By Kaitlyn Whiteside
I came on the ride as a history major; I’ll leave as a patriot.
My fascination with the civil rights movement started in 2009 when I began an independent research project on the desegregation of Chattanooga, TN. I continued to study the evolution of the expanding movement during the rest of my time at Georgia Tech as I engaged more and more both inside and outside the classroom. This year, as Vice President of Campus Affairs for the Student Government Association, I initiated and organized a campus-wide event focused on civility and inclusion attended by over 300 students. I also drafted a proposal advocating for a campus cultural center at Georgia Tech.
And yet, for the most part, my involvement was simply surface level. I didn’t truly understand the potential impact that I, or my projects, could have. I went through the motions, implementing changes that I thought were necessary but without the overwhelming passion that my fellow student freedom riders seem to possess. For that, I thank them. I thank them because they’ve inspired me in ways that I didn’t expect, inciting energy and desire that I forgot I could have. I’m not sure if it is the environment, the diversity of the group, or simply the awe-inspiring presence of the original Freedom Riders, but something is in the air that allows a free-flowing exchange of ideas that is unlike any experience I’ve ever had the opportunity to take part in.
While I won’t be going back to make sweeping changes on my campus, I hope that the lessons I learned here will take root in my life and evolve into the same sort of intoxicating passion that allowed the 1961 Riders to risk their lives to “get on the bus.”