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Evan Rothera's Reflections

 

 

 

 

 
Often people are faced with difficult and taxing situations and they are forced to ask themselves do I do what is easy, or what is right? The defining moments of a person’s life happen when they choose to do what is right, ignore the easy path, and commit themselves to a longer more difficult road which will not necessarily gain them anything or even result in what society would define as a success. I believe that I sought this experience with CPS because I wanted to do what was right, rather than what was easy. It would have been very convenient and easy for me to simply have decided not to apply, assuming that the world would have gone on moving and that I would have had a more relaxing time. Admittedly, the world would have continued to move, but I would have been so much the worse for the decision, because I would have ignored the advice of Polonius and would have failed to be true to myself. I am not sure I can put into words exactly what I have gained, per se, but I can tell you that I have come to know and become friends with over 25 people that I might not have come into contact with had I taken the easy path. I have been able to observe the reciprocity relationship firsthand and have come away a better man for the experience. I have developed, both in terms of intelligence, articulation, and character, due to my association with the Center for Public Service. And yet the most exciting and most daunting part of the road facing me is that there is so much more which I can learn and so many more experiences for me to share. I do realize that the path I have chosen can sometimes contain pitfalls, but like all the paths we tread in our lives, the pitfalls fade over time and we remember the good times, the fellowship with friends, the experiences we share with our fellow human beings, and the times when we leave our comfort zones to experience a new point of view and to view the world through the eyes of another.

As a Program Coordinator for El Centro, I am, first and foremost, a liaison between El Centro, the college, and the Center for Public Service. I am in charge of coordinating volunteers from different classes, in addition to those volunteers who sign-up and are not affiliated with a class. I am responsible for ensuring that they are given a proper orientation and are well equipped to volunteer with El Centro. I help the volunteers work through their experiences in reflection sessions and try to help them see how they can benefit from the reciprocity which exists among them and the children. I also strive to benefit from the same reciprocity.
Community partnerships, the core of Center for Public Service programs, strive to be mutually beneficial – fulfilling both a community-identified goals and providing a learning experience for students. Program coordinators serve as liaisons between the Adams County and campus communities to ensure a solid partnership. 


EXPERIENCE

I have gone back through all of my journals and have compiled a list of specific examples which I feel are essential to understanding my varied experiences with community partnership.

1. Concerning partnership with El Centro, my thoughts seem to be that this will be, by no means, an easy process, but that it will ultimately be very rewarding.

2. I feel that the partnership has progressed and developed very well, as both Jen and I seem to be able to assimilate ourselves into the daily working of El Centro.

3. I am beginning to feel less overwhelmed now that we have a definite schedule, definite times when we are at El Centro, definite times when we are in the office, and that we have developed ways to input our information, that we have created the aliases, and that we have generally been able to establish ties and connection with El Centro.

4. I feel that our successes include making it through those first chaotic weeks, coordinating all of the orientations, and assuming more and more of the duties we need to do. I feel that Jen and I have also had a chance to become closer through this partnership, that our thinking is more in tune, and that we form effective compliments to each other. I also feel that we were wise to divide up the days that we were there, rather than going for an hour each day, together. This allows us to develop separate personalities and styles, rather than being seen as two halves of a whole program coordinator.

5. I feel that things are still running smoothly at El Centro and it looks like the problem of money has been ameliorated, to what extent I am uncertain, so I am not as nervous as I was at the beginning, but I feel like it is still going to be an uphill battle. However, the things for which we fight the hardest are often those which we come to prize the most.

6. There have been other challenges: volunteers who do not show up and do not tell us they do not plan to show up and some of the children at El Centro do not, in my opinion, want to be there and this can make working with them a difficult experience.

7. That, in my mind, is a challenge: to find your place within the organization.

8. We have begun to plan the end of the year party, going so far as to reserve CUB 260 since that room is often booked so far in advance. We are also planning for separate events: another reflection session and a party for everyone closer to the end of the semester, but not the volunteer appreciation dinner.

9. Our efforts this semester were not so much focused on program development, but maintenance and continuity. Hopefully, we will be able to change that next semester.

