Fight the Bubble


A few years ago, a friend of mine applied for out-of-state student teaching, explaining, “I need to get out of the Iowa bubble.” At the time, I had never considered that such a thing existed, but now I see it all around us. What I mean by “Iowa bubble” is the combination of innocent and willful ignorance that keeps people from feeling involved or invested in matters outside of their immediate reach. There is a popular belief in the United States that Iowans do not know or care about anything that happens outside of the corn harvest or meatpacking plants. I have found this to be truer than I can stand, even at UNI, where we have the opportunity to become more global citizens through liberal arts education. UNI is a great place, but that shouldn’t prevent us from looking outside the bubble.

We come by this bubble somewhat honestly, because UNI is primarily composed of a specific subset of humanity. According to (a link found on admissions website), our school is 89 percent Iowan. This also means that an overwhelming majority of our school is white, 84 percent.

Now, I’m not here to bash the citizens of Iowa, because I am the proudest Iowan I know. In fact, I sing the entire soundtrack of “The Music Man” every morning while cooking a breakfast of corn on the cob, cheesy potato casserole and good old Iowa pork tenderloins. But even I recognize the limitations of a view shaped by the white, Christian majority of my home place. Many students coming to UNI have never met someone who is from another country, who follows a different faith (or no faith at all), has had to learn a new language or has fought against racial inequality on a day-to-day basis throughout their life. In classes at UNI, I have heard students say things like, “we’re all Christians here.” Myopic statements like this reveal the truly harmful nature of the Iowa bubble and how it contributes to a deficit of empathy for people different from ourselves.

The Iowa bubble is only somewhat punctured once every four years, by virtue of the early occurrence of the Iowa caucuses. Because there is an election year coming up, it is a time to be informed on national issues and to formulate your own opinions. Your parents, roommates and professors are (hopefully) positive presences in your life, but it’s never too early to start reading things for yourself, deciding what you think is going on in the world and how you plan on making it better.

If your schedule allows, go to the rallies and town hall meetings that will undoubtedly happen as the caucuses draw near. If someone’s platform strikes a fire in your heart, you could choose to volunteer for a candidate’s campaign. Even if you look back and sigh about your college naïveté, at least you did what you thought was right and important at the time. Wouldn’t you rather say you were “in” the bubble but not “of” the bubble?

Outside the dumpster fire of our electoral processes, it’s important to remember: Iowa is a place in the world. As hard as it may be to believe, Iowa is not heaven. It’s a real location with a fate inextricably linked with other locations on the same planet. This means that you, from bum-f***-nowhere, Iowa, share essential resources with people in Delhi, St. Petersburg, São Paulo and elsewhere. A small way to show you can see through the Iowa bubble is to care for “our common home,” as Pope Francis recently called it. To put it less gracefully than Francis: recycle your empties, bros, it’s getting hotter in here.

Surprisingly, this is my way of saying, “Welcome (back) to UNI.” If it’s your first year, there are many new experiences to seek out on campus and in your new town. If it’s one of your later years, there are applications, internships and interviews to complete as you look forward. By all means, join campus activities, get “turnt” on the hill and cheer our sports teams on to victory. But please don’t forget that you can, and should, look outside of UNI, Cedar Falls, Iowa and the United States. People are accusing the millennial generation of narcissism and not being able to see beyond the screen of a smartphone, and the best way to show pride in yourself as a person and a Panther is to prove that assertion false.