Education and the Community of Humanity: An Interview with Sharline Dominguez ‘16

An interconnected world needs an interconnected education. When explaining her purpose of an Amherst education, Sharline Dominguez ’16 stresses the importance of being an active participant in the communities that she is a part of, as well as the importance of interacting with communities that she is not a part of. Her education is not limited to the boundaries of the Amherst classroom. In a world where our actions affects others in ways that we might not be aware of, an education that enables us to address global issues is crucial. We, as individuals of different communities, all belong within the community of humanity.

But is our education doing enough to help us learn what it means to be a part of humanity? During our interview, Sharline said, “I have to be very aware of the fact that my education is not the center of my life. I love learning, but there others things I have to worry about as a human being.” Her fascinating comment brought up questions that I had about our education. Why does there seem to be a gap between being educated and being a human being? How can Amherst improve in educating the whole person, and not just our intellectual selves? Would there be less of a distinction between our education and our lives?

At a time when we’re developing our various identities, how can our education help us find ourselves in the community of humanity?

VM: What is the purpose of your Amherst education?

SD: At this point, I think the purpose of my Amherst education is to become more of a critical thinker and more of an active participant, not only in this community as an intellectual, but in every community that I’ll be part of and am a part of right now. My Amherst education has helped feel more confident in what I believe in. I’m never really scared to express myself to others who are not part of this community and to stand by issues that I really care about.

VM: What communities are you a part of?

SD: I’m part of the MRC [Multicultural Resource Center], the writer/artist, the Dominican, and the New York community. I don’t think of my communities as one that’s only limited to this space. A community can be a safe space, but it’s also a space where I am supposed to feel uncomfortable. It motivates me to think outside of the box and not be complicit with the way things are.

VM: How does your education relate to your life?

SD: I’ve always been a good student, and I’ve always asked “dangerous” questions that push things further, but it really wasn’t until I got here that I realized that I’m actually the one forming my own education, not only in classroom, but also outside of it. Relating my education here in and out of the classroom is a lifelong process. I’m willing to tackle that, and I am tackling that right now.

Trying to explain the significance of my Amherst education to my family comes with its challenges, [like] trying to explain to my mom [that] I’m an American Studies major with a concentration in Latino/a studies. She doesn’t understand and I don’t think she will until she sees that I have a job, on my feet doing my thing.

VM: Do we all have a larger, common purpose at Amherst?

SD: Although I’d like to think there is a larger purpose here, I cannot speak for everyone. Even though Terras Irradient is supposed to be our common purpose, there are so many different interpretations of that mission. I don’t know if there has been a common purpose yet.

VM: What does Terras Irradient mean to you?

SD: I think that as students, we like to think that we can light the world because we’re these amazing super human beings. That’s cool, but we also have to be aware that there’s a larger world out there. Terras Irradient is something that we can live by at Amherst, but I don’t know if we can live by it right way when we go out into the “real world.” It’s a big phrase and it has that connotation of saving which I have a problem with, because I’ve seen it happen in marginalized communities. I don’t like the way it looks and the way that people feel about it in face of all this saving. That may be just me with my historical critical lens. I’m figuring out how I can help, but not in a paternalistic, condescending way.

VM: What is a historical critical lens?

SD: A historical critical lens is not only viewing phenomena, people, and events through not only the present, but also in years past. I like to view history from the bottom-up perspective, and learning about social movements [through] the working class. A lot of history books are written by people in power. Power likes to do the naming, but it never names itself.

VM: How did your education change your perspective on life?

SD: In my history class called “Struggles for Democracy in Modern Latin America, 1820 to the Present,” we’re talking about the histories of the popular revolutions that have happened in Latin American and the U.S. influence on all of that. Even though I’m reading about these things, I’m not satisfied. People are still dying in Latin America. There are still very deep socioeconomic inequalities. But I’m here.

I emigrated from the Dominican Republic when I was three [years old] with my family to escape [from] economic problems. Even though I live here now, my heart is still out there. I didn’t realize that until taking this class, and that’s a good thing, but it’s also very sad because it took me to get into academia for me to realize that, when I think that should have happened long ago.

My education here has really impacted the way I view my life very personally, because there’s a huge difference between reading about something and actually going to the country and experiencing it. But I still have an internal struggle. There are a lot of people who don’t have opportunities [for education], so there is that sense of guilt in my learning in general. It would be interesting to see if other students feel that way, regardless of socioeconomic class, race, or anything.

VM: I think that being here, having an education, and learning about these issues already puts us in a privileged position because we’re not directly experiencing all of that suffering. But do you think that it gives you an ability to help in some way, or a better sense of responsibility?

SD: Absolutely a better sense of responsibility, but I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s [good] to go and help, because that’s not my place. I’m very fortunate to be getting an education here, but I’m aware of the fact that there are people who haven’t had an education, or don’t believe in it and have different ways of looking at life. I have to be prepared to step outside of my privileged position and realize that I’m more than just my education. There are so many different identities that I need to learn how to own before I can really impact other people. I think I need to figure out who I am first.

VM: Is figuring out who you are something that you will constantly refine?

SD: I think it’s something I’m constantly refining. This is a process, and again there is guilt. I housed Haitian students from this YMCA program when I was in New York City. I know that education is everything for them. For them, it’s a mode of survival. For me, it’s a form of moving up the social ladder and making something of myself. I have to be very aware of the fact that my education is not the center of my life. I love learning, but there others things I have to worry about as a human being.

VM: What kinds of identities are you developing?

SD: I’m developing my identity as a woman, a family member, an activist (even with that label I have some problems), a citizen, a community organizer, and a religious person. I think that [when] being educated here, we forget about our spiritual self. All [of] these [identities] are different parts of refining who I am.

It’s very emotionally draining. A lot of adults don’t realize that when they give us a lot of work and these high expectations at Amherst. I don’t think they realize there so much growing and forming of our character that we’re doing outside of class. Sometimes they think we’re only academics, but there’s just so much. Sometimes everyone’s excuse is “I don’t have enough time,” and I hate that shit because all we have is time. How do you not have time?

VM: How did your values change at Amherst?

SD: When I go home, I try to be the Sharline that I was with my family, but they don’t always see me that way. When I went home for spring break, my sister said, “You’re so serious, you’re like a revolutionary leader now. You’re too academic, you need to tone it down now.” I’m in a new place now, so my values have changed. I learned how to have relationships with other people who are different from me. Meeting people I disagree with has been a big part of my experience here. But there’s also a part of me that wants to keep the person I was before. We have to learn how to navigate through different worlds.