This post is a response to Yvonne Abraham’s Boston Globe article and has been emailed to her directly
Dear Yvonne Abraham,
When I first read the line “Congratulations, you’ve been admitted to Suffolk University!” three years ago, I was ecstatic. However, after your article this line has been tainted. As a Suffolk student, your editorial piece recently published in the Boston Globe felt unprofessional, patronizing, and belittling to my experiences here.
Before writing this, I spent quite a few hours trying to authentically encapsulate an honest response to your piece. However I do admit, it only took the first few seconds to recognize my disgust. When I noticed the satirical tone of your first paragraph I was critically intrigued. Your use of satire may have worked if it wasn’t so unfocused, unorganized, and seriously unfunny.
Respectfully, I am extremely curious on what exactly lead you to use words such as “we” and “our” when talking about Suffolk in your article. Even if this was a literary tool based out of satire, your ownership of this university is insulting. For someone who did not go to Suffolk and doesn’t understand what it truly means to be a Suffolk community member, it is uncalled for you to tell our prospective students to look the other way.
As a first generation college student I have developed a commitment to my school and its reputation. My involvement with Suffolk has allowed me to criticize the school’s politics out of love and care for this university. In my opinion, your lack of involvement with the Suffolk community has produced nonsense. On behalf of those actually affiliated with my university, we demand an apology.
I am not critical of your entire piece, there are parts of it that touch on what is really happening politically at Suffolk. I do think you understand the surface level reality of the politics in my university. You’re right, the board is corrupted with corporate greed, Regan had no right to call McKenna “that woman,” and students/faculty did protest against the foolishness of the board. However, what you get completely and utterly wrong is mixing the status of Suffolk politics with the dignity of the Suffolk community. In addition, mentioning these student/faculty protests right before calling Suffolk a “basket case” (which is incredibly ableist) completely devalues the movement following Suffolk’s reputation downfall in the media earlier this year.
Since you are not Suffolk affiliated, you may not know so I will take a moment to explain to you the power of being a Suffolk community member. After various media outlets criticized Suffolk’s credibility, my university gathered as many community members as possible and marched, rallied, and protested through the snow to show the world that the Suffolk community did not condone the actions of the Board of Trustees. Along with the march, the Suffolk community rallied in other ways and committed countless hours to get the media’s attention and turn the conversation away from the Board and back to the real pillars of any university: their students. We had alumni fly thousands of miles to rally with us, professors postpone their classes, students walk out, and we started a university wide campaign to promote community (see hashtag: #WeAreSuffolk).
So… when you ask in your article “…is this really the kind of place you want to spend the next four years,” the question undermines the power of student activism and community. When you ask “is this really the kind of place you want to spend the next four years,” you intentionally pour countless dollars and hours invested in our degrees/jobs down the drain. When you ask “is this really the kind of place you want to spend the next four years,” in under twenty words you have single handedly insulted future and current lawyers, doctors, accountants, CEO’s, journalists, artists, physicists, well rounded, educated, and inspired individuals.
On your page in the Boston Globe, I stumbled upon a video of you introducing yourself as a columnist. You mention that you are open to having an ongoing conversation with readers who believe your points are wrong so take this letter as an invitation to come to Suffolk University and meet the wonderful people that make this Suffolk community my home. Come to our little corner of downtown Boston and find out why Suffolk will continue to be my home for a lifetime, not merely four years.
An Actual Suffolk Community Member
If you wish to contact her with your thoughts the email is email@example.com. If you want to contact me, comment below.
The frizz in my curls, grime under my nails, and the rips between my jeans faded away in the mist of northern Maryland. Last week, I was weightless. Surface burdens were cured with love, service, and a new family.
Eight days ago, twelve strangers gathered in a crowded airport at 5 in the morning. At the time, the only thing we had in common was a gate number and the commitment to use our spring break to bring a little bit of light into a community. What we didn’t know was exactly how much light we would bring into ourselves.
I fell in love with service 10 years ago in the Dominican Republic. When I was a little girl my cousin took me with her to see this elderly woman who lived in the village. She was frail, thin, small and wore a dress with tiny daisies. She sat on a wooden rocking chair in her living room that had pictures of disciples, saints, and a colossal rosary hung by the doorway. The room was small and all the windows were open. A faint tropical breeze eased the heat we endured from the walk through the village.
