Learning and Listening While Walking Backwards (But Not Really)

Campus Visits has given me so much over the last three years. In part, this includes public speaking skills, six free shirts, many free meals, the ability to walk backwards, and some of my best friends.
In our office especially, a huge emphasis is placed on “shared experiences.” That is, sharing our IUPUI experiences with guests in such a way that they feel it could also be part of their experience one day or can imagine themselves as part of our community.
Little did I know when I started that the guests would sometimes be sharing their experiences with me and I’d learn more about my community and environment surrounding my college bubble than anywhere else.
Campus Visits has also given me invaluable insight in the various school systems of Indianapolis and Indiana in general as well as insight into the minds and hearts of kids of all ages. I’ve given tours to township elementary schools, IPS middle schools, Carmel/Fishers high schools, and every possible iteration of the above.
As you can imagine, the feel of these tours is incredibly unique depending on the demographics of the group in question.
As such, I’d like anyone who struggles with stereotyping and preconceptions to take over our job for awhile.
Because yes, in general the inner city IPS schools are a little more rough around the edges. In general, the middle school kids are the hardest to keep control of. In general, the elementary school kids have a much shorter attention span.
But in all three of the above groups, OFTEN they are far more interested in what I am saying, have better questions, and are more enthusiastic about college and the information they are intaking than the more “desirable” groups from better areas. Or the high school seniors who should care but don’t and actively show it with their lack of eye contact and stubborn silence.
I would take a group of rowdy middle school kids who ask good questions and laugh at my jokes over quiet high school kids who stare at me with blank disinterested faces any day.
I’d also like to encourage anyone who has an issue with dismissing kids or ignoring them as “stupid” to go on a tour.
Last week I had a group of elementary students (5th/6th grade) that was probably in the top three tours I’ve ever given bar none. Elementary kids are difficult to plan a tour for because they’re not old enough to care about things like the FAFSA, but you want to give them a good idea of what college is like and all about so that that impression sticks with them until they start thinking about it more their junior/senior year of high school. I wish I could’ve taped this particular tour so you all could see the excitement on the kids’ faces as they heard about possible majors they had never heard of before. Or as they marvelled at the fact there’s a Chik-fil-a on campus (it really is the little things).
I wish you could’ve seen the little freckled girl with glasses. And that’s not just because she was basically my twin from when I was younger. I wish you heard her ask me throughout the tour when we were going to see the library and then as we walked through it, seen her wide-eyed gaping at everything and hear her (what seemed like) a hundred questions about the kinds of books we have and where you can read on campus etc.
I wish you could’ve heard the boy (who had been diligently writing down notes the entire tour) quietly walk up beside me and ask if bullying was a problem at college because, “I have ADHD and I’m smart which is two strikes against me.” This is a statement I never want to hear from A TEN YEAR OLD ever again. I about lost it but I was very proud to inform him that no, college and especially IUPUI does not have a bullying problem and we love smart people around here.
I wish you could’ve heard another kid tell me he wanted to be like his mom and study at the Herron School of Art and Design here. THAT’S the level of excitement and innocence that makes up for a thousand pissed off/moody teenagers from privileged neighborhoods, who take for granted the fact they get to wear their Ugg boots on tour (YES THAT HAPPENED IN SEPTEMBER WHAT IS WRONG WITH FASHION THESE DAYS) and complain that they’re hungry and then go back to their top-tier education they’re blessed to have simply because of where they can afford to live.
Or the tour today for a gaggle of 5th-grade girls from (that is the correct term right?). When I asked them who liked to write (this is usually an iffy prospect at best), nearly the entire group of 30+ shot their hands in the air. We had a million questions about everything from how to become a doctor to if the teachers are nice. The fact that this is a concern among 5th graders is also somewhat disturbing. Whereas many parents and older students scoff at the renovations going on in the Natatorium right now, these girls were amazed at the size of the facility. They saw the big picture, not the current griminess and I loved it.
I’m a tour guide. It’s stressful. It’s hard work. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. I’m an orator. I am, in some ways, a teacher. I’m a fount of knowledge (that’s probably the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written). I’m also a glorified babysitter at times.
College in general is eye-opening and expands your horizons. But my job has given me access to a part of Indianapolis and Indiana that I don’t think I ever would have experienced in such a unique way anywhere else.
So in addition to the above, contrary to my entire job description that requires me to talk for two hours on end, I am also simply a learner and a listener.
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