As a freshman, I’ve found my first semester of college to be one of the most overwhelming and rewarding growing experiences I’ve ever encountered: meeting more people than I ever have before, navigating the vast sea of people that is our student population and taking classes that twisted my perspective and seemed to challenge every assumption I had once held as truth. As a result, my worldview has shifted; my beliefs have become more robust. Having opinions about social and political issues has become less of a lazy, automatic reflex and more of a thoughtful, deliberate action. I came home for winter break carrying with us an identity that’s undergone a kind of collegiate evolution.

This happens to many freshmen: the first semester of college knocks them off their feet, creating the potential for a trip home for winter break that might be a little weird, spending extended amounts of time with friends and family who only knew you pre-first semester.

As I mentioned before, one of the biggest changes I’ve experienced in my first semester is that my opinions have grown stronger, which has allowed me to have more confidence in them and be more willing to share them. For example, having been exposed to the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, I’ve become more acutely aware of sexism that can sometimes find its way into everyday conversation. I’ve always been an advocate of gender equality, but now more than ever, I see it as an issue that needs as many voices as possible. If a friend makes a sexist remark and doesn’t realize it’s sexist, I’ve learned how to playfully point out its discriminatory nature.

People are pretty open to that sort of thing around here; those conversations have always taken place with friends and fellow students who are open to different experiences and new perspectives. But what happens when we go home, where we’re surrounded by family members who aren’t university students, who aren’t taking classes that challenge their ways of thinking, who aren’t immersed in the exploratory, socially and politically active campus that we are? What happens when an older family member, someone you’ve grown up respecting and would feel disrespected if contradicted, makes an out-of-the-closet joke right in front of you? Are you supposed to abandon all of the work you’ve done forming opinions, making arguments and peacefully advocating what you think is just for the sake of keeping the peace?

I’ve experienced this problem before, the problem of being surrounded by people I love unconditionally but sometimes seem to stand against what I believe is right. It seems absurd that two things so personal to me can be so frustratingly contradictory. People always talk about family and heritage being what a person is made of, but what happens when “what we’re made of” doesn’t seem to be what we are?

It boils down to a puzzle with which people have been grappling for a long time, one that each person continues to grapple with throughout life: the apparent dissonance between background and self. A dissonance, in the musical sense of the word, is “a clashing or unresolved musical interval or chord,” a simple lack of agreement.

But when one’s family doesn’t reflect oneself, it doesn’t necessarily mean that person’s family isn’t what makes them who they are. Maybe the fact that a dissonance occurs is what defines that person in however minor or major ways. We are, to a certain extent, a product of our experiences, and in this way, these uncomfortable experiences with those we love are part of what makes us who we are.

The solution may not be to start a heated moral or political debate at a family dinner because ultimately, it probably won’t go over well. Perhaps simply stating one’s opinion in a subtle and non-confrontational way is an appropriate way to hold true to one’s morals and attitudes while still maintaining the respect integral in certain family relationships.

Even if this does not go over well, it is consoling to remember that family is what makes us who we are, to the extent that our collective experiences are what make us who we are. To fellow freshmen and anyone else who has recently felt this way, remind yourself every now and then that our ability to control how we react to what seems like a dissonance with our families and our identities can make the discomfort of winter break festivities feel a little less like a punch to the chest.

Regan Detwiler is an Assistant Editorial Page Editor and an LSA freshman.

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