Columns / Discourse / May 3, 2017

Feeling at home at Knox through Galesburg

I’d like to start this column out by mentioning something I noticed about my first publication. I noticed that it had been titled “Growing up and growing out of Galesburg” and thought about the different ways that could be interpreted. My first reaction to this title was that it seems I’m growing out of Galesburg like one grows out of their clothes as a kid. That simply isn’t the case. In fact, since my first week on campus, my appreciation for the town I’ve called home for the past two decades has skyrocketed.

I mean no disrespect to the editor who decided on the title, in fact I’m thankful for the different interpretations of my words because I’m sure others reading the column thought the same thing. I’ll be honest, when I was in high school, I hated Galesburg and tried to distance myself from it as soon as I graduated. The only things this town seemed to offer was sex, drugs and corn. Seemed like everyday you’d catch wind about so and so getting pregnant or someone getting busted during the K-9 locker inspections. Getting accepted to Illinois State was my ticket out, and I ran with it

Why in the world would I ever want to come back to this Sin City? Do I just really love corn that much? Although corn does hold a special place in my heart, I was unknowingly leaving Galesburg for the wrong reasons, running from problems I’d given up on or was simply unaware of. I had come up with all these excuses for why Galesburg was such a terrible place that I had never thought to look for anything worth my time.

Deciding to go to Carl Sandburg after ISU felt like I was essentially choosing to be that kid whose parents moved a lot growing up. Having to meet new people, learn new names, make new friends, it can be a chore, but I learned to count my blessings. Not only was I able to address and resolve the real reasons I was running from home but I was also able to help ease the hidden financial stress that goes with a college education.

I am so surprised at how quickly I was able to feel accepted and at home when I made it to Knox. The “Knox bubble” is a very real thing, so much so that I can’t say that I had any major interactions with Knox before my junior year of high school. It blows me away that all I had to do was apply, get accepted and suddenly I’m given access to a side of Galesburg that I’ve never seen before. I’m hearing stories from people around the world and here I am writing to that same audience.

All this being in my backyard for all these years is kinda alarming though. How high must those hedges be for me not to see into the world of Knox College? People who go to Knox all live in Galesburg, yet I’m sure there are a number who don’t call themselves a “Galesburger.” Maybe part of the reason I felt so at home here at Knox is because it is home, I grew up here. The Knox community has adopted me as their own and now stand amongst the many reason I call my hometown home.

The two bubbles for me have seemed to vanish or at the least I am a bridge, a mediator, between the two. I don’t think I needed to grow up here to be that bridge. I think if you live in Galesburg, then you can make a difference. Volunteering, voting, even off campus jobs are ways to make a difference in the community. I work at a Taco Bell in town and have had the pleasure to interact with some true characters. One of my managers is a lesbian Trump supporter; I’d call her a unicorn because I didn’t think those existed. I also work with an ex-con who is open about his crack use and has uttered some of the most misogynist, racist crap I have ever heard.

Somedays I’m just a fly on the wall but one day the topic of gender came up and two high schoolers were dumbfounded that most Knox classes ask for pronouns when we introduced ourselves. I brought up my own experience with gender and how growing up I had my actions judged by how girly or manly they were. Presenting the idea that one’s actions are judged because of what society deems appropriate for their gender was enough for them to understand the problem and why it matter so much for some. Moments like these wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t presented with these ideas through conversations had at Knox. For those students who communicate that they are against gender discrimination, whether through conversation or protesting in the streets, by process of diffusion they help me bring these ideas to Galesburgers.

Hopefully this column acts as the hedge clippers as I start to tear down this barrier between “Galesburgers” and “Knoxers.” It’s worth noting that not all Knoxers are Galesburgers but every Knoxer is a Galesburger, whether they realize it or not.

Joey Peterson

Tags:  column discourse Galesburg Knox townie

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