Finding Home In Tallahassee

I didn’t intend to live my life in Tallahassee.  I’m not sure exactly where I expected to spend my days, but I know it wasn’t in a small Southern city that’s about 200 miles off the beaten path to anywhere.  I’ve moved away several times, but keep finding myself back in this somewhat sleepy town.  At this point in my life, it’s where I’ve lived longer than anyplace else.  For better or worse, it’s become home to me.

When I came to Tallahassee in January 1988, I was 23 years old and I told people I was moving to attend Florida State University.  In reality, I was seeking to escape the social conservativism and the lack of opportunity of Pensacola.  I came with almost no money, no place to live, and no job.  I had a friend here, so I slept on his floor for a few weeks while I got a job and found a place to live.  I registered for classes at FSU, but could only take two because that’s all I could afford.

Our dining room table has hosted many wonderful dinners.
Our dining room table has hosted many wonderful dinners.

Those were great days.  I met interesting people from all over the world at FSU, many who remain valued friends. I explored the campus and Tallahassee. I  found places like the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, treated myself to whatever books they recommended at Rubyfruit Books, ate dinner at Morrison’s Cafeteria whenever I could afford it, and expanded my culinary tastes at the Pocket Sandwich Emporium where I got my first taste of humus.  Through the campus I was exposed to the arts, ranging from the depressing films of French Cinema to raucous musical theatre performances, to poetry readings at the Warehouse on Gaines Street, when it was still an undeveloped warehouse district.

My life in Tallahassee has blossomed beyond my wildest expectations.  A few years after landing here, I met a woman at the synagogue whom I would marry 10 years later.  We just celebrated our 15th anniversary.  Our home is not just where we live, but a vessel of artifacts from the life we’ve lived together.  Pieces of pottery and art are collected from trips we’ve taken.  Photographs are scattered throughout the house of the people we love, such as childhood pictures of nieces and nephews who are now grown adults.  Looking at our dining room table, I recall the memories of the many dinners shared there with friends and family and hear the echoes of the stories and jokes we shared.  Beyond the walls of our house, I have decades-long friendships with many people in the local community.  I have been a member of my synagogue for more than 20 years, and I have been entrusted to be the current president.  I have my friends from the Rotary club, the legal community, and even some old friends from my days flying airplanes.

For years home was a small town in upstate New York
For years home was a small town in upstate New York

What makes us call a place home? Is it simply time spent in a location, property ownership, or the fact that our possessions are collected there?  For much of my life, I identified home as a small town in upstate New York.  My family had deep roots in the local community, having lived there for more than 100 years. With a large town square shaded by massive elm trees, it was an almost idyllic place to be a child.   It’s the kind of place that doesn’t change much.   I’ve gone back to visit many times, but I don’t know if I’m going to do that again.  Our old homestead is still there, as are many of the people whom I knew growing up, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore. The reality is that blight killed the elm trees, the old homestead has been somebody else’s house for more than 35 years, and while old friends will give me a polite “Hello”, there’s nobody there who longs to see me anymore.

I suppose that if someone forced me to define what makes a place home I would say it’s the place where we find connection. It’s where people look for our presence as part of their definition of the place.  It’s a place where we can see our lives and our worth reflected back to us.

Is Segregation Returning to Campus?

Atlantic Monthly reports that the University of Connecticut has opened a dorm specifically for black men. At a community college outside Chicago courses are being offered that are limited to only black students.  In California, at Pitzer College, conflict has erupted over the issue of black students advertising for roommates stating that only people of color were welcome to apply.  Are these efforts evidence of colleges and universities doing what is necessary to meet the needs of black students, or are they a new form of segregation?  The answer depends upon who you ask.  Supporters of the separate courses and living accommodations say that they’re necessary to create a safe environment and supportive environment for black students.  Critics say that, regardless of the motives, separate classes and accommodations are a step backwards and a revival of the segregation that it took our nation so long to outlaw.

Legally, these programs raise what I see to be interesting and challenging questions.  Courts view classification based upon race as suspect and subject to strict scrutiny review. Generally, you have to have a compelling interest and a narrowly tailored intervention when making any kind of a race based classification where any form of state action or commerce is involved.  I suspect that a single race dorm may not pass constitutional muster with the Courts regardless of the justification.  However, specialized programs designed to promote academic success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be an easier sell.

Is the idea of a non-white dorm for the purpose of creating a safe space for students of color completely ridiculous?  As a white male it is very tempting for me to say “absolutely”. Honestly, I find the idea that someone might want a safe space away from me to be somewhat offensive. Additionally, I am certain that an attempt to create a white’s only dorm would be universally condemned, a condemnation that I would fully support.  But when you think about it, maybe it’s not so ridiculous. Certainly, we have a long tradition of single gender dorms.  Sober dorms are becoming popular on campuses as more young people find themselves struggling with substance abuse problems.  Some campuses have kosher dorms or kosher dining halls.  We have entire institutions that cater to a single gender, or students from a specific religious background.

One issue that comes up for me as I think about these issues is the difference between programs that are directed towards the needs of students coming from diverse backgrounds, and those that exclude or limit participation in those programs based upon definitions of race or ethnicity.  For instance, a university can have a kosher dining hall that is open to all.  A school can offer classes in Latino history or issues that are open to all. A school can have a program to promote success of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which can include white students from economically deprived communities.  A dormitory for a specific race, while I understand that desire for a “safe space”, seems to me to be a step backward and leaves me questioning whether or not the needs of students of color can be met in a way that doesn’t take us back to the era of segregation.

