Erika Parks is a Pomona College senior from southern Colorado who is double majoring in Math and Sociology.

Walking down the path at Pomona, I'm sometimes struck by a certain lack of diversity here. We have a variety of people of different backgrounds, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a non-traditional student at Pomona – someone who has lived and experienced beyond 18-to-22 years. This missing element can be limiting, but there was no lack of age diversity in my Religion, Ethics, and Social Practice class last semester. One third of the students were residents of Pilgrim Pace, a senior community just down Sixth Street.

We learned from the “elders” as peers, drawing on the wealth of experiences, thoughts, and beliefs that had shaped their lives, in order to start building our own world views. And the elders learned from our enthusiasm, drive, and technological know-how. Together, we spent the semester discussing texts about the intersection between religious motivations and community work. And in a brilliantly-constructed overlap of knowledge and praxis, we put this academic study into context, spending at least four hours each week working at a local community organization and developing a project proposal.

I spent my time at Crossroads, a residential program for women transitioning from prison back into society, and here I found an even greater wealth of people and experiences, so different from my peers at Pomona, from which to learn and be inspired. The women who pass through Crossroads have been through so much, but they also have much to give. The project I proposed, and am undertaking this year as my senior thesis in sociology, allows me to reach out and survey Crossroads alumnae, learn about their lives now, and collect their impressions of Crossroads looking back. The goal is to use the knowledge and lived experience of the alumnae to help build a community of women who will continue to support each other even years after they have left Crossroads.

One of the many lessons I took from Religion, Ethics, and Social Practice is to never narrow my view of who is worth learning from and growing with. At the Draper Center, we “view all people as legitimate contributors to new knowledge,” and that is a charge to live by.