Humans of TAMS is a photojournalism project that seeks to capture the diversity of the TAMS population through a series of interviews and portraits of students and faculty. Thank you to this week’s interviewee, Jackie Peterson.
Growing up, Jackie Peterson went to fifteen schools before finally settling down and attending four consecutive years at Guyer High School here in Denton. “I moved around a lot,” she says. “So I grew up in Texas but in different spots all around the state.” This periodic movement taught Jackie a lot and helped shape her into the person she is today.
“I learned how to receive hospitality, how to be kind, and how to not sweat the small stuff,” she explains. “I learned to not get caught up in gossip or little trivial worries because there is always a bigger picture, and your mind is made to think beyond your little bubble.”
Jackie carried these lessons with her when she chose to attend UNT and apply for an RA position at TAMS. “My freshman year I lived over at West and I wasn’t really involved in student life because I was working so much,” she recounts. But she received an email from TAMS about applying for an RA position, “and I really wanted to do it. I had a friend who used to work for TAMS and he loved his job; he always used to say good things about it. I thought TAMS kids were cool and it was a good opportunity to have my work, school, and life all in one place.”
Indeed, she has successfully combined all of these aspects of her life into one area, as she can often be found studying or socializing with her residents in her Clue-themed wing or at the front desk. “My favorite part of TAMS is getting to witness your ambition and be motivated by it,” she smiles. “But also just to see your humanity and your weaknesses.”
“I really treasure getting to know y’all and I’m honored by how much people open up and are willing to share. That’s a really cool opportunity that I don’t think exists in other dorms.”
When Jackie is not in McConnell, she spends a lot of her time working with the Denton Catholic Worker Movement. She used to be a co-manager at Dorothy’s Kitchen Table, a local cooperatively-owned, community restaurant which is named after Dorothy Day, a social justice advocate who founded the Catholic Worker Movement in New York City. “It’s a share-what-you-can restaurant,” Jackie explains. “Our meal is our gift to you. We are sharing from our wealth and what we have and, in return, you can pay for your meal however you want. That can be monetarily, through volunteer hours or donations, or singing a song or writing a poem for us. We do song nights and storytelling nights which are really great. Last Saturday was art night. It’s sort of an experiment that we’ve put our lives in to. It’s risky but it’s a lot of fun!”
Additionally, Jackie helps with Seeds of Change which provides community meals every weekend for people experiencing homelessness in Denton. “I’ve done that for about three years,” Jackie begins. “We try to make the meals health-conscious because so many soup kitchens serve leftovers or food that is not super nutritious. Both Dorothy’s Kitchen Table and Seeds of Change make all of their food from local farms. We do volunteer service hours there and they donate a bunch of their produce to us so we have lots of veggies. We are also partnered with Big Mike’s Coffee and they give coffee to Dorothy’s, so everything is local and organic.”
This network that Jackie has found is very important to her. When asked what inspires her, she beams with joy. “I find inspiration in my community – in my friends and seeing the resilience with which people live,” she says thoughtfully. “I’m a social work major so I’m studying for a career that works specifically with people who are in crisis and I think that’s because I have so much admiration for the resilience of people who go through hardship. Seeing their love and their support of each other really does inspire me. I think it’s important to hold on to being idealistic.”
After a reflective pause, she continues. “My faith inspires me as well, as it has been a constant for me in a lot of trauma and through a lot of moving and different life hardships. I was always able to go to church and it was really consistent and reliable. I felt like God always carried me from one place to the next and I was always literally being held in His hands.”
“So that’s also a real inspiration for me because the work I do is not my own work. I’m not having to change the world on my own.”
Jackie aspires to hold on to this inspiration as she continues to change the world in the future. She plans to earn her Master of Social Work so that she can work hard to help others. “I entered social work because I wanted to work with victims of domestic violence – specifically women and children who have escaped their situations and are working towards the recovery process,” she recounts, although she acknowledges that social work is an incredibly diverse profession. For instance, last semester Jackie was able to teach English as a second language to refugees in Fort Worth. She would love to pursue that also and says that she really wants to work “wherever the wind takes [her].”
More immediately, Jackie has big plans to travel this summer. “I’m studying abroad in July which is only a month, but in order to maximize my time overseas, I’m actually leaving in May and going on a five-hundred-mile walk across Spain for six weeks. It starts in the French Pyrenees and ends in the ocean,” she explains excitedly. She is describing a trip known as “el Camino de Santiago” which began as a pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great, though now many people embark on it for a variety of reasons including religion, fitness, and experience. “It’s my time to renew my spirit, reflect on my life, and just have that adventure. It’s always been on my bucket list and since I’m going to be in Spain, I thought ‘I’ll just do it now!’”
This will not be her first traveling experience, as Jackie has already been to Peru and Rome. In fact, she won her trip to Rome through a radio contest and is a big advocate for the benefits of travel. “It’s an adventure and it makes you trust the world which I think is so important. You become more vulnerable which draws you closer, and you find the common humanity among everyone. Ultimately, traveling is fun and it’s good self-care.”
When asked what she believes should be taught in school that isn’t already, Jackie quickly answers: “Empathy! Nobody teaches empathy in school, like how to have respect for other people’s life experiences, how to give second chances, how to forgive people, and how to see other people’s views. Just knowing how to love each other and why that’s important. I think we glorify sarcasm, cruel humor, and satire so much, but nobody ever glorifies empathy and how beautiful it is to walk in another person’s shoes and carry other people’s burdens.”
Finally, if given the chance to speak to the TAMS population, Jackie has some very inspiring advice. “I would say don’t be in such a rush to meet all of these huge goals that you miss the small joys and the little parts of the world that are right next to you. You all have so many ambitions to save the world and I admire that and I think it’s beautiful but, at the same time, the world also wants to be seen,” she says. “Just slow down. You have your entire life and this is a small part of it. You’re super young and you’re going to totally change in twenty years and it will be beautiful and exciting.”
Similarly, to the world Jackie would say to love more.
“Just love and celebrate love. It’s really simple: be compassionate.”