Making a Difference

By: Eric Ruelle

Over the course of three or four new student orientations this past week, I had been asked what I had done prior to entering Loyola University Chicago. “I taught high school for two years in Detroit,” I would respond, often omitting the fact that I was a part of the Teach For America program there. Teach For America (TFA) is a charged topic for some, but my reluctance to bring it up has less to do with what people think about the organization (I actually enjoy having the discussion), and more so about my own innate fear of how I come across to others.

During the six-week intensive training, known as “Institute,” TFA strives to inculcate the mission of how one day there will be equal access to an excellent education, regardless of where an individual grows up. The idea therein is that, as the educator, you are a part of the movement to accomplish this mission. I believe in this mission; for the past two years, I worked tirelessly to engage my students, and to bring my students a quality education to close the achievement gap. There is data to prove my effectiveness in increasing reading and writing scores – but I don't even like talking about that.

I was taught on my first day at Loyola to lean into uncomfortability, to understand why I'm compelled to speak about a particular issue, but more importantly, to understand why I shy away from others. The theory of “making a difference” is a complicated one for me. As a student affairs professional, I hope to have a positive influence on students, but at the same time, doesn't that come with the job description? Maybe I would talk more about my experience in Detroit if it wasn't already implied the type of work I was doing; however, the issue could be somewhat compunded by the fact that I am a white-male.

Is volunteering, or “making a difference,” exclusively white? Of course not. Internally though, I worry that I come off as preachy, or that my experiences in an urban community are now a thing of parody; the classic white teacher in the inner-city parable I want to disassociate with (i.e: Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, etc...). There's still a lot I need to unpack on the subject, and I'm looking forward to doing it in my classes. That work I cannot do alone. I don't know if anyone else has felt this way, or if I'm just being sensitive about it, but I encourage thoughts/discussion.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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