When my father took me to the Exploratorium as a child, the bubble exhibit—where my sister and I could stack the small bubbles, or stand inside the biggest ones, marveling at their swirling colors—was my favorite. As a quote near the exhibit explains, “When one bubble meets with another, the resulting union is always one of total sharing and compromise.”
Years later, I am ensconced in the cocoon of privilege, trust and support that students sometimes refer to critically as the “Davidson bubble.” However, my experiences have led me to believe that we are at our best when we invite others into our sphere, creating common space that is both delicate and magical.
On one of my first Fridays at Davidson, I left campus with a group traveling to Charlotte to cook dinner at a halfway house for homeless individuals who had been hospitalized and discharged. I was sitting on the porch, trying to engage a few of the residents in conversation. When a man in a wheelchair said that he too had lived in California, my home state, I jumped at this common ground with joy and asked what he had been doing there. “Prison time,” he replied. Wondering how to recover this fumble, I turned to sports as a safe topic and—having next to no knowledge of any serious sport—launched into a description of the Davidson tradition of flickerball. My freshman hall was holding its first scrimmage that weekend, and I admitted that I, an American daughter of immigrant parents, had no idea how to throw a football.
To my surprise, this gentleman found that entirely unacceptable; he promptly tracked down a football and rolled to the lawn for our lesson. With the arm that was not paralyzed, he threw that football to me tirelessly, and caught every throw I returned with constructive commentary. I began to acquire some semblance of his spiral style, but I was still missing something. He advised me, “Throw it like you mean it.” Suddenly, I swelled with emotion—here was this stranger, with so many problems of his own, summoning and sharing energy he barely had, with me. I hurled that ball with a force I did not know I had, and he caught it, beaming. “Atta girl!”
Davidson’s EPIC (Ending Poverty In Charlotte) club offered me the opportunity to continue to spend time with homeless neighbors in our community, and through EPIC, I became involved with the Room in the Inn (RITI) program. RITI, a student-run organization, allows Davidson students to experience a kind of magical common space with members of the greater Charlotte community without leaving campus. Every Friday during the winter months, RITI hosts 12 homeless neighbors on the Davidson campus; students set up beds, drive neighbors to the campus from Charlotte, join them at the Vail Commons cafeteria, hang out and spend the night.
RITI, which often is comprised of a different group of students every weekend, has made me so thankful for the Davidson community. I see my peers treating our guests like royalty and making an effort to connect with people they probably will never meet again. As we try to find common ground, we find laughter and stories about faith or family or hope—life lessons from people who have experienced more than we have, and have much to give. Often, the students appreciate the interaction even more than our guests do. As these seemingly divergent paths intersect, commonalities are revealed, and gifts are exchanged within our shared space.