the quickest way to get any senior’s heart pounding and palms sweating, I actually have several ways I could answer it. I could volunteer abroad or apply to graduate school. I have choices.

But the question of what I could do after graduation actually has a second part – what should I do? And as I turned each choice over in my head, none of them felt quite right.

The truth is, I lead a pretty privileged life. As overwhelmed as I feel knowing I have so many post-graduate choices, I also know I’m incredibly lucky. I worked hard to get to and through college and faced struggles along the way, but I went to a high school where kids were expected to graduate and we had plenty of extra support and resources to help us plan our next chapters. Whenever I needed support, I never had to look far. But it wasn’t just my family and teachers that encouraged me. Examples of successful people who look like me were all around, from the people I saw on campus during college visits to the majority of government leaders and actors I watched on TV. Everywhere I turned, society told me I could be successful.

I know that the same isn’t true for kids all across the country. When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to learn, laugh and grow through the college experience. Too many kids lack the opportunity to imagine a fulfilling future for themselves. For students growing up in our lowest-income communities, just 6 percent will graduate from college by the time they’re 25. This disparity in no way reflects kids’ capabilities – it’s a result of deeply entrenched systems of oppression that have denied low-income kids equal access to opportunities for decades. I know that I can play a role in changing this. More importantly, I believe I should.

I applied to Teach For America because I want to be a part of the movement to end educational inequity in this country. This past spring, I took a class called Minority Dominant Relations in which we examined the disparities between high and low-income communities in our society. The more I learned, the more convinced I became that the gap in opportunities available to well-off students and their lower-income peers is an injustice I want to address. No child’s future should be determined by the numbers in his or her zip code or parents’ paycheck.

I didn’t decide to teach because I think I’m going to be a hero. This work will be incredibly challenging and humbling, and I will have to push myself harder than I ever have to give my students the education they deserve. I will need to work in close partnership with the parents, teachers and community members who have been working toward justice and equity long before I arrived. But I don’t want a job that lets me turn a blind eye to the injustice kids face every day. I want one that forces me to look injustice in the face and fight it with all my heart. I want one that holds me accountable for the injustices that plague our communities – because, although I did not create them, I’d still bear responsibility if I chose not to address them.

When I become a Teach For America corps member after graduation, I’ll be joining a network of more than 47,000 people working relentlessly to make access to opportunity equitable. It’s a network of leaders vastly diverse in background and experience, working across sectors, all united around the fundamental belief that a quality education is not a privilege, it is a right. We can fight to ensure that all students get the chance to exercise that right. As you think about what in the world you’re going to do after you leave here, I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Stephanie Newland is a senior majoring in Spanish and Biology. She is vice president of SMU Best Buddies, a site leader for Mustang Heroes, and a volunteer for NightOwls and Jesters at Highland Park United Methodist Church.

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