Gone to Carolina: Why I’m returning to the South after graduation

March 30, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

As a senior at Stanford University, the inevitable question arises: What are you doing after you graduate?

It’s a fair question, albeit, a bit stressful for those of us with uncertain career paths.

Yet, I do know one thing for sure: I am returning to my home state of North Carolina.

When I tell people that I am even pondering the thought of going back to the South, I get puzzled looks. It’s understandable, seeing as a small percentage of Stanford students come from the Southeast, let alone the 60 or so from North Carolina. My friends here at Stanford who hail from NC, and the South in general, think I’m joking when I say I’m moving back full time. Hard to move away from paradise after you spend four years here. It’s even harder when your state now requires you, a woman, to submit your ultrasound to the government after waiting for 72 hours if, god forbid, you ever need an abortion. But I digress…

To put it bluntly, John Oliver is the reason I am returning to the South. The episode “State Legislatures and ALEC aired on Nov. 2, 2014. In this episode, Oliver noted that while Congress had passed just 185 laws in that year’s session, state legislatures from all 50 states had cumulatively passed more than 24,000. Some of the laws he described were silly (throwing midgets…think “Wolf of Wall Street”), but many had a profound impact. As Oliver said, “Legislatures are sometimes called the laboratory of democracies. Sometimes their experiments are great, like raising the minimum wage or overturning bans on gay marriage. But other times, state laws can go a different way.”

A perfect example of this wayward spiral is North Carolina itself. Since I have left for college in September 2012, NC has done the following: added a (first!) amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions (overturned by Obergefell v. Hodges), limited access to abortions (several times), and tightened voter ID laws (which could go to the Supreme Court). The New York Times even wrote about our decline. (See: “The Decline of North Carolina) and called us the most bigoted state in the country for LGBTQI matters. Doing well, NC…doing well.

What’s more, between the North Carolina State Assembly and the Senate, there are only 38 women (22.4 percent) and approximately 31 representatives of color (18.2 percent). John Oliver wasn’t far off when he said state legislatures were moving from the “laboratories of democracy” to the “frat houses of democracy.”

Over the course of my undergraduate career, the combination of my peers’ perceptions of the South, the crumbling façade of “Southern hospitality” in my home state, racist and bigoted people running for office, and this one segment from a political comedy show confirmed that lingering thought in the back of my head: It is time to return to the South.

I’m not going to transform the South overnight. There are hundreds of people who have invested their entire lives attempting to move the South beyond its painful legacy of slavery and hatred towards minority communities. But I owe it to North Carolina to try. This state, albeit the troubles it faces, provided me many opportunities that made my acceptance into a top-tiered university possible. States like mine are constantly scrambling to find ways to plug the brain drain. I do not want to be part of that drain.

Instead, I want to use both my majors  — African & African American Studies and Communication — to engage in social justice issues and, potentially, one day, move the state forward as an elected official.

My state is in need of smart, empathetic, and motivated individuals to move the needle of progress forward. It needs young people ready to push past the partisan rhetoric and reject the bigoted tendencies of our predecessors in government. It’s time for Millennials to claim Our South and create a region that acknowledges its transgressions, both past and present, while pushing us all towards a land of equality, opportunity, and community.

I’m moving back to the South because I plan to be a part of that movement.

Any more questions?

– Kristen Powers

Contact Kristen Powers at kapowers ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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