10. I feel that Jen and I have made good plans with Axa and we have an additional advantage this semester: she will be at El Centro until mid-March, when she starts a long-term job as a substitute teacher. So, we will have the advantage of being able to work with her for quite some time.

11. We are making plans and beginning to discuss events like the end of the year party, so that we will be prepared.

As the semesters progressed, it is easy to see how I became more comfortable in terms of my relationship with my community partner. In the beginning, I felt like I was going to be overwhelmed some of the time simply because there was so much to do and to accomplish. However, as time continued, I began to relax and to take the challenges one at a time and find effective solutions. That is not to say that there are no longer challenges, but I feel that I have a much better idea of how to deal with them.

 

 
LEARNING

One of my favorite movies happens to be The Man in the Iron Mask and though it is not really factually accurate, it presents a strong message about life. The basic premise is that the King of France is an unjust tyrant and that the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, must find the King’s twin brother and train him to take over the throne. At one point the Queen goes in for confession and Aramis is in the priest’s place and he reveals to her that he was the one who took her second son, whom the queen thought was dead. She laments the fact that she was never brave enough to find out what happened to him and despairs that she has raised a son who destroys lives and does not save them. Then Aramis says something very profound. “He lives. And now God and we have a chance to strip away all masks forever.” When I was looking over my old journals, I found one which I had written as a response to a point in someone else’s. One of the strongest connections between the two journals was that we both realized that the choices we made impacted our lives in ways that resulted in both of us working at CPS. For instance, had I chosen to opt out of further Spanish classes, or had I been placed in a class with a different professor, it is likely I would not have gone to El Centro and while I probably would have become involved with different community service projects, it is unlikely that I would have become involved with CPS. We both found it very interesting to see how our choices can lead us down a path we might not have taken (a real life example of the road not taken in the Robert Frost poem of the same name).

This person also made a very concise observation, “I have bridged a gap not only between classes but also one I kept within, that constant separation of me and the person I am serving. Now the women at Circles are my friends, and I don't have to be anyone but myself when I walk through the door at wee care.” I think that this is a very astute and mature observation, but also something to which we devote so little thought. Why is it that so many people feel uncomfortable doing community service? I feel that this person might have hit a nail on the head; it might just be because they have created a barrier within themselves between the people they so desperately want to help. Humans are perverse creatures: we construct and wear elaborate masks and create these barriers within ourselves that separate us from others; yet in the cores of our beings, we desire contact and relationships. Would that we had the opportunity to be rid of these masks and these barriers and just live our lives as normal people.

This desire to break down barriers and masks coming from someone such as myself is probably ironic, because I have spent all my life constructing elaborate masks so that I would never be put in a situation where I would lose control. However, working at CPS puts me in situations where I often am not in control. I think that I have come to accept this inversion of the role I usually like to play and it can be seen in my entries about community partnership. At the beginning, I felt like I might be overwhelmed, partly because I did not control the situation. However, as time passed, I began to accept that I had to accept the challenges and work through them one at a time and that sometimes I am not capable of fixing everything. It is simultaneously a liberating and a terrifying experience, because you must open yourself up to other and trust them. Though this is not easy at first, it does become easier over time and is, in actuality, an important part of the human experience.

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 Learning Circles aim to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to develop trust, understand each other's experiences, explore social issues and work together for long-term change. For 2007-2008, there are three groups focused on race, class and migration respectively. Evan focused on race and participated eRace: Gettysburg Dialogue for Campus Unity.


EXPERIENCE

I have extracted from my various journal entries ideas which, I believe, illustrate my progress and development in relation to the eRace Learning Circle. 1. Yesterday we had a very interesting meeting specifically looking at the issues we have discussed in the context of music and theater.

2. Returning to my learning circle feels like returning to a book one was forced to put down in the middle of an interesting part; you want to see what happens next.

3. Last Friday we had the Affinity Retreat, which I found to be a very interesting, helpful, and yet difficult experience.

4. I believe that the eRace Learning Circle is progressing very well; on Friday the 26th, we had a discussion of potential root causes of the animosity between Africans and African Americans. I think one of the most profound points which was brought up was the fact that little more than a semi-detailed perusal of the history of the Untied States and other countries of the world, reveals that this is by no means a new phenomenon, nor one restricted to race.

