My fingers passively pounded the keys of my MacBook as I completed an endless stream of surveys geared toward college freshmen. These cliche surveys are instrumental in any institution’s aiding of the transition into college life. One of Gettysburg College’s staple “surveys,” which I had just finished completing, is the choosing of a First Year Seminar.
For non-Gettysburgians, a First Year Seminar or FYS is a seminar designed for first semester college freshmen to sharpen critical thinking, technological, and writing skills. The seminar is lead by a professor and is centered around a topic of the professor’s choice. During the summer before freshman year, students pick five topics they would like to study. Weeks later, they will be alerted which seminar they have been placed into.
Returning to my thoughts: I let my fingers skim the keys once more as I submitted the five topics I desired. In due time I received an email with my placement. To my delight, I had been placed in my second choice seminar, one that not only interested me but would open up my eyes to a part of life that I had never explored before.
As my First Year Seminar, I would be a part of Professor Fee’s “Tryin’ to find a Way Back Home: Introduction to Homelessness in America.” Aside from immediate excitement, the email brought upon several questions. After all, why is homelessness such a growing issue, why did my classmates enroll in this seminar, and why on Earth would one professor be so passionate about homelessness in America?
Taking my own initiative to answer these questions, I began by hitting Google the next day (as any millennial would), and the results I got were bone-chilling. According to “The State of Homelessness in America” report of 2016, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness on a cold night in January, with another 48.2 million living in poverty. Despite the urgency of both America’s homelessness rate and poverty rate, the .5 million homeless Americans went unheard of in my 18 years of life, as well as in my 4 years of high school education. Another fact absent from my high school curriculum is the 2 million homeless youth, 20,000 of whom are forced into human trafficking. While I packed my bags for college with Mac and Cheese cups and school supplies, 57% of homeless youth were going without food once a month, 25% were going from foster homes to the streets, and 50% were exiting juvenile systems and entering homelessness.
I moved on to my next answer and began messaging with my classmates. I discovered that they too had enrolled in Professor Fee’s FYS to learn more about homelessness–a subject that their schools didn’t cover. What high school failed to teach us by ignoring homelessness is that we have thousands of peers internationally that struggle to obtain what is considered a necessity. Each calculus credit and history paper was void of discussion of the homeless population, much less resources to get involved or acknowledgement of those who are involved.
Suddenly, I understood Professor Fee’s interest, but I still needed to hear his answers as to why he began teaching the seminar. After a brief conversation with Professor Fee, I discovered that his interest in homelessness began in a gritty soup kitchen in Cleveland, Ohio. With just a small bit of exposure, Professor Fee was inspired by his high school experience to take advantage of the Center of Public Service at Gettysburg College. Over the years 1999 to 2001, Professor Fee participated in immersion trips (service trips) to D.C. What he discovered was that students enjoyed learned about homelessness but lacked the resources, as the trip was “heavy on service, but light on learning.” Soon after, Professor Fee began formulating a seminar around homelessness in America that included out-of-class requirements, including a shorter version of the immersion trips that spiked his interest. Using service hours, literature, and a 4-day trip based at N-Street Village at Luther Place in Washington, DC, as center points, the class focuses on addressing unsavory images and cliches about the homeless, as well as how to act upon the problem.
By simply enrolling in Professor Fee’s class, I opened my eyes to a population of America that is often overlooked, and I no longer take a warm bed or cooked meal for granted.
The summer before my Freshman year of college, I learned more about the value of life than I did during high school.
As my classmates and I continue to enrich ourselves through our trip to DC, involvement in the community, and taking action towards understanding homelessness in America, I encourage you to do the same.
Resourceful Links and students blogs:
Sources: Covenanthouse.org endhomelessness.org