Lessons learned from that man who was on the Breakfast Club

Note: Before you read this post, I highly encourage you to read the responses from a few wonderful Black trans women. Their words are amazing, and their narratives are important.

Janet Mock’s piece in Allure: Dear Men of “The Breakfast Club”: Trans Women Aren’t a Prop, Ploy, or Sexual Predators 

L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith’s piece in For Harriet: Black Men, Don’t Make Trans Women Pay for Your Fragile Masculinity


The time has come to stop treating Black trans women like punchlines. Nope, actually, it’s been done time. 13 Black trans women (15 trans women of color) have been murdered since Jan 1, 2017. This shouldn’t be happening, it shouldn’t have happened.

Unfortunately, these hate crimes do not happen out of thin air, and many folks do their best to contribute to an extremely violent and transphobic society.

On Friday, the Breakfast Club hosted an interview with Lil Dvual, a comedian who I had no idea he existed until last night. Honestly, the devil is at work this year even more than usual lately is typically one to “speak his mind.” During the show, one of the ways he spoke his mind was by declaring if “one did that to me” (i.e. if a trans woman had sex with him/dated him) and “didn’t tell me”* (i.e. decided for their safety that they did not want to come out) he’d “probably going to want to kill them” (adding to the 15 trans women–all trans women of color, mind you– that have been murdered this year). And then said “put that book down” when looking at Janet Mock’s** newest book, and proceeded to misgender Janet.

If you care to listen to that part of the interview, it can’t be found here. Cw for some transphobic behavior.

Also: he refuses to be apologetic over his statements, if his twitter is any indication.

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Lil, how the actual fuck dare you. How dare you say that trans woman deserve to die, when there have been so many trans women of color murdered for just living their truth, when trans women of color are, as writer Mey Rude says, “exist[ing] at one of the most dangerous intersections in America,” when trans women are HUMAN and aren’t jokes for your little routines. To misgender a trans woman multiple times on purpose on a popular radio show is violent and bad enough. To say that you want to kill a trans women is honestly the worst. And implying that trans women are dangerous tricksters who try to deceive poor cis men into sleeping with them, while ignoring the fact this very idea, along with toxic masculinity, is what’s murdering trans women? Oh my God, you trash-ass human. Grow up.

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I would also like to point out that Lil was not the only person in the room. The hosts of the Breakfast Club (Charlamagne tha god, Angela Yee, and DJ Envy) were present, and did little to stop. It’s interesting to note that the men in the room egged Lil on. Angela defended Janet Mock’s beauty***, although she was laughing as well and tried to change the subject early on.

It’s easy to point fingers at Lil’s ignorant ass and Charlamagne and Co.s willful ignorance (so, so easy). And it’s also a good reminder to constantly check ourselves and make sure we’re not bystanders toward fucked up attitudes. Because if we:

  • laugh or ignore our friends’ transphobic jokes
  • create spaces for women of color and exclude trans women/ allow space for trans women but not their lived experiences.
  • forget to listen to trans women of color and cite, respect, and pay them for their work
  • only hype up trans women who look like our idea of “feminine” (i.e. cis-passing)
  • say things like “he doesn’t have to accept them, he just shouldn’t threaten them,” implying that we shouldn’t “accept” trans woman because something is wrong with them.
  • don’t challenge the transphobic comments we hear about Black trans women, or any trans woman
  • [this is not an exclusive list, I’m sure we could come up with at least 20 other points]

We’re complicit in transphobia. Myself definitely included.

I’m not trying to imply all cis folks are on the same level of Lil. And this list is not to excuse his actions or get his fool-ass off the hook. However, it’s to serve as a reminder that we benefit from cis privilege, and we need to step up and do better. We need to check people like Lil, and make sure we hold actions that stand in solidarity with trans women.

As a cis Black woman, I’ve been long silent, thinking that a couple of outraged Facebook posts and donations could be enough. And definitely not to knock social media action, or donating to organizations that support trans women of color. Both are important. And I need to also call out trans violence on the daily, on the internet and within my family. I need to make sure when I scream #BlackGirlMagic, I include Black trans women. I want us to say this, and mean this:

And to get here, we’ve got some fucking work to do.


