Starting college is a fresh start, a clean slate, a blank canvas — but on your first day, you realize that the canvas given to you isn’t blank at all. It’s actually the canvas you’ve been painting on throughout your entire life, it’s just that you didn’t realize you’ve only been painting in one small corner this whole time. The rest of the canvas remains wide open.

But you quickly realize that there’s a lot more to it than you had thought. On your first week, you start to notice that there are, in fact, several others painting alongside you, different techniques to learn, brushes to use, colors to choose and ideas to think about. It’s simply overwhelming.

People are telling you about all the clubs you should join — all you want to do is not lock yourself out of your room on your first day. People are giving you tips on what to do and what not to do — all you want is to figure out where to sit in the dining hall. People are inviting you to all the events happening next week — and all you want to do is get through today.

But you’ll get through it because of humility. All the preparation in the world will only take you so far because at a certain point, you admit that don’t have a full understanding of your new situation, your new environment or your new life. You’re on your own, and you’re in a new place, unsure of your footing. And that’s okay. It feels uncomfortable and painful at times, but out of the struggle, you learn and grow from it. Your humility allows you to evolve.

Our nation desperately needs to learn from your humility, so that it, too, can evolve. Because it, too, is experiencing a time of stress, turmoil and conflict of a different scale. This summer, we experienced much pain from a deadly mass shooting in Orlando, the killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and several others at the hands of police, the killing of police officers in Dallas and continuing movements and protests in Milwaukee and across the nation. These events have certainly stirred a lot of discussion about racism, oppression and injustice.

But we aren’t truly talking. Nor are we truly listening. Not with humility. We aren’t admitting that we just don’t have a full understanding of the problem as a nation. We’re only talking about what’s directly visible to us — the symptoms of a much greater, systemic problem. If we don’t dig deeper into asking ourselves what is at the root of these events, then we must be prepared to face them over and over again.

Beyond the disproportionate police killings and brutality upon people of color — as unjust as it is — is a much deeper problem than just a few rogue police officers. As these communities struggle to just avoid the crosshairs of the police, they are similarly targeted by our systems of education, health, finance, housing and every other institution in our nation.

Beyond the “bathroom provision” of House Bill 2 is a much more complex, political strategy to divide communities in order to keep racism, classism and discrimination in place. As transgender people struggle to just avoid being assaulted in public bathrooms, vulnerable individuals, families and communities are under fire from provisions attacking anti-discrimination and minimum wage policies. 

We have to embrace humility and admit that we don’t understand everything. We have to have difficult conversations. We have to talk and listen with courage. We have to find some place to start.

At Elon University, one place to start is the Center for Race, Ethnicity & Diversity Education (CREDE). We provide spaces for students, faculty and staff of all identities and backgrounds who want to have courageous discussion on issues surrounding race, ethnicity and diversity. It’s a space for students to reflect on and deepen their understanding of racial, ethnic and other identities, including your own. We welcome you to come visit us on the second floor of the Moseley Center, and find out how you can get involved. As a new Elon student, you have the opportunity and the power to become a leader for meaningful social change, on campus and beyond. We all have a role to play.

Let’s ask ourselves: What kind of picture do we want to paint for our nation?