Kayla Branch grew up in Chickasha, a small town in Oklahoma in a traditional family, with traditional conservative views impressed upon her by her parents and her town. However, as she grew up and came to the University of Oklahoma, her worldview changed, and so did her relationship with her mother.
Branch, a journalism junior at OU, has changed the way she thinks about the world and the way people are treated since she was a senior in high school. She has shared her journey with her mom, and seen her views change as well.
Abby Bitterman: You grew up in a small town right?
Kayla Branch: Yes, really small.
AB: What was that like?
KB: It was interesting. I think there are definitely some stereotypes that people talk about with small towns — like everyone knows your business, there are no secrets, you run into people all the time — and those are all absolutely true. The town I grew up in has about 16,000 people, so I mean it’s significantly smaller than just the student population at OU. It was good too though in some ways — you know all these people from the time you grew up together so you’re all friends. Yeah there’s really no getting away from your reputation in a small town. It was good though overall I think.
AB: You grew up with a more traditional mindset and world view and now after coming to college you’ve become more of a feminist.
KB: Yeah I would definitely agree with that assessment. Church — I guess that’s another thing about growing up in a small Southern community. Church was a big thing. Everybody believed or if they didn’t believe nobody said anything. And so that was a big part of my childhood growing up and then as I got older I started kind of seeing correlations between the teachings of the 25 Baptist Church in my tiny town and oppression in various forms of people of color, of women and whatever else. So I think as I got older and I started to meet new people and have new experiences it was kind of eye opening to me to see ‘Oh there actually are different ways to live and people don’t have to be treated that certain way.’
AB: Was there any sort of culture shock when you came to OU? I know some times even people from the South say they experience it when they come here from a small conservative town.
KB: Coming to a big liberal college can be different. Yeah it was definitely a shock. Freshman year was hard because I came to college with the mindset of ‘OK I’m not going to just try and make a bunch of friends as soon as I get there. I’m going to hold out and try to make actual friends that I enjoy.’ And so I did that but that meant the first eight months of freshman year I didn’t really have any good friends. And so it was lonely. And I think it was a culture shock when I come here because I come here and I see all these people who are very open about things that in my small town people were very secretive about. And it didn’t turn me off, but it just kind of challenged my world view and I adapted to that and my world view has since expanded. And so now I feel more at home here than I do when I go back to Chickasha.
AB: What are some of the things people are more open about here?
KB: Definitely social issues. Like people who are part of the LGBTQ community are very vocal and proud about that, as they should be. And I don’t recall ever meeting someone in Chickasha that was gay, and if they were it was like a thing. Everybody knew and everybody was talking about it. And people here who are of different religions — like I said everybody believed in God and if they didn’t believe they didn’t say anything and here people are like ‘I do believe’ or ‘I don’t believe and I’m a Buddhist.’ Or like people who don’t eat meat. Everyone ate meat in Chickasha, but you come here and people are like ‘I’m vegan. I haven’t had milk in 10 years.’ And it’s like what are you talking about? It’s just different. And there’s definitely still times on OU’s campus where people are judgmental, but less so than in the town I grew up in.
AB: Why did you want to go through recruitment and join a sorority?
KB: Looking back part of it was probably because I thought that was what cool girls did, but also like I said I was hoping to make real friends and come to college and have those connections. So I thought that might be a way that I could do that. And the girl that I lived with sophomore year in the house, we’re rooming together again, and she’s one of my closest friends. And so I ended up getting what I wanted out of it — really close friendships with some great people.
AB: Did you ever question your choice to join a sorority?
KB: Sometimes I think I’m paying a lot of money for something I’m too busy to do anyway. So practically I’m like ‘Yeah I probably should drop and save all the money.’ But I just went home this morning and I had a conversation with my mom before I left and I was talking to her about this movie I watched last night called Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising or whatever. I was watching it while I was supposed to be editing all these stories. I was trying to multitask. But in the movie they make this point that sororities aren’t allowed to party, and the girls going through recruitment are like ‘What are you talking about?’ And Selena Gomez is like ‘No actually for real though.’ And I was talking to my mom about that. Like I think that that is so ridiculous that boys can do whatever they want and throw parties or whatever, and girls have to leave the safety of their homes and go seek that out somewhere else. I guess sometimes when I think about it I’m like ‘Yeah this definitely is a system of oppression still that I am a part of.’ I question it sometimes. I haven’t dropped yet though, so I don’t know what that says.
AB: Yeah when Neighbors 2 came out I saw Seth Rogan on one of those late night interviews and he was like ‘yeah this is a real thing!’ And it was so shocking to him.
KB: Yeah that’s the thing. And I guess when I — like it wasn’t ever shocking to me. Going in I knew sororities can’t have parties, but fraternities can. And just the understanding of boys are willing to take those risks and of course girls have to keep their houses clean and it’s so dirty and girls don’t want to be drunk like that, blah blah blah. And it made sense for a while, but now I’m like ‘Oh what the heck nu-uh’ because we’ve got all the sexual assaults that happen. I don’t know. It wasn’t shocking to me that sororities can’t party. But it was shocking that so many people didn’t know. I just thought everybody knew that.
AB: How has your relationship with your mom changed as your world view has changed?
KB: We definitely hit a lot of rocky spots like senior year of high school and freshman year of college because she was, I think, she was just confused about who I was or what I wanted. Which i mean I was confused so that’s understandable. So it was rocky and we fought a little bit, but I think as I have kind of journeyed to the spot where I’m at I’ve kind of included her in that by having phone conversations and calling her and telling her what I’m thinking. And so it’s not just like I left, and I changed a whole lot, and I came back, and she’s like ‘Who are you?’ But I left and was changing, and we stayed in contact. And so I think that the change has been good. We’re much more open with each other. We talk about everything. And I think for her personally the things that she believed prior to kind of having an avenue to see what different can be, I think that she’s been able to open up her mind to how she deserves to be treated and what she is personally capable of and how smart she is and what she can do independently. So I think it’s been really good, the changes that we’ve had.