Through a series of interactive and introspective exercises, Maura Cullen, this year’s featured First-Year Experience speaker, explored the various stereotypes of race, gender, socioeconomic class and sexual orientation, and the effects they have on our society.
Cullen opened her speech by stressing the importance of respecting each other’s differences.
“My hope is that [students] realize the enormous impact they have on other people — and that could be a good thing or a bad thing — but here at Ithaca we are trying to create a community where we don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks,” she said.
The lecture, which was at 7 and 9 p.m. yesterday in Emerson Suites, was Cullen’s second appearance in a row as college’s featured speaker.
For one of her opening exercises, Cullen projected a picture of an animal, and students were asked to identify which animal they thought it was. Cullen said the exercise’s purpose was to get the audience to see things through others’ perspectives.
“As soon as you laid eyes on the image, you were able to make sense of it somehow and if you took a moment and you heard other people’s perspective, you saw something more,” she said.
Cullen also spoke of an instance when she felt as though she was being discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.
“People notice the differences, but it’s what you do next,” she said.
As a part of the lecture, students were invited to write a “letter to self,” which will get mailed to them at the end of their freshman year. Juniors Ashley Braziel and Sophie Glassman, who said freshmen are just beginning their journey of exploration, proposed the idea.
“The first year is the hardest transition, and it’s the time that you need the most direction,” Braziel said.
For sophomore Aaron Willsey, many of the messages in Cullen’s lecture mirrored his personal life.
“Growing up, my dad was not always the nicest guy,” he said. “But what Maura helped me realize is that when I thought about it, my dad was just doing the best that he could with what he had. Cherish the people that you have while they are with you, like your family and your friends, because they won’t always be around.”
Cullen summarized the collective freshman class sentiment of exploration by calling for them to be proactive in their journeys, yet cautious.
“Please be careful with your decisions because they will change your destiny,” she said.