As I prepared for working at A21 this summer, most of my thoughts were focused on learning as much as I could about human trafficking and making sure I would have all I needed to live in California for three months. I was expecting to be challenged by the work that I was doing and to have to deal often with a topic that was emotionally quite challenging. One thing that I hadn’t expected to play such a big role in my experience this summer was the fact that I would be one of five men in an office of more than 30 people.
While I knew going into this summer that most of A21’s staff is female, I didn’t think that this would really impact my summer. Prior to this summer, I typically found myself being in the majority in most work environments, and I think that I took many of benefits that came with this for granted. Very quickly, it became apparent to me that I did not match the “expectation” of life experiences for most people in the office. Thankfully, the staff at A21 were all incredibly friendly and accommodating, but it still took me a few weeks to adjust and learn how to navigate and environment where I very much felt like an outsider socially.
Despite the difficulty that this presented for me at the start of my summer, I’m grateful to have been able to have an experience where I wasn’t in the majority. Being a white man, it is far too easy for me to take for granted the benefits that came from being part of the majority culture in nearly every one of my interactions. While I know that my experience this summer does not compare to what many minorities experience daily in work environments, I do think that this experience of feeling like an outsider has allowed me to be able to better recognize and understand the benefits and privileges that I have had as a part of majority culture.
I went into this summer expecting to learn a lot about human trafficking, but the thing I have come to understand the most this summer is empathy, and while this experience was both humbling and challenging, I’m very grateful for it and eager for the last few weeks here at A21.