When you first meet students at Georgetown, it’s usually customary that they’re from New Jersey, Boston (or somewhere around Boston), and maybe a Californian here and there if you’re lucky. This is why I receive so many shocked and confused looks when I tell people that I’m from Kentucky. “Really? That’s so cool, I’ve never met someone from Kentucky.” Well, of course not, because there are only about three of us per class at Georgetown, along with most other rural Southern states. And, just to clarify, Kentucky is a part of the South, not the Midwest. I’ve met many Texans who have debated this fact, but come to Kentucky and tell us we’re Midwestern and you’ll have your answer.
In the days following the 2016 presidential election, many Hoyas and Americans alike were baffled struggling to understand what was happening in our country. I distinctly remember sitting in my freshman common room, when one of my floor friends said, “We just don’t understand. We’re in this Georgetown bubble and we don’t know what’s happening in other parts of the country.” I remember being shocked by this comment because I did not feel like this at all. I came from the most conservative congressional district in most of the most conservative states in the union - the first one to be called for Trump. I know more people who voted for Trump than not. I was not in a bubble.
I am constantly inspired everyday by the students I’m surrounded by and have never felt more hopeful for the world that they will someday be the leaders, not to say that we won’t have a big task ahead of us. But this comment was also a wake up call to the alarming fact that many students at Georgetown are extremely isolated from the thoughts and motives of the middle, further highlighting the disparity between the rural-urban, coastal-heartland communities that are dividing the country. In order to heal these divides and help the country transition from the extreme back to the mainstream, it is vital that the we put a face and struggle to the votes and to the rhetoric.
It isn’t enough to label the wave of populism as racist or xenophobic without looking at the severe socio-economic divides that accompany it, socio-economic divides deepened by globalization, the “War on Coal,” and the current misconception of an assault on basic morals. Empathy is necessary for progress.
The majority of my family in Kentucky are and always have been blue collared workers. My mom and uncle spent their summers working in tobacco fields. Most of my grandparents were members of unions and many were public school teachers. My uncle is a police officer and a Marine. The majority of them are pro life, own guns, and believe in a smaller government. The majority of them are also registered Democrats, and all of them voted for Hillary Clinton. There is a common saying where I’m from that a Kentucky Democrat is a Republican everywhere else. This might be true relative to liberal hubs, but they also represent a demographic of blue collared workers that the Democrats lost in the last election and must strive to win back.
In the upcoming weeks I will conduct interviews with some of these family members along with farmers, state politicians, educators and more so that we can take an empathetic dive below the numbers and begin to know the people in the heartland in America, that will embody the theme: stop labeling people and get to know them.