In “The Dark Years,” Nelson Mandela shares his experiences from being a political prisoner for 27 years before finally becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa and leading his country to end apartheid. He recounts the hardships of the Robben Island prison in particular, and how he and his compatriots asserted their personal dignity and the ideals of their human rights movement in the face of their challenges. For example, when they are required to fill a bucket with rocks from mining, he and his colleagues do not submit to the impossibly increasing demands by the guards to try to break their spirits, but instead they set their own pace and maintain power over their conditions. Mandela also talks about how his goals in prison were not only to free himself and his fellow political prisoners, but also to free the hearts and minds of their opponents, for he knows that “the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”
In writing this, Mandela expresses the universal truth (and something I believed without expressing it in words before) that, “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred.” Indeed, a major reason for fighting for equality is not only to achieve equality, but also to create open minds to diversity, open hearts to appreciation of all human beings, because it is so painful to base your beliefs on the idea that a certain group is inferior and unworthy of love, or to live your life believing that you must hate certain people simply for being who they are. This relates to our role as RAs in exposing our residents to new experiences and new ideas, while at the same time fostering healthy, constructive discussions especially when residents’ opinions or perspectives collide. To achieve our goal of “hav[ing] opportunities to engage with peers in complex, challenging topics in a supportive, non-judgmental residential environment,” we RAs act as mediators to not only encourage the sharing of viewpoints, but also to keep the conversation civil, and to remind everyone just how lucky we are to be able to see such diverse opinions. I am always impressed by the diversity in thought I have encountered at CMU: every year I meet people with opinions informed from completely different backgrounds, or with viewpoints of totally different philosophies. It is a blessing to receive so many new ideas, and it’s my duty to pass this opportunity on to my residents in this rare chance in their lives to talk to and grow with people from all over the world.