From churches to dispensaries: Why I decided to go out-of-state for college

During my sophomore year of high school, one of my friends at school invited my family and me to a barbecue. I asked her about the family that was hosting the barbecue, and what I learned prompted a decision that has completely changed my life.

The first thing I learned about the family was that they fit the mold of most people in my town: white, Christian and Republican. But as the discussion progressed, I learned that some of the family members were involved with the KKK. And not only were they in the KKK, but the grandfather held the title of Grand Master and had his robe proudly hanging in their living room.

This immediately took me back for the obvious reason that it was 2012 and not 1950. But I had always been aware of the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and highly conservative views that so many people in Oklahoma have. It is fairly obvious. If you are ever in Oklahoma, with the exception of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, all you have to do is look around, and you will immediately know you are in a completely whitewashed, conservative place. There is a church on every corner, and these are not just any churches, they are Southern Baptist churches. And on Sundays, most of them are packed full of radical Christians who try to “save you” every chance they get.

But even with all of this understanding, I was completely shocked by that family. How could they actually be in the KKK? After that experience, I became extremely skeptical of the people around me, and I paid more attention to the actions and beliefs of my peers. I began to notice that many of the people I was surrounded with were in fact racist, sexist and every other “ist.”

I had never realized how different my upbringing was from most of my friends and acquaintances. My mom taught my bother and me from a young age that everyone is equal. It was never an issue for us. I was sad for my friends who missed out on that and were forced to either accept the discriminatory beliefs that were instilled in them or combat them and risk ruining relationships.

Through the utter disgust and confusion I was feeling, I realized that I needed to hightail it out of the south as soon as I got the chance. When it became time to look into colleges, The University of Oklahoma, which is about thirty minutes from my house, has one of the top journalism programs in the nation, and would likely offer me a scholarship, was not on my radar. My mom encouraged me to look into out-of-state schools, and after visiting Fort Collins and meeting the people, my mind was set on Colorado State University.

I had visited Colorado a lot growing up, and I had always admired the open-mindedness of people and their willingness to be empathetic towards others. I was also not opposed to making the transition from churches on every corner to dispensaries. Contrary to what all my Oklahoma friends thought of me when I told them I was moving to Colorado, I was not obsessed with marijuana; I knew it was illegal for me to even go into a dispensary. The reason I was looking forward to living in a state that had legalized marijuana was because it demonstrated that the people and government had enough sense and understanding to legalize something that was completely against traditional beliefs. In Oklahoma, I can point to at least five debates I have had with people about whether or not marijuana makes you want to murder people. I swear I am not making that up; that is an actual opinion that some people in Oklahoma have.

I am not so naïve that I think Colorado is this perfect sanctuary where nothing bad ever happens. I have eyes. I have ears. I know there is very little diversity at CSU, which is not something to be proud of. I know that it is politically a purple state, and I know there is probably a KKK group here too. There are hateful and judgmental people everywhere, but based on what I have seen, they are the minority in Colorado.

Although I have spent this entire time complaining about Oklahoma, I am grateful to have grown up there. I would not understand and appreciate kindness the same way I do if I had not grown up in a place that values southern hospitality. Although, I realize now that southern hospitality is often reserved for white, pressumably straight people. I feel lucky to have witnessed hate first-hand because it has made me more aware of how people are treated and how they should be treated. Growing up with churches on every corner made me appreciate even more the value of freedom of religion, having an open mind and respecting other people and their cultures. I will never forget the lessons I learned growing up in the south, but I will always be thankful for the opportunities I have in Colorado.