5. I believe that the discussion is progressing well, as we are to be able to talk freely each week about different concepts and ideas. On Friday we discussed what has been happening around campus and how there was a lot more happening than we thought. That was an interesting experience, due to the fact that when you stop and think about it, there is a lot happening, but most people, for some reason, do not seem to stop and think about it.

6. I feel that there have been many “aha” moments when people have made discoveries about themselves or others, which is not necessarily always a comfortable moment, as it can cause you to challenge some beliefs.

7. Probably the most noteworthy progression in my Learning Circle would be the fact that, if we are not necessarily always comfortable talking about the subjects we discuss, at least we are able to do in an open and forthright manner. That is one of the most important strategies in terms of effective communication: that open channels of dialogue exist between the members of a group. I feel that the fact that we are becoming more open and willing to talk in each other’s presence indicate a strong asset which we will be able to utilize, especially as the semester continues to pass.

8. I believe that everyone has the right attitude in acknowledging that racism is not a problem which can be solved in the space of a few days, but can only be solved through a struggle which will last, undoubtedly, generations.

9. We are like the pebbles on the side of the mountain. We have the option of doing nothing and remaining sedentary all of our lives. Or, we can start to move and join with others (again remembering the idea of solidarity), to form an avalanche of massive proportions, which could strip racism away forever. Of course, by the time the avalanche is over, the pebbles could have disintegrated from the friction, but that is a chance they nevertheless take.

 

 


 
LEARNING

Reviewing one of my earlier journal entries, I came upon one which piqued my interest. I was discussing, or at least attempting to, an “a-ha” moment in my life when I became aware of race. I wrote, “Ironically, perhaps my greatest “a-ha” moment that I experienced in the eRace Learning Circle was when I could not identify a specific time in my life when I has a sudden, blinding flash of insight and became aware that society favored certain groups of people over others. For someone who takes pride in charting his specific insights and revelations, I was shocked that I had never experienced this sort of insight. I am not sure I can even identify a time when a specific event started me on the path to realizing that people of different races are treated differently. I suppose, that, for a long time, I naively supposed that all people were treated equally (perhaps not so naively, as that is one of the underlying and founding principles of the country).

I remember reading an article about Ruby Bridges, who as a child in elementary school was brave enough to face the hatred of a part of a society and desegregate a school. She wrote, “Children know nothing of hatred, bigotry, racism, and all of those other terrible things; they are taught all of these by adults.” Bridges invokes an interesting idea: children are naïve until their naiveté is shattered by adults, ultimately forcing them to face a reality and to grow up. Does the fact that for so long I though people were treated equally mark me as naïve? Yes. Does it mark me as a racist who refused to see the real truth? I certainly hope not.

However, here is another ironic fact: only by ruining the innocence of children do we open their eyes to the injustice and racism around them. We have to destroy the essence of childhood to promote enlightenment. Would they possibly be better people if their naiveté was allowed to linger? Probably. However, they would also be that which I am saying could help them; they would be, in a word, naïve.

I would feel safe in saying that I slowly absorbed the fact that people were treated differently through the television I watched, the books I read, the newspapers I skimmed, and from acting as a cultural anthropologist, that is to say, observing the culture in which we live. Potentially my innocence could be attributed to my age, which was relatively young, the fact that I am of the Caucasian race, that I went to excellent schools, that I was from a middle class family, and the fact that I am male. Each of the items I referenced had a significant impact: I am from a middle class family in the suburbs; even though the area in which I lived was diverse, there were not a lot of racial issues. I was male, went to better schools, all of these facts represent advantages over others and perhaps placed me in a more insular environment which did not facilitate my discovery of the injustice of society.

I cannot say that I learned a lot about my own identity or the identity of others from this experience, but I can say that I did learn that childhood is filled with rites of passage. Among these rites of passage is the fact that childhood naiveté must be broken at some point, in order to allow the child to fully become an adult and have a mature grasp on their world, with all of its plusses and minuses. However, is this passage any less different than the passage of a boy into manhood, through puberty, or girl into womanhood? One transition affects the body, the other the mind and the child’s perceptions of the world. Both can be painful, unwelcome, wearisome, and bothersome, but for all that, both represent changes which must happen if the normal life processes are to occur.”

