The week before Spring semester classes started, twenty-eight members of the Scholar Leader community, including myself, bundled up against the cold and headed to Chicago for an annual trip the program takes called Plunge. Plunge provides Scholar Leader members the opportunity to visit a city in order to do service, meet with community leaders and organizations, and generally "plunge" into the environment and culture of a city separate from Oxford.
Having never been to Chicago, I immediately fell in love with the city: its picturesque position on Lake Michigan, the entrancing skyline, but most importantly, the people. People of a variety of colors, sizes, cultures, mindsets, values, and lifestyles, all blustering past me in the frigid Chicago air. Coming from a considerably small town compared to Chicago, where buildings are considered tall if they are four floors, it was thrilling to be in such an energetic and different environment from what I am used to.
It was clear from the first day of our visit that Chicago would provide life-changing experiences. Our visit began with the option to explore the city for a few hours. This exploration opened our eyes to typical attractions such as Cloud Gate, or more commonly "The Bean," in Millennium Park as well as the Art Institute of Chicago. However, it also opened our eyes to the bitter reality of homelessness and poverty in Chicago, as we encountered many people battling the cold in order to find enough money to have a meal for the evening. These encounters were some of the first connections to the theme of our trip: power and privilege. This theme was continued in full force that evening when we met with the organization LIFT, which fights poverty in Chicago and works to give those living in poverty the resources needed to begin changing their situations. The discussion made us even more committed to making a difference in Chicago during our time there.
The next day found us at the Greater Chicago Food Depository boxing food for senior citizens that would help feed them for three to four days. Lined up in a very energetic assembly line, we packed these boxes for almost three hours generating a product of 880 boxes, each containing rice, cereal, mixed vegetables, condensed milk, and canned salmon. We all left in high spirits knowing that we were now involved in the fight against poverty in Chicago and were helping to feed 880 people. This experience was followed by a conversation at DePaul University about power and privilege, which was continued spontaneously throughout the rest of the trip.
Our final day of Plunge was last Friday and began with a visit to Access Living, an organization that works to find independent housing for those with disabilities and advocates for disability rights and opportunity. After a tour of Access Living's building, built following universal design, we had another discussion on power and privilege with members of the Access Living staff, and how this theme relates to those with disabilities.
All of these experiences were complemented by community bonding adventures including visits to China Town, Little Italy, Shedd Aquarium, and the John Hancock Observatory, which also gave us the opportunity to explore the many cultures and sights that make up the city of Chicago. The trip came full circle when we were able to see the Miami University Glee Club perform Friday night at St. Vincent de Paul Church. Despite being in a city much different from Oxford, we were able to connect our experiences in Chicago with our lives at Miami and see that our impact is in no way confined to a single area.
Plunge was a wonderful success this year. It showed how much one can grow in just a few days and also that a place may be incredible, but it is the people you encounter who truly make an experience worthwhile.