When I visited Bates last January during its annual MLK day open house, I had never been more aware of the real value Bates puts on, “the transformative power of our differences.” I decided to sit in on a presentation about a film documenting protests in Bi’lin, a West Bank village affected by the Israeli West Bank Barrier. After finishing the film, the student giving the presentation asked all of us in the audience to find a partner and discuss what we had watched. I had come to the class alone, and the rest of my peers found partners almost immediately, leaving me and an older man sitting behind me to wonder who would ask the other first. While I thought about how analyzing a film with a professor whose profession is to do such would be intimidating, I quickly realized how warm and engaging the conversation was becoming. We talked about whether the film was meant as a mode of raising awareness, or as a heavy-handed propaganda piece. We took into account the number of times Palestinian children were filmed at riots protesting the Israelis, and how this was a device to get audiences to sympathize with the Palestinians. We looked at the differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and how they affect their interactions. We determined that while the two sides appear to have fundamental differences, they have the power to transform each other. This presented itself in the unlikely friendship between Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, and how by coming together to make this film they didn’t put aside their differences, but used them as fuel towards a common goal: to inspire peace.
When the class ended, I left Pettengill and began a walk around campus. I was still marveling at the film and the fascinating conversation I had with the Film Studies professor when I realized something. Though we had been talking about the transformation between Emad and Guy, we had been experiencing a transformation of our own. Because we were coming from different backgrounds, were of different ages, and had a different set of experiences, we had a richer conversation, and we were able to share our different perspectives on the film to gain a new shared understanding. I experienced firsthand the rich learning that the power of our differences can foster, and the atmosphere it creates at Bates is contagious.