April 24, 2019
Brooklyn Rue is a sophomore double majoring in the Department of English and the Department of Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities and minoring in women's and gender studies — all in the College of Arts and Letters. Rue is involved as a crisis intervention advocate with the MSU Sexual Assault Program, volunteers as a GIVE ambassador and is a member of the Tower Guard Honors Society.
“Am I my sister’s keeper?” This question played on repeat throughout my youth and upbringing. My mom would say it to me as a gentle reminder when I was frustrated with a friend, aggravated for having to attend a school service day or when reflecting upon her own life experiences and service work — sometimes condescendingly and sometimes with a kind of genuine fervor.
My mother has always embodied the meaning behind this question through her desire to uplift other women. While working in the male-dominated field of construction and home improvement, she has found the time to mentor young women, attend charity events and act as a counselor for at-risk teens and youth. She has participated in acts of service that she would have benefited from in her past.
Considering my mother has always been a role model and source of inspiration for me, it is unsurprising that, upon my arrival at Michigan State, I found myself stepping into these same kinds of service roles. My first semester, I committed to 45 hours of training to become a crisis intervention advocate at the MSU Sexual Assault Program, volunteered twice a week as a volunteer mentor and tutor at the Refugee Development Center and got involved in every kind of service activity I was able to.
Over time, the volunteerism I once participated in due to a perceived expectation felt less like an obligation and more like something I was given the opportunity to do — something for which I could use my own skills and talents and that made me a part of a network which extended far beyond me.
Surprisingly, service was not part of my career ambitions until this past summer. I decided to sign up for a GIVE Volunteer trip to Thailand and Laos. More than anything, I wanted to travel for once without my family or parents and to be able to see the world — so volunteering was merely a means through which I would be able to achieve this end.
All of this changed once I arrived in Sop Chem, Laos — a village of less than 300 people where I taught English to a small group of middle school-aged girls. I was finally able to see the direct impact my service could provide.
In the short time that I taught these students, I saw their English skills improve drastically. They were some of the smartest and most insightful young women I had ever met, and I bonded with them despite our different languages and understandings of the world.
Together, we danced, shared meals, swam in the nearby river and laughed — sometimes about nothing at all. This experience made it apparent to me that volunteering is not simply something you do for the benefit of others, but something that can be life changing and fulfilling.
I came back from Laos with a better understanding of my position in the world and how to use my privilege for good. My worldview was completely altered from having immersed myself in a community, which quickly felt like home. My understandings of place making and community ties have never been the same since.
Now, I feel a kind of duty to not only my local MSU community, but to the world as a whole. For me, volunteering, civic engagement and global citizenship are intricately intertwined and cannot exist independent from one another. Teaching English in Sop Chem taught me about the beauty and vitality of community building and engagement. That experience was the beginning of a new journey for me.
When I returned to the U.S., I became more active with MSU’s very own GIVE Club, sharing with people about the experience I had abroad as a new GIVE ambassador and using the skills I developed in other teaching settings, namely through work as a mentor tutor with the Refugee Development Center. I also applied for a job working as a Community Engagement Scholar with the City of Detroit’s Mayor’s Office because of my newfound appreciation for civic engagement and community development.
These experiences have helped me to begin to answer this simple and profound question my mother always posed.
“Am I my sister’s keeper?” Yes, I am.