Community Is Created, Not Found | Zach Raetzman

Four years ago, I came to Emory closeted and alone. Luckily, in my time at Emory, I have had the immense privilege of building strong communities in which I feel comfortable living authentically. This began with my very first days on campus, beginning in my first floor meeting. I couldn’t tell you what policies were talked about, but I do remember one intentional action taken to make people feel included: asking for pronouns.

Coming from a homogenous community, I had never heard anyone ask someone for their pronouns. So, at first, I was somewhat taken aback that it had been asked without explanation. But, it had sent a powerful message: In our community, we intentionally make people feel welcome and included, without disclaimer.

I found this message extremely powerful, and carried it with me when I applied to be a sophomore adviser. I was placed in what (at the time) I thought was objectively the worst place to live: Dobbs Hall. Knowing no one but my roommate and scared of small rooms, cockroaches and rumors of mold, I almost declined the position.

Thankfully, I didn’t. During my two years at Dobbs, I helped create the strongest community that I had ever had. From long nights gossiping in the parlor to GroupMe messages begging for help killing roaches, the Dobbs staff actively and consistently sought each other out. This taught me a second lesson that I will continue to carry with me: Community isn’t created on accident; it’s created by collective effort. I’ll forever be grateful for this collective effort, not only for the memories that I continue to cherish, but also for the close friendships that I continue to strengthen.

During my four years at Emory, I’ve learned a lot. But the most valuable thing I’ve learned isn’t financial statement analysis or the history of Brazil – it’s that community isn’t something that you find on accident. It’s something that is actively created and that should be created intentionally to make everyone feel included.

Whatever new, uncertain or scary context you may be facing next, know that you have some agency. It isn’t about trying to find where you fit in. It’s about creating that space and welcoming others into it. Wherever you go in your future endeavors, actively create community, intentionally include everyone in it, empower others to create their own and, of course, remember to ask people for their pronouns.

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