“Por qué estamos aquí?” I asked, confused on why my cousin took me here.
“Ella se esta muriendo,” she responded. The woman was dying. “We are here to say goodbye.”
We were not the only ones in the living room that sweltering hot afternoon in the Dominican Republic, the room was packed with relatives, friends, a pastor, and the sound of children laughing in the nearby farm. In this impoverished village with limited electricity, unkept dirt roads, and in the face of death, the one in the rocking chair in the stained daisy dress seemed to be the happiest woman alive. She was among those she loved and that was enough.
It may seem unrelated, but for me the connection from this and my love for service is clear. I have devoted my entire life to love and community. When I wear a daisy dress and sit back in a rocking chair I want my final glimpse of life to be full with people who can smile in the face of sadness. I do service because everyone deserves to have the opportunity to live in happiness and among those they love despite their circumstances.
In Maryland, we slept in a church’s attic for six nights. With no showers, we drove to the YMCA every day to wash after long days working for Habitat for Humanity. Together we power washed porches, installed dry wall, did trail work, scraped flooring, painted ceilings, poured cement, swept floors, fixed windows, and most importantly found love within ourselves. Our little group of strangers, through sweat, service, and enclosed spaces turned into a second family as our hearts swelled with joy from the satisfaction of the work we were doing.
On the third day of our Maryland service trip I met a woman who has been volunteering with Habitat for seven and a half years. Every Wednesday, she takes a day off from being a nurse to care for the community she lives in. After only speaking with her for a few moments, I felt a sensation unlike any other. I was in the presence of someone who truly understood the power of love and humanity. For six days out of the week, she professionally takes care of other people. She watches people die, babies born, cares for the sick, love for those who need love, and still after all of this volunteers every Wednesday. This woman does not see service as a box to be checked off or something on her to-do list. She unapologetically loves others for a living. If each human on this planet took a day to live like this nurse does, even for a few moments, the world will instantly become a kinder place to live in.
I live through the words of Cornell West: “…social justice is what love looks like in public.” I will never stop doing service because I will never stop loving. What is important about service is to remember that it does not live in the boundaries of a few days, but it must survive in each of us. I do service because for me community service is not only a trip or an extra bullet on a resume, it is a responsibility that comes with being human. The power of community does not end in an airport on the last day of an alternative spring break trip because the love in a community never ends. Community service is more than an Instagram post. It is more than a hashtag. It is a lifestyle with a balance of self love and selflessness. In order to serve we must rise like the mist in Maryland and love like the woman in a daisy printed dress.
I’m familiar negotiating who I am to please others. Some may call me inauthentic, I call this self-protection. However, I have burned through my shields. Too tired to be exhausted, this continuous disguise has faded. It’s time I accept myself and no longer sacrifice self-love for overall acceptance.
The mask I wear runs deeper than my foundation, and so today I decide to shift my narrative. I am no longer a finished product of what I’ve been through, I am a project continuously craving care, love, and attention. Today, I am proudly high maintenance. I must treat my body with the ultimate fragility. I understand I am the only constant character in my life. I will contribute only to my self preservation. Tonight, in my sweat pants and coiled hair I am nothing less than a Queen.
I deserve to be heard. I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be royalty.
12:46am, February 28th, 2016 the minute I unapologetically decided to love myself
I was looking back at my old Instagram posts and came across a picture of myself in a terribly ugly pink and blue sweater. I realized… that’s exactly what I wore when I found out my father died.
I looked at the post and below were a series of compliments. Who would have known those words would be meaningless and reread over and over as I look back on the day my father left me for the last time. After some thinking, I decided to put a collection of photos together all taken from my Instagram during the few months I went through the most grief but posed for the most “smiles.”
Each photo has a little glimpse of what was really going on behind the screen.