Looking back on this entry, I realize that, even though it was written quite early in relation to the time of my participation in eRace, it still resounded and still held true. I think it is especially important to remember the following point: that we often grow and develop, both physically and intellectually and as we develop intellectually, we are often inclined to view what we had though and written previously as inferior, as if our further development negated previous ideas. However, this is a very dangerous thing to do, because all of our ideas have merit and should all be considered. I firmly believe that all ideas have merit and should all be considered, though not necessarily accepted as true and infallible. Therefore, I enjoyed going over all of my old e-Race journal entries and looking at not only my intellectual development but how my ideas have changed and stayed the same.

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 Through the Center for Public Service, Program Coordinators support student volunteers through education, training, reflection, communication, logistical coordination and the fostering of community/campus partnerships.

EXPERIENCE

After skimming through all of my old entries concerning student leadership, I have found examples which I believe well represent my progress.

I feel that I have engaged this campus by my recruiting techniques: as I have tried to appeal to faculty, administrators, and students to volunteer at El Centro.

I have practiced leadership in that I have, along with Jen, conducted Orientation Sessions, corresponded with faculty and students, and promoted a program aggressively. I feel that, as the semester continues; more opportunities for leadership will present themselves.

I have practiced leadership by helping to transition in the new volunteers, by making sure that their orientation sessions went well, that they are fully equipped to begin tutoring, and I have also tried to display leadership at El Centro itself.

One of the largest challenges to trying to engage the campus in leadership is, ironically, a conflict with how students at a liberal arts college are supposed to behave. Allow me to explain: the purpose of the education of a liberal arts college is to open ones eyes to everything, but students, while taking a varied class schedule, are also encouraged to explore lots of different clubs and opportunities, thereby enriching their horizons. Unfortunately, this also has the “negative” side effect of making everyone so busy that you are often shunted off to the side when you want to, say, conduct a reflection session. The irony of the matter is that people are often so busy expanding their own horizons that they do not always have time for what is really important.

On Tuesday the 23rd, Jen and I held a reflection session and we were gratified to see that 20 people showed up and even more interestingly, the people were split almost evenly among the four days.

Sometimes we run the risk of failing to see these things when we are so concerned over the larger and more “important” issues, and it is a good reality check to see these little incidents every now and then.

Over the last few weeks, I have coordinated volunteers and Jen and I made sure everyone was informed during the snow days.

On Thursday, Kate, Lisa, and I participated in the Expressions of Justice Common Hour and read some of the responses from the Affinity Group Retreat about our responsibilities as white people. It was very exciting to see such a positive response from the college community at large and I was both surprised and pleased to see how many people showed up to the event.

After reading through these examples, it is easy to see that my experiences with student leadership have been quite varied. Although these examples were not included, there have been journals wherein I felt that I did not demonstrate much leadership. However, there were also many occasion where I felt that I had the opportunities to show leadership and was able to conduct satisfactory recruitment, plan and execute reflections sessions or simply establish myself as a leader at El Centro.

 

 
LEARNING

In the fall of 2007, Gettysburg College held their annual Fall Convocation, and I noted several pertinent observations in my journal. I wrote, “A common reaction that I heard following Convocation was the fact that people resented being forced to go. Not that they were angry over the choice of the speaker or his message, they were simply ticked off that the school forced them to go to the event. The more I thought about this, the more I began to see that there really is no clear cut response to the issue raised by these students. I understand why they are reacting this way: it is an extension of the “wet paint theorem.” When we see a sign saying “wet paint” our fist impulse is to touch it, regardless of the fact that the sign was put there so that we would not touch it. It is human nature to want to do what we are not supposed to do and it is also human nature to be resentful of coercion. So, in my opinion, these students raise a valid point: why were they forced to attend? However, on the other hand, I can see just as easily the rationale for forcing students to attend. After all, if given the choice, it is very likely that many of them would have chosen to skip the event, for a variety of reasons. So, by forcing them to go, one also forces them to be exposed to Tim Wise and his anti-racism activism. However, by forcing them to go, does one in fact alienate many of the students who would have been receptive to Tim Wise’s ideas? Some students who resented the coercion might also have carried their resentment a step further, to Wise himself, and closed their minds, like Pharaoh, to his ideas. However, on the flip side of that coin, by making the event required you increase exposure to Wise’s ideas, perhaps winning some of the people who might not have come to the event.”

