I once heard Professor George Lipsitz of UC Santa Barbara say that we write in order to reach someone out there in the universe who is waiting to hear our voice, to be inspired, to become curious, to join the conversation… and now, I write to you.
Today I stood in solidarity with fellow students of color and allies across the country, to demand that Simmons College account for the trauma, violence, and experiences of POC students who feel isolated, tokenized, misrepresented, and invisible. This is only the beginning of our current battle at Simmons, but as I see it, nothing will change. We are only the 2015 version of the same fight, perpetually engaged in a war that has been going on for centuries: people of color scraping for any amount of equity in a white world.
Part of a greater conversation, I am fortunate enough to be on a college campus at a time when students of color and allies are gathering in solidarity to demand justice and equity for our existence and success against institutions that perpetuate white supremacy. We have a right to be here, just like white students. We have a right to resources and tools to advance ourselves, just like white students. We have a right to have our history acknowledged in core curriculum, just like white students. We have a right to feel safe, just like white students. We have a right to see ourselves in our faculty, administrators, and leadership, just like white students. But unlike white students, we are not privileged to navigate life not knowing these things. And unlike white students, we risk our physical, mental, emotional, academic, and professional safety when we speak for ourselves.
I didn’t show up to campus today knowing I would be a part of the Simmons #BlackOnCampus demonstration. I thought it would be just another full Tuesday: macroeconomics and strategic management on deck, with plenty of stress crammed into everything and everyone, as graduation is literally less than a month away (woot!). I got a text after my first class letting me know that something was going down, and I needed to be there. Not knowing exactly what I would be getting into, I had the info I needed: black students are demonstrating at noon. Count me in. I joined a strong, silent group of students and faculty sporting black on black attire, standing arm-in-arm in the main campus building, with demands displayed as civilians passed by trying to figure out what the hell was going on. At one point, two white undergraduate women were attempting to pass through our circle and asked if they could get through. “No, you’ll have to go around,” a demonstrator explained. “Uhh, really? That’s gonna be pretty difficult since you’re blocking the whole floor… ?” responded one of the women. How appropriate, I thought to myself, that these non-participants experience a teensy-tiny bit of the inconvenience that students of color feel every day.
The demonstration resulted in what we wanted. The president and provost of the college met us, read our demands, met with the student representatives, and set up a meeting for further negotiation. **Notice it’s still a negotiation. I watched the conversation happen, and while I couldn’t hear all the details, saw the president and provost placate the situation, nod their heads in “understanding” and “agreement” that things need to be done. As they left, students cheered, hugged, cried, and hung around to provide support to one another. I stood there, watching my fellow students congratulate each other on their small win and felt happy for them. Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t recognize anyone. I acknowledge that my MBA program is small, especially compared to the undergrad population, but I was surprised to be the only graduate student, at least in my discipline, present. Solidarity aside, I came away from the demonstration feeling eerily isolated, invisible, and out of place.
I came to Boston not knowing what I was going to accomplish here. Fast forward 2.5 years later, I’ve been able to establish myself as a Bostonian (for the most part), without losing sight of my SoCal-chill-vibe, which has been key to my survival here. Despite my cooler than cool/ ice cold persona, I confess that just because I rock does not mean I’m made of stone. At this moment, my “awareness” is at its peak. I am aware of my difference. I am aware that my interests are not aligned with those of my (white) colleagues. I am aware that most people I kick it with here have no idea how I feel about my race. I am aware that I do not seem ethnic enough. I am aware of the “privilege” I have. I am aware of how different my life is here, as opposed to on the West Coast where my OG support system’s at. I am aware of the lack of support I have when it comes to discussing matters of race. I am aware that I am putting myself at risk by posting this blog entry. But at the end of the day, this shit takes a fucking toll.
This is the first time I’ve felt so out of place since moving to Boston. Back home, people look like me. Out here, not so much. After the demonstration, I went straight home without saying a word to anyone. There was no one to tell it to. I let it all sink in. What would come of these efforts on the Simmons campus? Will the administrators simply say there isn’t room in the budget to accommodate the demands? Are they waiting for students to graduate so things simply die down and out? We are obviously not the first generation to attempt change; we are part of the tradition in which people of color make demands that are not met. So I slept the deepest sleep I’ve had in a long time. I was toast. I had nothing left. I was exhausted from my heightened sense of awareness, of my heightened sense of difference, of my heightened sense of isolation. I had crazy dreams about going down a staircase that seemed to go on forever. Where did the staircase end/begin? Where would I end up? And then I woke up.
I’m three weeks away from graduating with an MBA concentrated in organizational leadership. I chose to pursue this degree in order to develop the skills I need to steer organizations in what I see as the right direction. Infiltrate, expose, dismantle. I’m specifically focused in women’s leadership development and diversity & inclusion work, because I have something to say about it and feel personally invested in seeing women and people of color break through. I’m on the job hunt, and have expressed my passion and purpose in this field during interviews without blinking, because these organizations need to know what I bring with me. And I bring this with me everywhere I go and apply it to everything I do. I see my life as a living case study on intersectionality; I read about second-generation biases, microaggressions, leaky pipelines, and sticky floors all day. Equipped with this knowledge, I am attempting to navigate adult life as a woman of color with odds stacked against her. The world was not designed for people like me. Sure, I get turnt, Snapchat, go on dates with dudes I met on the Internet, play with makeup and get my nails done; but that’s me living life as any white person would. A confident, secure woman of color doing her thang and not giving a damn is a huge slap in the face of white supremacy IMO. But I am completely aware of how I got those perks in life. It’s from the struggle of my parents, my grandparents, my ancestors, my people who have literally sacrificed their lives so that I can come as close as possible to being free in this white supremacist world. I strive for excellence and expertise so I can earn my place in this white world because it is now my turn, my moment to honor the past and make way for my nieces, nephews, and possibly someday, for my own children.
I know I’m not alone. Mine is but one tale of many, many, many, and is symptomatic of a much bigger disease. This is one of the many reasons why institutions need to change. We feel the burden of your privilege. It’s a heavy load, but my eyes are open. I will sacrifice myself physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, and professionally for everyone who sacrificed so I could be here, and for those who have yet to be born…