166 Weeks Ago.
I took this picture the day my mother and I finally got the keys to our new apartment after we moved from Miami. It took 5 months for us to find a place to live in our price range. For months we both were living in a tiny apartment alongside my sister, nephew, and niece who were selfless enough to shelter us during our search. That night, mom and I had no furniture but what we did have was a frozen 10 dollar pizza from Walmart across the street and that was all we needed. It was a beautiful night, I wouldn’t have given it up for the world.
164 Weeks Ago.
This was the fist time I saw snow in my new home, Boston. Posed, but the happiness you see in my face was completely authentic. I was scared but excited to start my new life in this city.
162 Weeks Ago.
Straight Hair. Picture taken after 2 and a half hours of heat applied to my hair. I straightened my hair for years to be “beautiful.” I hated my curls, especially under hats. I blamed convenience for ignorance. I wear my hair curly now. I still love this picture.
161 Weeks Ago.
I took this picture the morning my father died.
It was ugly sweater day. I felt really pretty that morning. I was asked to be dismissed from class in the middle of my English midterm and told by my sister he was dead when we were driving back home. This was the hardest day of my life. I flew to the Dominican that night. I got 23 likes.
159 Weeks Ago.
I took this “funny” picture in the hospital. Before flying back to the US from my father’s funeral, my mom asked if my grandmother wanted to come back with us since she wasn’t feeling well and we knew a hospital that could help her. She had a cardiac arrest the night we landed. I posted this picture so people wouldn’t know what I was actually going through. She wasn’t gone yet when we took this. I don’t think this picture is that funny. We spent New Year’s in the hospital.
The day after this picture was posted I was curled on the bathroom floor of a Boston hospital forgetting what it felt like to breathe. This picture only received 13 likes. I miss her so much.
159 Weeks Ago.
Baby Valentina giving us joy in the waiting room during the hardest week of our lives. I captioned it #Beautiful. No one would know exactly where this was taken until now.
157 Week Ago.
My mom flew to the Dominican for my grandmother’s funeral. I stayed behind and too scared to sleep alone I stayed with my cousins for two months. They put this together so I wouldn’t be sad. My anxiety was unbearable. That night I woke up in the middle of the night and ended up passing out on the way to the bathroom. My head always hurt. My grief was physical. They helped me.
157 Weeks Ago.
I took that of my cousins after church. I went with them every Sunday my mom was gone and prayed the same prayer. I remember that was the first time in a long time I laughed authentically. I love this picture… look at my nephew’s face. Priceless.
141 Weeks Ago
My sister, my mother, and I were laying in bed and I noticed the beautiful shadows form from our blinds. We rose our legs and I snapped a picture. Inside we were all hurting but it was Mother’s Day, we rejected the pain just for a moment. We didn’t know it then but time was healing us.
135 Weeks Ago.
My mother raises her arms with a huge smile on her face. She uses her light and her strength to overcome the pain from losing her mom and the father of her children. Look at her face… so beautiful. This picture represent healing. This picture only got 37 likes, but it deserved millions. Te amo mami.
Discovering My Latina Identity Through Music and Television
It’s the day before 2014, my cousin and I listen closely to an eery electronic tapping in a slightly slanted apartment deep in the Bronx. Slowly, the tapping transforms to music and people sing in harmonized longing.
I whisper to my cousin, “What is this?”
“Sssh, just listen.”
He raises his hand in the air and follows the movement of these voices, like a river flowing smoothly through violent turns the score rises. We are listening to the Phantom of the Opera. The phantom demands the woman’s voice to rise, my cousin and I listen speechless as her voice commands our ears to listen. I glance at his face while she sings even louder and his eyes are shut completely immersed by the sounds spurring in this shoe-box New York home. The score rises and falls, and suddenly I feel myself falling in love with this genre. Just while I imagine myself in victorian garb listening to these artists alter my emotions my aunt screams-
“Apague ese ruido, dios mio!” “Turn off that noise, my god!”
I see the frustration in my cousin’s eyes but his reaction feels all too familiar. The music of the night transforms. The “chiki-taka-ta” tapping of classic Dominican merengue fills the apartment. A different kind of operatic masterpiece.
