Last Monday, as junior Sidney Talbott got ready for the day, she slipped into a maxi sundress and ran her finger over the quarter sized scar on her upper back. She felt exposed.
“I get upset and depressed because it’s like a hole in my back and it’s one of those things that is always going to be seen,” Talbott said.
When Talbott looks at her wounds, she recalls feeling the pain from four bullets piercing both her legs and her back. She headed back to her closet and threw on a jacket over her dress, not yet ready for the world to see her wounds because she knows that most people in the Knox community cannot understand her along with the violence she comes from.
“I’m not as open around others because I can’t really be myself,” she said
Last summer, on June 25, Talbott and three others woke up at a friend’s house. Talbott, her friend Senia Towner and two male friends sat on the sunny porch of the house in the Southside of Chicago. The friends laughed and talked about barbecuing later that day, before Talbott spotted an unfamiliar black male in blue jeans and a white t-shirt approaching the house. The muscular man raised his gun and began firing.
“I hope I don’t die,” the Knox College junior remembered thinking.
Talbott heard the ringing sound of rapid gunfire as bullets flew past her ears. She and Towner sprung up. Towner, who was three months pregnant at the time, was struck first with three bullets in her right arm, left leg and back. When the two young women squeezed into the doorway of the house Towner’s boyfriend, who was inside, jumped on them, in an attempt to shield them from more bullets.
As Talbott fell on top of Towner, she discovered that she had been shot twice in her left leg and twice in the back.
Talbott panicked as she scanned the floor of the house. It was saturated in bright red blood.
All four individuals on the porch had been shot, but they survived and were taken to the hospital.
Talbott sustained only flesh wounds to both her legs and her back. The police talked with her once about the shooting, however the alleged shooter was never arrested and the investigation quickly died down, with the shooter remaining unknown.
Talbott still doesn’t know why she and her friends were a target that day. She feels violence like this happens way too often, especially in the Southside of Chicago, where there have been 5,316 reported victims of shootings around the city from Jan. 1, 2016 to April 22, 2017, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Talbott knew she needed to get away from Chicago and all the dangers that it encompassed, so she returned to Knox shortly after her recovery. Although Knox served as an escape, she felt as if she couldn’t connect with a community that was so different than her own.
Like a number of students from inner city neighborhoods, Talbott represents those who look to Knox as a safe place, but aren’t able to connect with other students who cannot understand the violence they have faced in their past. This phenomenon is akin to soldiers who were in war who also experienced feelings of alienation, which can be labeled as difficulty with community reintegration.
Assistant Professor of Psychology Sara Stasik-O’Brien has worked with soldiers returning from war in a program called The Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program. Looking from an anecdotal standpoint, clinical evidence found that soldiers who have come back from wars often times have experienced issues like anger, detachment problems and even a desire to go back because of the connection they built on the basis of similar experiences.
The program specifically focused on educating these veterans on ways to learn how to physically and mentally recover from their experiences.
Hypothetically speaking, Stasik-O’Brien believed that if Knox had a program like this to help students from violent backgrounds with their own reintegration process, it should be like this program, in the sense that it must include two key components; having a group of students with similar experiences work with each other so that they have this connection, as well as having an education aspect in the program. Education would help students understand their own feelings as well as lend understanding to others who have not gone through similar experiences, giving them the opportunity to connect with these students in a new way.
“This program would help students coming from certain backgrounds seeking that connection bridge the gap and integrate into the community,” Stasik-O’Brien said.
In her first month on campus, Talbott remembered having a challenging time adjusting to Knox and a town significantly smaller than her own. As an African American woman, Talbott sought out connections from other black students, including students in Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality (ABLE), the black cultural club on campus.
Yet, she found that she could not connect with a cultural club that was focused on people of her own race because she felt as if they could not understand what she has been through, including the danger she had to face every time she returned back home. Talbott said they focused on issues such as racism and although she didn’t wish to ignore those issues, she always kept in mind that she had to worry about her own personal battles.
“If some people in ABLE knew what was going on in parts of Chicago, they would understand that I have to be less worried about the issues of racism and more worried about surviving at home,” Talbott said.
After Talbott’s first term, she discovered that she couldn’t even connect with some students that had a shared racial identity; her feelings of disconnection from the Knox community grew stronger. From time to time, she found herself upset at the fact that she didn’t have more friends, especially those who can truly connect with her, like her friends from back home.
“I definitely miss home because there are more people that I can connect with and more people that I can have fun with, even though it is unsafe.”