It can be hard to trace lines like these, but it is, I believe, necessary to try and figure out the results of actions taken by the school. And the question of whether or not the event should be mandatory is an important one. Another important factor in this dialogue is the idea of apathy. I believe that all of us realize that apathy is a significant problem on campus, but here is where we run into a problem. How does one motivate apathetic people? Furthermore, are these people who are apathetic content to be apathetic? This question probably sounds very odd, but some apathetic people, while not caring about much, do recognize that their attitudes are fundamentally flawed and want to do something about it, but simply lack the motivation. Other apathetic people simply do not care about the level of flaws in their attitudes and are content.

I believe that one of the essential problems which one encounters is the fact that, even though are trying to be a leader, the people whom you are trying to lead can often be unmotivated, apathetic, and simply uncaring of your efforts. If you evince passion in your cause, they often do not care and sometimes the only way to motivate them is through coercion. However, coercion is a double edged sword simply because people’s minds then become closed to you and to your ideas. I noted this problem in another journal. I said, “Perhaps I can go further in an attempt to illustrate the cause of my melancholy; I have recently had an experience where I found my comprehension of others enlarged and deepened, but not necessarily in a positive way. I ran for Student Senate because I saw that there were definite problems on this campus, which needed to be deal with. However, I found the Senate to be little more than an inactive bastion of elitism. Over half the semester has been wasted and they have accomplished nothing. We do not even have committee assignments yet. Here is an organization which is supposed to exist to work with and for the students, but is more concerned with taking it easy, not really doing much and existing to make themselves feel important. However, I suppose I am not even allowed to say these things as I am supposed to be an advocate for the Senate and if I disagree with them I am supposed to keep my mouth shut, grin, and bear it. So much for representative democracy.”

At times I feel like Congressman Thaddeus Stevens after the failed impeachment of Andrew Johnson (when he proclaimed “this country is going to hell!”). Other times I feel like emulating Senator Margaret Chase Smith and reading my own Declaration of Conscience speech. Sometimes I want to be like Senator Charles Sumner and unleash all of my pent up anger in a tirade of blistering invective and scorching rhetoric upon those who are debasing and abusing the system for their own selfish and petty ends. If I sound like I have not answered the question, then I apologize, but the fact of the matter is that I have not done enough, due to factors both within and beyond my control. If this journal entry sounded suspiciously like a rant, that would probably be because it was, but in the end I could not help it.

I feel that I have progressed in terms of leadership, not only because I try to act as a leader, even if people are not responsive, but also because I can move beyond the anger and channel that and my frustration into productivity. I have learned that sometimes when embracing a cause, you go against people’s desires to be left alone and that they will often not respond. However, far from becoming angry, you have to work through the problem as you would do with any other problem and not allow frustration to blind you. 

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 Through experiences with the Center for Public Service, Program Coordinators have the opportunity to connect with community, develop professional skills, and find a supportive environment to discover their voice in social change.

EXPERIENCE

From a series of journal entries, I have extracted the thoughts which best capture the progression in my personal and professional development. 1. You have to tread a fine line between professionalism, which often comes across as austerity, and non-professionalism, which is anathema to my position.

2. On the subject of self-reflection, that if a day goes by without my engaging in some form of self-reflection, it is something of a grievous oversight. I believe that we can only improve through personal reflections/meditations /self-reflections; therefore it behooves us to do them as often as possible.

3. I will continue working on strengthening my communication with the children at El Centro.

4. I believe that the self-reflection is useful to my learning because it allows me an opportunity to reflect, hopefully objectively, on what I have been able to do and what I have not been able to do. It is a useful tool in that regard because I am able to constantly refine and re-shape my methods and strategies according to what works best and is most efficient.

5. I have had the chance to work directly with the kids and therefore be less of the overseer and more of the helper/mentor figure. I feel that this connection is more direct, though more limited as my attention could only be focused on a few at a time.

