Workin’ on a way to make it outta Texas

I’m a junior so all I do is live and breathe college. I have my spreadsheet with tons of schools and every single stat I can find on each one. I’ve been told it’s over the top, but Google Sheets is my best friend.

I’m just really excited. I’ve started going on visits and looking into my top schools. But my excitement wasn’t met by some of my friends. When I told my friends I am looking at the University of Texas in Austin the reaction was very sour. Not because my odds of getting in are slim to none, but because of its location.

I understand that the south can be a culture shock to any northerner. Especially coming from New Trier. But it’s come time for us to accept that there is life beyond our bubble.

The south, for many, is viewed as the land of racist, misogynist, and homophobic white men. While this isn’t always wrong, it is time for us to take off our blinders and look beyond this fear.

A great example is the city of Austin. Every store in Austin has a shirt that says “keep Austin weird.” Don’t get me wrong, Austin is one quirky city but that saying actually has a very different meaning. The word weird is referring to the fact that Austin has been historically liberal, setting it apart from the rest of the conservative state.

My grandparents live in Houston, Texas. It leans a little less left compared to Austin. I’ve spent a majority of my vacations in Houston and I love it.

I’ve picked out my favorite ice cream place and mastered the walk from my grandparents house to the Walgreens.

After traveling across the south however, I’ve seen things that validate our fears. 

Once in Tennessee, I watched a confederate flag parade pull into the same McDonalds as my family. I’ve seen thousands of old white men with their NRA shirts at gas stations in Texas. I’ve even sat in my grandpa’s office staring at my own reflection in his gun case.

It can be terrifying being in a place where your core values are not welcomed. But I’ve learned to adapt to my situation. While this might not be the healthiest thing, it has become necessary. I created a distinct difference between Chicago Cleo and Texas Cleo.

At home I feel free to say and do what I want, I am not afraid to speak my truth. I listen to rap music, I stay out late, and am my outgoing self. But in Texas, there is none of that. In Texas I wear my leather cowboy boots, I act more ‘ladylike’, and I don’t get to horse around. I’d have to say the worst part is, I pretend to enjoy country music.

It isn’t easy living two lives, I’m no Hannah Montana. It’s really hard for me to portray myself in a way that makes Texas Cleo and Chicago Cleo happy. I love both sides and I love being in both the north and the south, but for me it has become easiest to separate them.

Despite spending plenty of time in the south, I have this bias too. I’m often ashamed to admit that I spend my spring breaks in Texas. When thinking about UT Austin, I kept telling myself that my biggest fear was actually enjoying the school.   What if I love the campus? What if I move to Texas? How will four years of life in Texas change me?

But I’ve decided to put my bias aside. I don’t want to let this get in the way of my future.

In order to see the world, you must understand differences. The south is beautiful and has so much to offer. Yet we let our prejudice block us from seeing it for what it really is.

Though I don’t necessarily recommend changing the way you act like I do.

But I do recommend not letting your fears get in the way. We are all well educated, sophisticated members of society. When you find yourself traveling to a place in which your views might be unwelcome, remember how deeply rooted those values are.

Nothing can shake those roots. Continue to stand for what you believe in, but do it in a respectful manner.