Our nation had a century-long unsuccessful experience with separate but equal.  Time and time again our Courts and other branches of our government tried to make segregation work based upon the premise that somehow you can make separate equal if you just tweak right.  It was only after failing time and time again that our Courts gave up and declared that separate could never be equal.  Of course, there is another possibility that may exist.  While it may be true that separate can never be equal, if proponents of segregated housing and classes are correct, then integration may not be equal either.

Lastly, one has to recall that one of the fundamental purposes and values of a college education is exposure to the larger world and a challenging of one’s beliefs and perspectives on the world.  Is this purpose and value lost when we deliberately create an environment that allows students to avoid people and ideas that make them uncomfortable? Perhaps, more importantly, do safe spaces become places where students reinforce each other’s prejudices.  Consider the report in the Washington Post where a Jewish student of color attended one campus conference that purported to be a “safe space” and found herself confronted with holocaust denial and anti-Semitism that sent her running from the event in tears.

Frankly, I can’t see how creating segregated spaces promotes tolerance and acceptance among students. Instead, I can see it working reinforce the divisions that separate individuals and groups.  If this is the case, I have serious doubt that the students will emerge from these schools with the skills needed to survive in the increasingly pluralistic world they will soon graduate into.








Annual Birthday Post – 52 Things I’ve Learned in 52 Years

52 Things I’ve learned in 52 Years

  1. It doesn’t matter if popcorn does sometimes get stuck in my teeth requiring a dental visit to remove it, I’m not giving up popcorn.
  2. Don’t tell people, show them.
  3. Happiness is a function of what I pay attention to.
  4. Millennials are much more fun to hang around than my generation.
  5. If you don’t know anything about sailboats, don’t rely on a book to tell you how to inspect it, hire someone, it’s worth the money.
  6. There is a visceral reward to a paper book that’s lost for me with an e-reader.
  7. Whatever it is, let it go.
  8. Bloodlust rules the American criminal justice system.
  9. Some people become an expert on everything the minute they sign onto Facebook.
  10. Opposing counsel isn’t always the enemy.
  11. The phrase “Not my monkeys, not my circus” care spare one a lot of heartache.
  12. Regular oil changes greatly reduce the maintenance costs and extend the life of a car.
  13. Let others create their own story.
  14. The civil jury trial is disappearing.
  15. My friends from my 20’s who have remained in my life are one of life’s most precious gifts.
  16. It’s impossible to conduct a public prayer in a secular organization that doesn’t leave someone feeling marginalized.
  17. Boats and airplanes are magical devices that give us a new perspective on the world.
  18. When you reduce someone to a single dimension, you miss the opportunity to see the whole person and the divinity that exists within them.
  19. It is cruel how people stand in judgment of how the poor bear their burdens.
  20. Next time you start to denigrate lawyers, remember that your civil rights only exist because somewhere there’s a trial lawyer who fought to have that right recognized and is ready to stand by your side again when that right is threatened.
  21. Train travel is much better than air, except when crossing oceans.
  22. The Chautauqua Institution Bookstore is a gem that’s way better than Amazon.
  23. Television robs us of the moments of our lives.
  24. The American experiment with universal suffrage doesn’t seem to be going so well right now.
  25. Robots may put us all out of work in a generation.
  26. Women don’t escape misogyny by being educated or in a professional career and often suffer as much from other women as they do from men.
  27. History will regard the drug war and overuse of incarceration as one of the great human-rights violations of our time.
  28. Exploring the world with my dog keeps me sane.
  29. Used sparingly and at the proper time, augmented chords really bring life to a tune.
  30. I once took the shoes off young man before taking him to the morgue after he’d been killed in a car accident. Remember, you never know who may be taking off your shoes tonight.  There are no guarantees.
  31. If you see duct tape on sale, buy it. You can never have too much.
  32. Sobriety is a gift that not everyone gets to experience.
  33. Forgive for your sake, even if you think the other person doesn’t deserve it.
  34. I’ve only begun to explore the cooking potential of rice.
  35. It’s true that people will sometimes disappoint you, but remember sometimes you drop the ball too.
  36. Great songs are really just stories.
  37. Not everyone sees new prayer books as an improvement.
  38. You can reduce your stress level by simply ignoring the news.
  39. Blaze Pizza is the coolest thing to happen in food in years.
  40. Truth, even when messy, is compelling.
  41. Fail quickly, learn the lesson, move on.
  42. We’re much more adaptable than we realize.
  43. The words “Uncle David” are music to my ears.
  44. Someday, Walmart will go the way of W.T. Grant, Montgomery Ward, Zayre, and Woolworths.
  45. Great comedy lets us acknowledge the uncomfortable truths about life and the world.
  46. No matter how many hats I own, there’s always one special one that calls to me more than all the others.
  47. I simply cannot watch the ending of “Marley and Me” ever again.
  48. You can’t sail upwind with a genoa (a type of sail) that doesn’t fit your boat no matter how hard you try.
  49. I’ve never forgotten the stories my grandparents told me about outhouses, rumble seats, and one-room school houses.
  50. Religion isn’t dead, but most congregations that currently exist probably won’t be here in 30 years.
  51. We were lied to: Walton’s Mountain is really just a hill south of the Ventura Freeway. The Hollywood sign is on the other side.
  52. The only explanation is that there are special receptors in my brain for Thai food.