6. If we do not anchor what we do in reality, all our work will have the potential of being unraveled or undone.

7. I find that I am able to communicate in a more open manner.

8. I feel like I am able to branch out more and work with the different groups: in the beginning of the year I did not really want to work with the middle school age kids, but now I find that I am enjoying their company more and more.

9. I find that one of the most challenging facets of the job with El Centro is the fact that my own attitudes and perceptions are constantly being challenged by the children.

10. It is frustrating to me that I am unable to understand so many things about them, but I suppose there are things which also puzzle them about me, so the question then becomes, how does one work through said barriers?

11. I feel that I have made progress during the last semester and I want to continue that progress and not see it fall by the wayside.

12. It is also a nice feeling to realize that I know all their names and can match names and faces. I think that this eliminates a large part of the awkwardness I felt when I began as program coordinator.

This may seem like a detailed list which lacks cohesion, so allow me to try and place it into context. I have listed the ideas from the earliest journal to my most current journal and have tried to show how I am concerned not only with different things but also how my ideas have continually developed and how I constantly engage in the process of self-reflection and how to improve my ideas and development. I have tried to illustrate different experiences as best as I could. I could not include every experience, as the list would be tremendously long, but I tried to include a representative sampling which will, hopefully, suffice and provide the reader with a clear picture of my personal and professional development.

 
LEARNING

We discussed the question, in context of where we all are in our own learning, of what truly happens after you win? We are conditioned to view winning as an end all and a termination, often it merely represents the closing of one phase and the beginning of another. Remember, the South won the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), but lost the Civil War. Also, if a win represents a peak and we argue that life follows a “sine curve” pattern (peaks and valleys); would not a peak logically be followed by a valley? It must be emphasized that we would be naïve to think that victory, once attained, can simply be maintained with little to no effort. Sometimes the greatest battles of our lives have to be won again and again and again, often with no end in sight. We are not necessarily guaranteed to a victory. To believe so seems to be inflating our own sense of self-importance and heightening our own aura of invincibility. Remember that human beings are not perfect; were we perfect, we would undoubtedly win in all our endeavors, but this is simply not the case. Rather, we must fight and persevere and perhaps we will win and perhaps we will not. However, even if we do not win, that does not mean that we have had a negligible impact and even if we do win, that does not mean we can just assume all the work is done and now we will be able to relax.

There is no doubt that winning is important, but it is simply not the end of the road. Think about it this way: does a scholar ever reach a point in their lives when they say I have read enough and now know everything? Does a teacher ever reach a point when they say I have gone to enough seminars and now I am the perfect teacher? I hope people do not do this, because then they will have defeated the purpose: no one can know everything and no one can be perfect. It is the same with out victories: they are important, yes; each one tends to build off the last, but the process is never complete. We can win, but we can always do more to help build upon our victories.

I often struggle with the fact that there are people who, for whatever reason, chose to make themselves into a hindrance rather than a help. Even though I feel that this is due to a combination of their lack of comprehension as to the fact that you work for something larger than yourself and also their jealousy that, unlike them, you do not accept the status quo, but rather strive for continual betterment of the human race in general, I still feel pity for them. And, as long as they exist, I will never have truly won, because a victory will be when you can convert a hindrance into a help.

I know that this entry may seem disjointed, but I feel that it is essential to understand my ideas about winning before I can explain my progress in terms of learning. I have come very far since the point when I began to work with CPS. I no longer expect life to hand me a sweeping victory, as that is unrealistic, but I do see that, from day to day, we are handed little victories. These vary in nature and composition, and are often spontaneous and unpredictable, but I have learned to appreciate each and every one of them. Also, I do not know what the ultimate win will be, which is good, because sometimes if we fix ourselves on something we consider to be the end all, we can lose track of progress.

I believe that learning is a never-ending cycle and that we will often fail, but we will also win, from time to time. We should not strive for one grand victory but should rather do the best we can for everyone and let the victories come as they will. In the end, maybe we will win and maybe we will not, but the real reward is not in a plaque or an award or a monument. The real victory comes when we see we have made a positive difference, have helped others, and have been true to ourselves.

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