My relationship with music, television, and books while I was growing up consisted of negotiating my identity to discover what I could or could not consume.I still find myself literally juggling the cultures of my roots and the culture of the country I live in… and it gets exhausting. With all forms of media, I never felt like I fit into any kind of target audience. Being first generation American means my mom and family were always immersed in the Dominican Latinx life style but going to school meant I had to strip that part of me away in order to fit in and for lack of better words “act white.” When I lived in Miami, I felt like the only spanish speaking person who listened to indie music and did not enjoy the rhythmic back and forth dancing of my Dominican people that kept our house lights on until sunrise every weekend. Fourteen years old, I would hide in my room and listen to Jack’s Mannequin loud enough to cover the sounds of Antonio Santos playing downstairs. These actions did not leave me unpunished. My family called me Gringa, a term used to call white people who did not speak English well, and my Latinx classmates would say “you’re the whitest Dominican I know.” Even at fourteen years old I knew that the worst part of the statement was I could not figure out if it was an insult or a compliment. At twenty years old, I respond with the rejection of both categories. I create my own label, my own category, a functioning hybrid Dominican-American who can listen to both Radiohead and Celia Cruz shamelessly. I have realized I can live outside the narrative that is set for me I am liberated.
The liberation did not come easy, living in Boston as an adult and a minority (rather than in Miami or even the Bronx where white was the minority) taught me to take pride in my Latinx side and also to bond with other people that fit into “outsider culture.” Befriending people of all shades and colors, I feel comfortable dancing to the cliche beats of Hotline Bling, singing along to Hasta La Raiz, and watching the Phantom of the Opera. Despite what we Latinx children of immigrants have learned, we do not have to compromise who we are to consume such media but that doesn’t mean we can’t critique it.
I didn’t realize that I was not being served quality films/books that related to my narrative in the United States until recently. I hate to admit it, but I did feel like a lot of what I was and is interested to was reserved for white people. The movies that impacted me the most while I was in my mid-teens did not have any kind of character with my background. If I didn’t go out and search for it myself, I rarely saw people of color as the main character. For a short time I was absolutely obsessed with the Princess Diaries. When I first saw the film, the introduction held me by the shoulders and shouted hope into my ears. This young teenage girl with frizzy brown hair, an obsession with indie-rock music, and a cat who was bullied at school was told she was actually a princess. Even though there were no people of color in the film, other than maybe the principal (Christina Yang!!!), it was seldom I felt compatible. So I do what one must do as a child of color consuming United States media, find the characteristics you do relate with and ignore the rest. We were forced to practice colorblindness with white people before that even became a thing. Unfortunately, there are scenes in the Princess Diaries that I could not ignore such as how her hair transformation was the main feature of the make over. In order for Mia, the main character, to be treated with dignity she had to strip off her curls. This scene actually led me to straighten my hair for years afterwards in hopes that I could some day be as accepted as Mia was. Maybe even considered royalty. Of course, I am aware that this may sound petty but to a child with hair that is consistently called “pelo malo” or “bad hair,” a simple scene such as this is life changing in the wrong way.
The same happened when I watched Sister, Sister or the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When people of color were actually given a platform to reach young people and make children of color believe that this country is not only trying to entertain a certain kind of person why do they have to be about middle-upper class families with nuclear family units. Of course, I do not denounce the power these shows had especially to me when I was younger but where were the mainstream television shows that had strong Latinx starring roles if any at all? Or sitcoms with characters that lived in the projects? Even subconsciously I found myself consuming so much media because I was struggling with finding people who were like me on them. Let’s take Gilmore Girls for example, not even one of my favorite television shows could get it right. I loved it because it had a character who had similar ambitions to mine with a single mother but there was not one person of color with a significant role throughout the entire show except maybe the comic relief character Michel.
I am not saying all of television is bad. Nowadays, when I tune into Jane the Virgin, a one hour dramedy that’s basically an English novella, I feel so connected to the show because it is the first time I see my family dynamic featured period. When I saw the first episode I remember thinking to myself, is this how white people feel? If it is, this feels amazing! And again I thought the same when I saw Fresh off the Boat, an amazing sitcom about an Asian family assimilating to white culture in Orlando, FL. As the years go by and more opportunity is given to people of color, I am gathering more hope for the future children of color who are trying to develop in a world that is not catering to them. I hope that they discover what took me 20 years to find out. That they have the power to choose and create their own ruido.