However, Talbott said that the only factor that has helped her cope with her disconnection from the Knox community is her friendships with current seniors Deandre Weathersby and Marcellis Davis.
Shortly into her first term at Knox, Talbott met the two Chicago natives at a fraternity party. Talbott said that the connection was instant and they began to hang out, which has only strengthened their bond.
“She’s like our little sister,” Weathersby said.
Talbott found a connection with Weathersby and Davis almost immediately because of their accepting attitudes toward her.
“I can be myself with them because they don’t judge you,” Talbott said.
Talbott even lived with Weathersby and Davis at Knox during her sophomore year and part of her junior year. She said that hanging out with them built a familial bond.
“They make things feel like home,” Talbott said.
Like the returning veterans Professor Stasik-O’Brien worked with that had the ability to connect with each other through lived experiences of violence, the three friends sensed that they had such a strong relation because they were able to understand each other’s situations as well as the dangers of growing up and living in rough neighborhoods.
“We have a mutual respect for each other because you know what they’ve been through and you know they’ve had these similar hurts in the past,” Weathersby said.
All three students have lost friends and family members at the hands of violence in Chicago. Like Talbott, Weathersby and Davis see Knox as an escape for the violence they encountered back home.
“I’m not worrying about who’s going to rob me or who’s going to hurt me,” Weathersby said.
Weathersby felt that Knox has also opened up many opportunities for him that he would not have had back home.
“If I stayed in Chicago, the choices are either: The streets, dead or in jail,” Weathersby said. “I’ve come too far to quit.”
Talbott is a member of the Knox College Dance Team, which often performs during the halftimes of Men’s and Women’s Basketball games. Both Weathersby and Davis were a part of the Men’s Basketball team, and supported Talbott, while she in turn stayed in the super fan section of the gym and cheered for her two closest friends. Talbott mentioned that aside from cheering each other on at the basketball games, the three friends enjoy hanging out, laughing and appreciating one another’s presence the most.
Although she has developed other friendships apart from the two seniors, she said that their relationship is still the strongest because of their mutual understanding of each other. She expressed feelings of frustration and sadness as the academic year approaches an end. Both Weathersby and Davis will be graduating this year, leaving Talbott at Knox by herself.
“I’m not going to have anyone. No support, no connections,” Talbot said.
Associate Dean of the College Lori Schroeder recognized that Knox has a number of students who come from communities plagued with violence and that this is an issue the college is trying to address. Schroeder said they want the students to know they are supported by the deans, counselors and spiritual life staff, she also acknowledged that often times faculty and staff don’t know what the students most need.
“Knox doesn’t do enough for these students,” Schroeder said.
Even though the door is always open for students to talk with support staff on campus, Talbott expressed that she would much rather turn to the two seniors.
“They are the biggest support system,” she said. “If I need help I go to them.”
About a month into Spring Term, tragedy struck again and Talbott immediately turned to the two seniors for comfort. On March 30, Talbott learned about the death of a close friend back home. Their life was taken by the hands of gun violence surrounding her neighborhood in Chicago. After hearing this news, Talbott broke down into tears in her dorm room. Weathersby and Davis encouraged her to remain strong, despite her loss.
Talbott was instantly reminded of her encounter with gun violence last summer that could have easily resulted in her own fatality. An encounter that she remembered every single day when she looks at the round scars the bullets left. Scars that she was only willing to show to the two people at Knox that understood her best.
“Around other people, I cover my scars up. I’m insecure about them and what they mean, but around them I don’t have to because they make everything more comfortable,” Talbott said.
Though her friends are graduating and leaving the college, Talbott is still proud to see them come this far considering everything that they’ve been through.
Weathersby and Davis both expressed many feelings about graduation. The overwhelming feeling however, was pride.
“I’m surprised because of what it took. Every student faces obstacles, we faced ours and we overcame them,” Davis said.
“Nobody thought we were going to be here and now we’re here,” Weathersby added.
Talbott looked at her friend’s graduating as an inspiration. She is working toward finishing her major in Education Studies and minor in Anthropology/Sociology. She hopes to eventually become a special education teacher for children. Her dream is to move out of Chicago and have her own center for individuals with special needs. Talbott seeks to support special-needs individuals and help them find a sense of connection in education, similar to the way Weathersby and Davis have helped her.
Although this valuable connection for Talbott will be absent on campus next year, she knows that the three students will remain lifelong friends. While following the two seniors’ ambition to graduate, Talbott realizes that she cannot let her background or past experiences define where she is going.
“Some people I know can’t go to college, but I need to finish school. I need to make it out,” said Talbott.