Over the years, I have learned to appreciate and adore the chaotic and rather stressful nature of my family. However, growing up I was able to see that, while I love my blood, their choices and ways of life were not necessarily what would be best for my future and me. My name is Shelby Elizabeth Davis, named after my father’s favorite car, the Shelby Mustang GT 500 Kr. Touching, I know. I like to think of myself as a barrier breaker. I’ll explain why.
To provide some background on my crazy and chaotic family, my personal family, or the “people whom we feel related and who we expect to define us as members of their family,” is relatively small (6). But, when including my legal family, or people who are related to me by “birth, marriage, or adoption,” my family almost triples (7). My mother and father were together until I was five years old and then became apart of the 40-50% of American couples who receive a divorce (American Psychological Association). While many children often face adversity because of split parents, with their households being seen as abnormal or odd to others with standard households, I was lucky enough to have others see the fact that I now would receive double of everything as something cool, considering we were five and didn’t fully understand the immensity of the situation. I recognize now my economic privilege in this situation, as my middle-class parents both had the money to provide for me and make the divorce seem slightly appealing in this materialistic way. It worked out for the best, though, because I enjoyed the fact that my family grew so big. I became part of two “family arenas,” or places where a family practices “intimacy, childbearing and socialization, and caring work,” as both my mother and father remarried (11). I now have a stepmother, stepfather, and half sister, although I dislike the term “half” sibling because I love her no less without that other half in the saying. My father and stepmother also took in my stepmother’s nephew, a teenager who falls in the 29% of 415,129 children that live in a relative’s home as a foster home (Child Welfare Information Gateway 2016). Meeting and living with him has opened my eyes to my economic privilege as well, as he came from an extremely lower-class household with a mother who passed due to a severe drug addiction. Things as simple as having three square meals a day and someone to care about whether or not he graduates from high school were immensely new and exciting for him, and they were all things I took for granted and just assumed others had. I also experienced the difficulty and frustration that comes with dealing with governmental institutions when he moved into our home and the Department of Children and Families’ visits became a part of my life in that household. I also have a half brother, but we are apart of the less than 5% of siblings who are completely estranged from each other because he resulted from a past relationship with my father (Eckel 2015).
Throughout high school, I made it a point to not fall into the discouraging and unhealthy cycles of my family. My grandmother, uncle, aunt, two cousins, and father all are included in the teenage parent category. A large portion of my family have also what could be called addictive personalities, with some falling victim to addiction like 23.5 million other Americans have (Join Together Staff 2010). This statement is in no way meant to criticize or judge teenage parents, I just simply do not see children in my future in general, let alone at a young age. I see myself joining the 46% of Americans who have dogs in their households rather than the 32% of households that have children (4). I also see the ways in which governmental, economic, and societal institutions stereotype these groups of people who are already struggling with enough adversity as it is, let alone to have the institutions that are supposed to help pass judgment, too. To stay away from bad influences that could have led me down the wrong path like some of my family members I kept myself busy. I invested a significant amount of time in my schoolwork, becoming third in my class and being accepted into Siena College. Being accepted into college, again, opened my eyes to my economic privilege as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the educational institutions in the United States. While I was privileged and came from a household wealthy enough to help me with student loans and paying tuition, I also realized the many unfair aspects of student loans and how the government and educational institutions seem to prey on those trying to better themselves through education. They take advantage of the fact that they know we will need higher education if we wish to better our lives, so they inflate costs and interest. While they may help you for the moment, they hurt you in the long run.
To get out some of my frustration and stress from school, I participated in numerous year-round softball teams and developed a passion for the game. I even took a chance and became a pitcher for my high school team, even though it was completely unlike me.
I usually liked to take a backseat when it came to leadership positions and allowed someone else to bare all of the responsibility. However, becoming a pitcher forced me to step outside my comfort zone and realize that, not only am I good under pressure, but I also am someone who others can rely on. However, I eventually ran into a coach who slowly deteriorated my love for the game, although I truly wish I hadn’t let him get to me. I would have loved to see who I would have been had I allowed myself to continue growing as a player. It was difficult for me to deal with his unfairness, though, and it is because of him that I first truly realized how privilege and positions of power affected others. The mother of the alternative pitcher he favored over me, despite my putting in my effort and commitment and having more pitches, happened to be on the board of softball for my city. Although it was an unfair and disheartening situation, it was a good lesson in realizing how, if her privilege affected me without her purposely doing so, how did my privilege affect others?