P.S I wrote this listening to this playlist I have on my Spotify: Latinx Vibes! Enjoy!
a six sentence story
It all started on a day like today. I decided to start a story with “It all started.” These three words, made of gunpowder to an unplanned rushed story, hold more potential than talent. When words refuse to lend themselves I write in a panic “It all started when my heart stopped working” or “It all started when he told me his sister died.” Yesterday told me to write “It all started when it never started at all.” Today, however, started like never before, on the cusp of tomorrow ending.
What the McNair Scholars at Suffolk University Did to Keep Their Space
EDIT: PROOFED/REVISED, MARCH 1st
As a first generation college student and U.S citizen, I have navigated the streets of Suffolk University on my toes. Living in the body of a low income person of color on a campus overflowing with privilege, living unapologetically is nothing less than radical. It is unusual to meet administrators, faculty, and professors that openly ask to embrace the culture of myself and people like me in an academic environment unless you were in the arms of the McNair Scholars program. As a McNair, I was taught to believe my future PhD was less a dream and more an upcoming reality even as a Latina sin complejos. The office has grounded myself and multiple others as students free from fear and lack of access. However, Suffolk University clearly did not understand the power of students and student activism when they decided to take away the McNair space. We as students had no other choice but prove what the recently liberated are capable of. This is our story.
Before I get started, a little background: the McNair Scholars are a part of the TRIO program funded at 151 institutions in the US that is reserved for students with historically disenfranchised identities. This means that most of the McNair scholars are first generation college students/people of color. En otras palabras, son mi gente. Raised in a family that emigrated from la República Dominica, my skill set is broad but not necessarily tailored to be successful in an American private institution such as Suffolk University. The McNair Scholar program facilitates mentorship that helps people like me attain the cultural capital needed to pipeline us into PhD programs that will change the course of our lives forever.
In Suffolk, I consistently find myself negotiating with those in power in order to have some sort of agency on campus. What the higher administration needs to understand is that I should not be negotiating my worth with people who do not care to learn my story, my talents, or my experiences. They should be asking me and my peers what we need. This is a concept that non-first generation students learn way before stepping on campus. They learn that it is ok to talk to your professors after class when you have a question, they have family members who’s been reviewing their resumes since high school, they know to send thank you cards after a job interview… a gesture I learned only last year. After I became a McNair Scholar, I ascended from the “minority of the minority.” Inside the Center for Academic Access and Opportunity, I am treated as a future colleague by the advisors and directors who’s main goal is our success. In the Center, we are finally able to breathe. When we speak about our lives and our experiences, we are not pitied. We are empowered. Our one “down” identities don’t feel very down anymore.
In the middle of November, I received a message from a fellow scholar at the center with word about the status of the program we love. Suffolk decided to implement an open-door floor plan transforming a set of departments into an open community for offices on campus to share resources. This would push the entire Center into a tiny corner with absolutely no chance for privacy. Offices for one on one students would need to be reserved and there would be no space for showcasing student research. This set up was not conducive for students who needed one on one care and private resources. We knew we deserved an entire building, and they were only giving us a few square feet. Our space, our privacy, and our home would be at jeopardy if the students didn’t do anything about it. This was a clear representation that the importance of our program was not properly acknowledged by the university and our value was being looked over. It was a my responsibility to respond to that text with action and so the movement began. If the administrators in the office decided to do what I did, or anyone paid by the University spoke up and demanded a change in plans they could lose their positions so the McNair Scholars began communications about how to make them listen to us and give us our space back. We needed to stop negotiating, and start demanding. Flowers need space to bloom.
Activism requires vulnerability. Before using the power of all the McNair Scholars to demand action, I decided to share my own narrative to professionals to make them understand how much the program meant to me and why we were so passionate about keeping the space we had. As a young child, I was told every day by Mamí that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I had paciensia and inteligencia. Young, wide eyed, and hopeful I believed her. When we were priced out of our New York home, I believed a little less. When I didn’t do well in school, I believed a little less. When my dad died, I almost didn’t believe at all. I physically could feel myself lose trust in the potential I had, and learned how much harder I had to work to fight the statistics stacked against me. I needed to mentally build myself back and believe that I was not only capable of escaping government welfare paperwork, but I was worthy enough to lot my experiences define me. I defined my experiences.
