Despite a handful of unsatisfied students, the Borders of Diversity Student Conference hosted by the Cross-Cultural Center, College Diversity Initiative, and the English Department was both moving and educational.
The seminar began with student panels and presentations about importance of unity and tolerance, which fit the theme of “Crossing Boundaries: Finding Home.”
“I thought the Borders event overall was terrific,” said English professor Roger Marheine. “My colleagues work hard to bring it all together and the student panel presentations are so inspiring.”
They keynote speaker was American author and soldier, Brian Turner. He is most famous for his poems “Here, Bullet” and “The Hurt Locker.” He read both of his poems and offered anecdotes of his time in the army that related to each poem. He explained how he arrived at the title of “The Hurt Locker,” which went on to become the title of a critically acclaimed film that depicts disarming bombs during the war in Iraq.
The phrase originated from one of his former sergeants at West Point, Turner said. The sergeant meant to threaten the platoon with a “hurt box,” which meant they would be in a world of hurt if they did not complete a certain task. He misspoke and said “hurt locker” instead.
“The Hurt Locker” was written in the summer of 2004, a time when it “felt like for months we were being hunted.” It constantly felt to him and his fellow soldiers as though they were on the verge of being put in a hurt locker, Turner said.
“It was complete boredom punctuated by significant chaos,” remembers Turner.
Turner is also famous for his memoir “My Life as a Foreign Country.” In this book he tells brief stories about his deployment, along with his reasoning for joining the military in the first place.
“…He was personable and worked hard to connect with the students,” said Marheine in an email. “I do believe he represents a major current of what I have called ‘American war culture’ which is to say that he expresses a genuine perplexity regarding war’s root causes and his own participation in those wars. To that extent he raises questions and uses his literary voice to work out his own psychological ambiguity.”
Several students in the audience felt they needed to be clear that they were anti-war, demanding answers as to why he would fight for what they believed to be an unjustified cause.
Turner responded, seeming a tad disengaged with the question, that they made a valid point that should be discussed. Much to the student’s dismay at the time, he chose to abruptly move onto a different topic.
“Overall the subject of war was not properly addressed,” said psychology major Lindsey Iniguez. “Students need to know what’s going on, and a heart-felt explanation was not given.”
Turner had given out his phone number to the audience at the beginning of his lecture, so Iniguez expressed her concerns in a text message. She said that Turner got back to her and explained that the way he raises awareness is not by telling people what to believe, potentially offending those on either side of the political spectrum. Instead, he aims to urge a person to ask questions, which in turn makes them think.
“Believe in imagination,” said Turner as he wrapped things up. “That is all we have.”