On Nov. 28, political science department chair Carrie Booth Walling told diners of Upper Baldwin about topics that mattered to her.
What Matters to Me and Why Dinners are events funded by Student Senate and organized by the Pathfinder program through the Career and Internship Center. Bob and Carol Moss, kinesiology professors, were the comical emcees for the event.
“What matters to Carrie Booth Walling is transparent, and it has become a focal point of how she lives her life. It is central to her academic calling,” said Bob Moss, introducing Walling.
Walling is an associate professor of political science as well as the chair of the political science department and associate director of the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program. She often teaches courses focused on politics and human rights.
“The problem wasn’t figuring out what does matter to me, but what doesn’t matter to me,” said Walling.
Walling holds many topics and people dear, so it was hard for her to present on just one topic. She considered speaking on human rights or politics, but the topics would be too typical for the associate professor of politics. Next came the importance of family, but Walling didn’t want to just have a slideshow of baby pictures.
While being a teacher is important to her, it is also something she shares with all of her colleagues.
After going through all of the topics and experiences that mattered to her, she decided to look deeper and see how all these topics were connected.
“Maybe there was something basic that connected some of those things together. Maybe the answer to this question [what matters to her and why] wasn’t going to be found in a single moment but in the journey and experiences,” said Walling.
With four vignettes, four flashes of memory, four moments of life-changing perspectives, Walling lead the audience to one thing that matters to her and why: human connection.
Why human connection matters to walling
The journey started with Walling’s very first op-ed, written during her time as the 11-year-old editor of her fifth grade Woodside Newspaper. The op-ed, full of passion and exclamation points, was about a great controversy among students within her school: The separation of boys and girls at lunch. From a young age, Walling showed her perspective on the importance of human connection with the need to form gender connections.
Next, Walling described her experiences and support to the Women for Women International group. Traveling world-wide and forming connections with women who have been through heartbreaking situations, Walling experienced a new perspective on human connection.
“Sometimes solidarity can be more powerful than words,” said Walling. She could only speak to most of the women she met through translators, yet the support and hope that they gave each other was not affected by this barrier.
The next experience Walling highlighted was the 2018 Albion College Holocaust Studies Program, which contained a service project in Poland restoring a Jewish cemetery.
“First thing I have to confess is that I absolutely hate weeding. I hate yard work in general. I am absolutely allergic to anything outside,” said Walling.
Walling found the labor of restoring the cemetery to be more meaningful than normal yard work. The purpose behind restoring the cemetery created many new relationships.
People from different backgrounds and different places on the earth were working together under one service project.
“The human community actually can transcend difference if it chooses to,” said Walling.
Lastly, with many of her current students present, Walling described the Inside Out program. A sociology course she teaches that takes Albion College students to learn behind prison walls with inmates.
“We release ourselves from the prisons we have built around our minds. We listen as much as we talk, and we try to understand one another,” said Walling. “It’s hard work, but it’s also transformative.”
This course gives students the opportunity to create relationships with people who have very different perspectives on simple life activities and human relationships yet still share the same need and value for human connection.
“When we started this class, we acknowledged the importance of keeping an open mind. What this experience has shown me, though, is how much harder it is to keep an open heart. For better or for worse, we are all interconnected. If you take the first step of finding empathy for others, you will find hope,” read Walling from the writing of one incarcerated student who participated with Albion College students in the Inside Out program.
Through Walling’s presented experiences, the audience of the dinner, made up of approximately 60 students and staff, was introduced to the importance of human connection.
The small group discussions afterward were focused on personal stories from each audience member. Students and faculty gave stories about their own travels and their own personal relationships that could relate to the power of human connections. The unique stories shared around each dinner table showed how each amazing and important person next to you, with their own unique background and experiences, was to be respected and valued the same.
“We all want to be seen, to be worthy, to be valued. We all have the power to pierce through the walls that divide us and bridge that gap of perceived difference. I know this is possible, because I have seen and experienced this power of human connection,” concluded Walling.
The author of this piece serves on the What Matters to Me and Why Dinner planning committee as the student representative for the Pathfinder Program.