I learned about privilege in 2013, when I slept over my friend’s house and saw the dad doing the dishes. Eating a toasted bagel with strawberry cream cheese, I watched my friend’s mother sip coffee and thought about the realities of students who didn’t have to translate their school paperwork for their parents. Some students didn’t have to buy a calling card to talk to their father. Some students didn’t walk straight to the clearance rack. Some students didn’t try to fit in, they just did. The envy started in my chest. It took years to break down this ugliness and realize that regardless of my background I am still the one controlling my future. I learned to cherish my story and take it with me to the Suffolk campus the following August. When I stepped in the library for the first time, I remember looking around and realizing that I was literally on the same playing field as all my peers. That my background, income, nor clothes could dictate my future.. Unfortunately, I slowly realized I was playing a card game where I never learned the rules. My naiveté was exposed, but the McNair Scholar program caught me when I was falling into a dangerous place.
This is why the McNair Scholars decided to refuse the disrespectful offer to decrease our space. Too many students like me step onto these campuses with these experiences and I am not scared to demand affirmation rather than invisibility but that took time of growth. Speaking to someone who never experienced living without, they would have never seen the absolute terrible idea of combining the center with other departments. The first step the McNair Scholars took included meeting and deciding exactly what we were going to do. We met in a conference room and wrote out all the plans and timelines. The objective was to maintain the McNair space and receive written confirmation before the Fall semester ended. We would send out an email and ask for support from administrators in the CAAO, then contact a high level administrator with enough power to give us what we wanted. In addition, we would only allow two days for a response from the high level administrator since we were working on a very time sensitive timeline (less than a month before Winter Break) in addition to meeting with someone who decided to move our office. The last resort, if these emails and meetings were futile would be to organize a sit-in on the 7th floor.
The emails went beautifully and when the administrator decided to meet with us, they limited the meeting to specific scholars: Stephanie Breen, Isaac Berko, and myself. The meeting started off simple, the administrator smiled at us and welcomed us into a conference room on the highest floor of the building. The hallways had windows in place of ceilings, and the sun’s rays illuminated the translucent navy blue and gold ridged doors. It was the most beautiful floor I’ve ever seen on campus. I remember thinking the irony of three first generation people of color walking onto this floor, professionally dressed and significantly prepared we were the ones in charge now. With the support of the McNair administrators behind us, Stephanie, Isaac, and I started fighting for our lives.
When the administrator tried to convince us we would be “better off” with a smaller space because they had had more windows than we did, Stephanie quickly revoked his statement and said we were fighting for space not for lighting. When they tried to tell us the open-door concept worked on the Suffolk Madrid campus and would be an upgrade, we thanked him for the upgrade but politely declined. When they talked about privacy taking away from the community on the floor, I made it very clear how privacy suggests safety something that can not be promised to people like us on this campus unless the right resources are provided for us. Half an hour into the meeting, you can tell the administrator was frustrated and so were we. Surely, the administrator did not expect us to be so prepared and respond to all of their points con paciensia y inteligencia.
In that room, we used our personal experiences, our honesty about campus inclusion, and our wit to stand our ground. Together we emphasized our need for privacy, the impracticality of the open floor concept, the importance the McNair program had in our lives, and the disrespect we felt when we found out our office would be condensed. The administrator responded with bewilderment. They did not understand how much this meant to us. I still do not think they understands how a group of students were able to organize and fight for a few hundred square feet on campus. In all honesty though, how could we ask them, in that hour, to understand the discomfort we feel every day holding the identities we hold? How could we ask of them the importance that our voices were to be heard? Universities nationwide take pride in being student-centric, but this becomes a facade when students are not represented in areas on a campus that make the most change. If a university is meant to serve students, than as students we have every right to ask what we need and expect these demands to be filled.
