Monday, October 23, 2017
Interview by: Natalie Phillips
September 30, 2017
Deborah Johnson is an Oberlin College student from Chicago. She is a Politics major, co-president of Oberlins slam poetry team, a Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct trainer, a Peer Advising Leader, and a member of the And What!? dance team. Besides her extensive on-campus work and volunteerism, Deborah works within the Oberlin community as a tutor for the Ninde Scholars Program in Oberlin High School.
Q: Tell me what work you do in the Oberlin community.
A: Im a Ninde tutor, so Im partnered up with two high-schoolers who I meet up with twice a week and for additional workshops. We do work around college applications, content tutoring, and just serve as a mentor.
Q: What interested you about working in the Oberlin community?
A: I realized I really wanted to go into education my sophomore year and I felt like working in the high school would be a great opportunity. I volunteered at the Chicago Public Library when I was in high school and that was something that made me really happy so I wanted to continue that here.
"There are a lot of different voices coming from the town that you wouldnt expect."
Q: What have you found to be distinctive about working in the Oberlin community compared to volunteer work youve done elsewhere?
A: Well, in comparison to the college, which is predominantly white, the town is extremely diverse, and I would say just as diverse as Chicago, and going to the high school makes me feel like Im back at my old high school. I would say in the town theres a lot more happening and there are a lot of different voices coming from the town that you wouldnt expect.
Q: Have there been specific experiences youve had or aspects of working with Ninde that been particularly special?
A: Yeah, I love working for the Ninde program, and its given me a really great chance to get to know families within the community better, but I think my favorite thing that Ive done was college essay night. We go to the high school and we work with different students on their college essays and help them figure out what they want to write about and how they want to tell their stories. It was just really exciting listening to these high schoolers talk about what theyre the most passionate about and things that have been hard for them. I think when were in the college we dont have a big opportunity to work with young people - it just makes me really happy.
"[It's] important to volunteer in the community youre in because then you feel more grounded in the community."
Q: What have you gained from your volunteer work at Ninde that has impacted your life?
A: I think its affirmed that I really do want to go into education work. Its also reminded me how important it is to volunteer in the community youre in because then you feel more grounded in the community. If I hadnt been working at the high school I would have never biked out there. Going around Oberlin, seeing different places, and feeling a stronger connection to where you actually are...I think as Oberlin students were only here for a temporary period of time and working within the community allows us to root ourselves more and also feel useful and give back.
Q: What have you learned about the Oberlin community that you might not have known otherwise?
A: I can talk about the high school specifically - the high school has so many amazing programs, they have an amazing art program, they are a full IB school and they really provide a lot of curriculum choices for their students. The public library also does a lot and students always go there, and I feel like college students dont go there that often. I think the biggest thing Ive learned is how many things are happening in the community. Theres a theater program that I never knew of that so many of the high school students are in. So just learning about whats offered in this town. Also I think its reminded me the charm of the college town is the college can give so many resources to the town and spaces for students to grow and thats really cool and distinct to towns that have colleges.
Q: What words would you use to describe this community, or the high school? I know its difficult to generalize from the high school to the community.
A: Id say welcoming. Theyre constantly working to better the high school and really provide the students the best thing possible. Really creative. There are lots of awesome programs there.
Q: How has feeling rooted, like you mentioned, impacted your experience in college?
A: Yeah, I think because I volunteer in town, I feel like I get a different side of Oberlin that other students dont get. I only started working for Ninde last year, so I could immediately feel a difference compared to my first two years, I felt very insular within the college sphere, and I think working in town, working with people within the community, reminds me that theres a place outside of Oberlin College and thats changed everything. I think at Oberlin sometimes we care a lot about whats going on within our own lives and it feels really good to feel like were living somewhere and interacting with people from other places.
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