Scholar Viraat on Salem

All content is © Copyright 2012 McLean County Diversity Project

The Diversity Project trip to Salem/Boston, more than surpassed my expectations, leaving me with a treasure trove of experiences filled with fun and important life lessons. This year’s trip provided an opportunity to not only appreciate the rich history of some of the most iconic colonial towns but to also do some introspection.
Visiting historical sites, touring museums and taking charge of a replica colonial schooner was incredible! Playing games like Capture the Flag, learning to ‘shoot pool’ as well as, just hanging out with fellow Scholars was a neat balance.
Our examination of the causes of the Salem Witch Trials and the two Great Debates really opened my mind up to new ideas and made me think of how the ideas apply to our daily lives. Several themes stood out.
Accept the importance of what history can teach us.
The 2 nd Great Debate challenged us with the question "What contemporary lessons do the Salem Witch Trials hold for us?" Up to that point I had really been dismissing the Salem Witch Trials as a historical quirk that couldn’t possibly happen in the modern age with all of our communication devices.
The debate highlighted several key points, but one observation that really stuck out to me was that we still engage in modern day witch hunts.
Coming into the debate, the closest thing that I could think of that would qualify as a modern day witch hunt was McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt in the 1950's, but even that seemed a long time ago.
The more we discussed the topic, it was brought up that an example of a modern witch hunt could be the war on terrorism, an idea that surprised me initially but made sense the more I thought of it.
I also realized that often people don’t see a witch hunt for what it is until they think of it in retrospect.
As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
See things from another person’s perspective.
This topic came to the fore during our 1 st Great Debate, in which we were asked "Can the ends ever justify the means when protecting your community?"
Being the controversial question that it is, this debate was notable because of how strongly some people felt one way or another. By adopting another’s point view and systematically working through their thought process taught me the power of understanding another person’s perspective.
Learning about the colonial era provided another opportunity to experience the value of thinking from another’s perspective.
Our modern lives are very different from colonial times. The Salem Witch Trials seem bizarre to us today. To begin to understand them, you must first experience the values, beliefs and way of life of those times.
In order to understand others, you need to be able to think like them.
Separate yourself from prejudice.
One of the first things we did in Salem was to take a tour of historical sites led by a guide who separated common misconceptions from fact. We also, visited museums that showcased some of the more sensational - but incorrect - historical stories intended to attract tourists; allowing us to not only get to the heart of the matter but broaden our approach to new information.
Our thoughts are often prejudiced by preconceived ideas of how things are, yet taking time to learn can teach us that the truth might be something different.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
We had lots of opportunities throughout the trip to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and try something new and the most fun I had on the entire trip was when I stepped out of my comfort zone.
On June 5 th we went to a beach in the morning and stayed there for several hours. The beach sand went from warm to burning hot and the ocean water somehow seemed to get colder. We could only do so much on the beach, so the more daring of the Scholars ventured out to a rocky and somewhat forested area.
I followed along and although the rocks were annoying to cross using bare feet, what I got in the end was by far worth it. Jumping from rock to rock, a large group of us worked our way out as far into the ocean as we could. Even though I did get a few cuts and bruises going there and coming back to the beach, the experience was exhilarating and we were rewarded by amazing views of the ocean.
Daring to step out of my comfort zone led to an adventure that I’ll not forget.
On the ride home from Salem, I thought about all the trip had given me: a wealth of knowledge, a fun experience, stronger friendships and a new perspective on the world.
When we said our goodbyes on June 9 th , it was hard to believe that the roller coaster of experiences was already over.
The only thing left to do now is to look forward to the opportunities awaiting the Project this coming year.
Honestly, I can’t wait.
- Viraat, Veteran Scholar

McLean County Diversity Project   c/o Jeffrey A. Schwartz   16043 Dorado Road Bloomington, IL 61705