Sam Mattson ′15

Hometown: Memphis, TN

Majors: Philosophy and History
Minor: Africana Studies

Academic interests: Race/racism, American/African American history, continental philosophy

Extracurricular activities: I run cross-country and track and field. I spend my free time listening to music and hanging out with the team.

Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.

At the beginning of the application process, I had no intention of staying in Memphis. During my senior year, however, I developed an interest in what Memphis has to offer. It seemed like there were many exciting new developments in the city, and that people cared about making this place a great city to live in. Rhodes offered me an opportunity to stay in the city, get an excellent education, and run cross-country at a competitive level.

How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes?

Rhodes has certainly nurtured the appreciation for Memphis that I started to develop at the end of high school. I had the opportunity to be a part of the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies and wrote a history paper on the Memphis African American community during World War II. The classes here have also challenged me to become a more critical thinker, which in turn has helped me to reflect on my education in Memphis and fostered a desire to help change education in Memphis for the better.

The history and philosophy departments recently approved your honors thesis proposal. Tell us about your research.

This year I have opted to study the current state of racism in the United States. I intend to argue that the banality of racism today reflects the dominant nature of racism. The banality of racism is a concept I am manipulating from Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. She used the term “the banality of evil” to describe the normalization of evil and corruption of morals in Nazi society. The banality of racism makes racism commonplace, and it makes it hard for individuals to realize that they are racist or that racism even exists. This form of racism leads to incidents like the murder of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent not-guilty verdict handed to George Zimmerman.

Tell us about your internship with Leadership Memphis. How has your work there impacted your studies?

Last semester I accepted a position at Leadership Memphis as a project assistant. Specifically, I worked on post-secondary educational attainment in the city. One of the most important projects that I did was to create a data form for all of the organizations that Leadership Memphis partners with, so that we can track students’ educational attainment in these organizations and figure out which areas need more attention. One of these areas is FAFSA completion, which creates a large barrier for college attendance. This semester we will help design and carry out a citywide FAFSA completion drive. Hopefully this campaign will boost the number of students who will then go on to attend a post-secondary institution. The opportunity to work at Leadership Memphis has given me a chance to see what non-profit work is like and to gauge my interest in educational reform. I am still committed to educational reform in Memphis, and I want to continue to learn about how best to go about it.

How has being a part of the cross country and track and field teams enhanced your college experience?

Over the last four years, both the cross country and track and field teams have given me a community to rely on and to have fun with. They’re a family away from family. Every year that I have been here, we have gotten better in our team dynamic as well as our level of competition. I am proud of how far we have come since my freshman year, and I’m looking forward to a great end to the season this year. Running has also helped me become more disciplined. Although I still procrastinate, like many other people, I have gotten better about getting my work done when I need to instead of when I have to. I have learned to take hard classes and challenge myself without it seriously affecting either my education or my running.

What are your plans for next year?

I am leaning towards continuing my work with Leadership Memphis, either by some part-time position or through another program like AmeriCorps. Another option is Teach For America or the Memphis Teachers Residency. Further on down the line, I will more than likely head back to school and get a master’s degree, at a minimum. My experiences this year and in the following year will help me figure out which path to take.

Compiled by Ellie Skochdopole ′15