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Guest Column: Marshall Cohen

Marshall Cohen

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Every freshmen entering NU has the opportunity to start college with a clean slate. With nearly 2,000 freshman and 6,500 other undergraduates, it is easy to just blend in with the crowd and adopt a comMonday, likeable personality.

However, after attending two mandatory Essential NU freshman sessions, I am convinced that this freshman class, and perhaps this entire generation, is composed of people who have the courage to present themselves as who they really are.

Simply being yourself is a daunting task. Judgment is everywhere-obvious and subconscious. Just acting like yourself and sharing your sincere thoughts with a group of new friends can be a challenge. This is why I was surprised and shocked to witness many brave freshmen reveal intimate details about themselves during Essential NU: Mosaic.

Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington hosted the interactive presentation about diversity and a sense of campus community. The most emotionally charged part of his presentation involved Dr. Washington announcing various identifying characteristics and then inviting students to stand up if they wished to share that the attributes applied to them. The entire exercise was completed in silence, as per his request.

The preacher started off with relatively simple categories that garnered heavy response. “I am from Illinois” or “I am an Asian American.”

Then he moved on to more personal issues, including “I am a recovering drug addict,” “Violence was a problem in my household” and “I identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender.” Students, though in smaller numbers than during the earlier prompts, stood up each time.

Some people gasped quietly when they heard Dr. Washington prompt, “I am a survivor of sexual assault or incest” and “I attempted suicide.” As most people looked around the auditorium, a few students rose from their seats.

The tension in the room was palpable, but it took several minutes for the significance of what just happened to sink in for most students.

Modern technology makes conforming simple. Instant messengers allow students to converse without tone, and Facebook enables people to project only the image of themselves that they want others to see-both literally and figuratively-based on what they have in their profile.

Experts and water-cooler theorists frequently propose that computers and modern technology are isolating young people from one another, destroying communication and social skills.

After watching many students reveal extremely personal details about their lives in front of more than 1,000 virtual strangers, I know that courage and communication are still alive and vibrant in the Northwestern community.

Marshall Cohen is a Medill freshman. He can be reached at marshallcohen2014@u.northwestern.edu.

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