[Note: It’s a privilege to write reference letters for colleagues and friends. Occasionally we in the church are invited to offer “charges” to new pastors or their congregations with advice and reminders. Nobody has asked me to offer charges to sorority girls, retired pastors, or pastor search committees, but that’s my plan before leaving for vacation.]
Last week I wrote a reference letter for a young woman who will be going through sorority rush this fall as a college freshman. She is great!
Very bright. Effervescent, Gifted in music and sports. So kind.
But as I wrote her letter, my stomach started to churn a little bit. My young friend is from the Midwest and she’s going to a college in the Southeast where the young female students have the reputation of being thin, blonde, and “from there.” My friend is cute and even blonde, but she’s not from there – geographically or culturally.
Her last name might sound “foreign” because her father hails from the Middle East. His first name is Arabic. And in fact, I think he’s Muslim. My friend is Christian, but she knows and loves a lot of people who are not.
I went to college with you and was one of you – sort of. I never had a wasp-like waistline but I was a WASP. I never had a trust fund or the money to use Laszlo skin care products, but I had enough to cover the annual dues. I didn’t go to private school but was blessed to graduate from an excellent public high school.
So, after I sent off the reference letter, I shot a quick note to her, wearing both my mother hat and my Southerner hat, letting her know that
- People can be mean, so don’t let the mean ones ever make you believe you are not amazing,
- Southern people can be parochial and some still don’t understand why waving the Confederate flag is a problem, and
- Southern college kids can be clueless, especially in fraternities and sororities, and especially when drinking adult beverages.
As I write this letter, I totally realize that college girls do not read this blog, and so I am depending on my friends and colleagues who are the mothers and grandmothers and friends of teen-aged and college-aged young Southern women. Maybe you could have a conversation with the young Southerners in your lives.
Please ask those young people to be kind to those who are Not Like Them. There is a pack mentality in college, especially in sororities and fraternities, and those packs are often exclusive. And mean.
I am one of those Southerners who prays – every time a White supremacist kills a Sikh or young straight men kill young gay men – that the perpetrators don’t have Southern accents. Please God. And I doubly pray that the perpetrators don’t self-identify as Christian.
But the truth is that my young friend from the Midwest will almost certainly experience something less than Southern hospitality when she goes to college in the Southeast because she will be perceived to be different, culturally.
Please let’s teach our children that talking about Southern Hospitality and knowing the stories about hospitality in the Bible do not make us hospitable, even to our friends, much less to strangers.
And may God protect those who are different as they head off to college this fall.
Your sister, Jan