I am currently a sophomore at Siena College, majoring in political science and minoring in women’s studies and criminal justice.
I contribute to the roughly 32% of undergraduate college students who are the first generation in their family to go to college, as no one else in my immediate family had ever attended (Smith). Another barrier broken! My father grew up in a low-income household, ran by a single mother, where he learned that working with his hands and fixing things was more productive and pertinent to his lifestyle than homework and grades were. This was as a result of the economic and governmental institutions in place creating additional adversity for single mothers. Without a male’s income, the mother is left to either work multiple jobs to support her family, leaving her children unattended and undisciplined at times similarly to my father and his siblings, or receive governmental help and face the stereotypes that come with being a family receiving governmental aid. Although unaware at the time, dyslexia didn’t help my father’s resistance to mainstream schoolwork either.
These factors left college out of the question. My mother grew up in a middle-income, comfortable household where she excelled in mainstream education. Her privilege of not having to worry about work or contributing to a household income to keep the family afloat like my father had allowed her to focus specifically on her education and find employment after graduation, so college was unnecessary at the time.
It is in college that I discovered my passion for social justice and equality. Following my past experience on my softball team as well as the ever growingly obvious sexism that took place on college campuses, I began diving deeper and deeper into the ways I am privileged and the ways I can use my privilege to help others. As a white, middle class, educated, heterosexual female, my only true oppression is as a woman, although that is no small problem. I learned ways in which I could use my specific privileges to help others who are oppressed, motivating me to fight even harder for equality in all areas of society and the social world. It also motivated me to declare my women’s studies minor to gain the knowledge needed to fight for my rights as a woman and for equality, as feminism, or a studies and ideologies that seek “to understand and ultimately reduce inequality between men and women,” has become a part of how I identify myself (18). This is how I plan to break my final barrier with my family. My family is all heterosexual, all white, and extremely patriarchal. The men in the family make the most money in the household, control the money in the household, make a majority of the major decisions regarding the household, and expect the woman to comply with traditional wifely stereotypes. My uncle’s family is a traditional “breadwinner-homemaker family, an employed father, a non-employed mother, and their children,” and although my stepmother has a job, my father expects her to clean the house, care for us children, make dinner, etc. (17). I do not desire this type of family area, although there is nothing wrong with those who do. Instead, I would like to have a career that healthily competes with my husband. I do not absolutely have to make more money than my husband, especially since it is difficult with the wage gap, but I would like to hold a position somewhere that demonstrates my and other women’s abilities to be powerful and successful. I also do not plan on having children, a decision women are often judged for. Finally, I plan on asking my husband to participate and help out with activities that are normally seen as the wife’s sole responsibility, as well as plan to learn ways in which I can help my husband with activities viewed as solely the husband’s responsibility.
And that leads me up until today! It is easy to see how institutions, privilege, society, and my family have shaped my life and the person I am today. Although my family has made some mistakes and gone down roads they hope I choose better than, it is because of them that I have become the successful student and person I am today. And for that, regardless of our pasts, I am thankful!
Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Foster Care Statistics 2014.” Numbers and Trends. 2016. Accessed September 15, 2016. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/foster.pdf#page=3&view=Children%20in,%20entering,%20and%20exiting%20care.
Eckel, Sara. “Why Siblings Sever Ties.” Psychology Today. March 9, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201503/why-siblings-sever-ties.
Join Together Staff. “New Data Show Millions of Americans with Alcohol and Drug Addiction Could Benefit from Health Care R – Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. 2010. Accessed September 15, 2016. http://www.drugfree.org/new-data-show-millions-of-americans-with-alcohol-and-drug-addiction-could-benefit-from-health-care-r/.
“Marriage and Divorce.” Accessed September 15, 2016. http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/.
Smith, Nicole. “First Generation College Students.” Georgetown University. McCourt School of Public Policy. http://www.cic.edu/meetings-and-events/Leadership-Development/Documents/ELA-resources/First%20Generation%20College%20Students.pdf