I don’t think I’ve ever considered somewhere home until I came to New York City two weeks ago. During my childhood, I was consistently moving from city to city, school to school. Although I was able to find community in each place and while I love my current friends and high school back in Minnesota, I remained uninspired by the people around me. I felt that I was missing the motivation and passion to challenge the mainstream. And as has been said countless times before me, I arrived in the city and immediately felt what I had been searching for — the energy radiating from the sense of purpose that people in New York City posess.
Just as I had fallen in love with the city, I was able to fall in love with NYU and its community in the week prior to Welcome Week. I participated in Project OutReach, a leadership and service program for first-year students to volunteer at various organizations and discuss social issues afflicting New York City. Throughout high school, I had worked with an organization focused on single mothers with open child protection service cases, so when I heard about Project OutReach, I decided to apply to continue serving in what would be my new community.
I went into the program not knowing what to expect. We broke into groups of 10 to form subgroups with whom we would be spending most of our time. Each day, we began the morning with a briefing on what our service was going to be focused on, including topics like race, gentrification and environmental preservation. Then we went to different areas within the five boroughs to volunteer with organizations, all of which would introduce us to the work they do and provide us with avenues to continue volunteering with them even after Project OutReach ended. We learned that we should approach community service without a savior complex because, at the end of the day, service should never be selfish but rather selfless. Finally, we had time for reflection to revisit our morning conversations.
Prior to Project OutReach, I had never had the opportunity to have conversations about my privileges and disadvantages as a white woman or the numerous social injustices that exist. Project OutReach provided a space for me to feel vulnerable with my peers as I explored these topics and their implications. Each person in my group challenged themselves to be vulnerable, and that gave me a glimpse of what most, if not all, NYU students possess — the ability to use learning and discussion to further justice.
To be able to meet my peers in this capacity, as opposed to the hour-long Welcome Week events, has positively influenced my college experience thus far. I now have an open, honest and lasting community, and aside from the normal first-year anxieties, I feel a sense of belonging at NYU.
At such a large and overwhelming university, pre-Welcome Week programs like Project OutReach are necessary. To have more opportunities to tackle specific injustices but also to form bonds with peers also drawn to New York City seems like a panacea for the lack of community here that I’m often told about. More than 100 people need to be involved in this kind of experience.
These past two weeks are only the start of building a home at NYU, and I’m already taken aback by everything this school has to offer. By giving students the opportunities to serve and build community, NYU can be composed of awestruck and inspired students ready to enter their first year at this university.
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A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 4 print edition.
Email Maren Naegele at [email protected]