At one point, the administrator told us since we rejected the “upgrade” (as they put it), we should consult with the scholars and send them a list of resources that we need in order to feel satisfied in this moving transition. The scholars responded the following Monday with an email that included the following resources for our ‘dream space’: a kitchen, bare walls for posters, conference room, private offices with doors for administrators, a lounge, a couch, a computer lab, an office for the office assistance, a welcome desk, and ample space for gatherings. We strategically decided to send this because it included all the resources we already had and knew was impossible to replicate in an open concept floor plan. We were scholars after all. The administrator responded with merely two words: “thank you.” Empty. Brittle. Unproductive.
Stephanie, Isaac, and I have decided that the sit-in would need to happen as soon as possible. It was clear that our voices were being silenced and the McNair Scholars were ready to fight. Immediately, I started to contact various organizations to co-sponsor the sit-in and right before I had my first meeting with a club interested in helping us get more people participate in the sit-in, we contacted President McKenna for support. The President of Suffolk Unviersity
Below is an excerpt from the letter:
“When we say “us,” we are the marginalized, minority, historically disenfranchised, underrepresented students in this University who need the most support from people like you. After consulting with other McNair scholars we do not believe the new space will be worthy of our potential. Consistently campuses nationwide are telling us we don’t matter via budget cuts, vandalized cultural centers, and ignored pleas for action. The relocation decision is supporting the trend these campuses are falling into and we would like to set up a meeting with you to discuss our concerns.”
Soon after this email was set, we heard back from a woman on campus who held much more authority than the administrator we previously met with. She told us our voices were heard. She told us we were keeping our space. Students have rallied, fought, and won this battle. For the next few years, we can be comfortable sitting in our center and knowing it was our activism and our strategy that was able to convince faculty, administrators, and even the President McKenna that we are done negotiating. We are announcing our worth and our power on this campus. We knew change was going to happen because we would take not stop until we were satisfied. It is imperative for students to realize how much power they really have on campus. We learned throughout this process that we do have to work harder than anyone else to get what we need, and in that hard work comes more reward for the people after us. If I was an administrator, sending these emails and potentially organizing a sit-in I would have immediately been terminated. Your status as a student actually protects you on campus. Although we made people angry, sacrificed hours planning, and sent countless emails, the time was anything but lost. We won. Valió la pena.
It’s New Year’s Day, I scurry to the restroom and swallow as hard as I can to force the sobs to in. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. I shut the door behind me, turn the lock horizontal, and shut off the light. In the darkness, I lean against the door and slide down to the cold tiles. I squeeze my palm against my mouth and scream. My yells muffled by my own hand and the loudness of the merengue playing in the background I keep going until I hear a knock on the door.
“Let me in” my cousin asks while knocking repeatedly. “I have to go!”
“Casi temino!,” I say and turn on the lights. “I’m almost done,” I command myself.
I allow two minutes. For two minutes I will fall.
Washing the lipstick off my palms, I stare at my reflection. My eyes red, lids swollen, bottom lip trembling, curls out of place, I rock back and forth with my hands holding the sides of the sink. She would tell you to breathe, I think to myself. Maybe it will help this time. Before I breathe, I clench my teeth and look at the ceiling letting the tears fall down the sides of my face. I am crying but not the good kind. Tear by tear I reach down and use toilet paper to wipe off the product of my discomfort trying not to ruin my already smeared make up. We will be taking pictures soon.
Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, inhale harder.
Oh no. It’s happening again. Quickly, I force myself to smile. Stare at my reflection and wait for the tears to stop. My two minutes are almost up. I have no choice but to stop.
After a few breaths, I use my finger tip to wipe the mascara from the bottom of my left eye and reapplied my lipstick. With the fabricated smirk I know so well, I re-scrunch my curls. Pin the fly away in place and let my cousin in.
“Finally.” My cousin says before running into the restroom, happy he just looked at me, and didn’t really see me.
Below is a short poem I wrote right after I realized a good friend of some time saw me as a checklist rather than a full person. It was the first time I realized that being in a relationship means compromising some parts of who you are in order to create other parts of yourself. However this relationship in particular was a compromise but very one sided. I lost who I was to make someone who ended up being a stranger happy. This poem was written in the format as a spoken word/prose poem. Enjoy: “Bed Sores”