*Hi, friends. Trans folks do not “trick people;” they’re just out here trying to live their lives. There is a STRONG difference between saying “I don’t want to sleep with someone,” and basically saying, “I’m going to perpetuate the narrative that trans women are trying tricky and are trying to sleep with cis men without their consent to justify my transphobia, even though it’s reported that 50% of trans people experience sexual assault in their lifetime.” Lil was not championing for consent. He was championing for violence.

**ALSO, I would like to state that Janet Mock is a goddess and a smart angel and how dare you. No trans woman deserves to be treated with the disrespect Lil showed, and I’m not outraged because he specifically pointed to Janet. However, I do love Janet Mock, and I am not pleased. She is the sun and the stars and she doesn’t need me to defend her because she has got her shit on lock and clapped-back in her amazing way, but still. Leave Janet alone.

***I don’t know Angela, but here’s hoping she would have defended another trans woman that might not have had Janet’s “pretty privilege.”

Dear Sandra,

This is the fourth time I’ve tried to write this letter, since I started the first draft in 2015. Even now, it will be an imperfect version. It is not in my usual tone. There will be no witty sentences or swear-filled rants. This feels sad, and unorganized, and jumbled. But it’s time to write.

Whenever a Black person, particularly a Black woman dies, I struggle to articulate my sorrow. I want to honor the family. I don’t want  to make it about me. The problem, however, is that it is about me. And her, and her, and other Black women who see the news and wonder, “could I be the next one?” When I see a Black girl murdered, my brain goes into overdrive for the next 48 hours worrying what will happen to me and other Black women I love, because in the eyes of everyone except ourselves. we are less than human. Because I am a Black woman, I see that similarity with other Black women who are killed, whether I want to or not.

And in you, I see more similarities with myself than ever.

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Photo credit: Taken from The Nation article; original from Sandra Bland’s Facebook page

Of course, we are not exactly the same. This year, you would have been thirty years old, and I just entered into the last year of my mid-twenties. You left Illinois for college, whereas I stayed in the state for the first 22 years of my life. During the summer of 2015, you were heading South for your new job, while I headed West for mine. You were part of the Black Lives Movement in Chicago, probably around the same time I just started to wake up. I did not know you, and I strongly doubt you knew me.

And yet. We were both born in Naperville, Illinois.  Your old church is close to my house, so close, that when my dad pointed this out, I clenched my palms to keep from sobbing in front of my family. We both started our new jobs around the same time– student-centered higher education careers, jobs that, I believe, we believed could change the world. Depression is a label we knew well, along with Black, and woman, and beautiful.

Our birthdays are only one day apart.

This letter will be one of the shortest blog posts I write, not because I want to dishonor you, but because today, even two years out from your death, it still hurts to think about you. It hurts to think about how you were stopped for failing to use a turn signal (because, of course, driving while Black). It hurts me to see the courts drop the perjury charges against the state trooper who brought you to your death. It hurts me to read how the court system failed you way before, countless times. It hurts me that we didn’t have a nuanced discussion about Black women’s relationship with depression and mental health and suicide when we talked about your death. It hurts me that they killed you, and it hurts me that, even two years after your death, people will still say that the judicial system is fine, that police systems aren’t rooted in White Supremacy, that Black women deserve to be forced into the prison system. It hurts that, as the years go by, we (except for Black women) say your name less and less.

It hurts to think we could have been in the same place, at the same time. This is selfish and self-serving and doesn’t help anyone. And to me, it’s also real.

I don’t yet have the heart to watch your Sandy Speaks videos, but I want to, soon. I want to set the world on fire and challenge the system and love Black women even harder and do better. I want to be better, to take care of myself. I want to scream. I hate the phrase “die in vain,” and I refuse to use it to you, because you did not ask to die. And I won’t forget you, both your life and your death. Because it is one more name reminding me I need to do more, to do everything in my body to speak up and say we need to be treated better. And for me, it’s an important name.

Rest in power, Sandy.

Columbusing the Old Neighborhood, Part 1

I have quite a few fond memories of traveling into Downtown Los Angeles as a kid. Its not very far from my home but add in LA traffic and it is a mess. But on a weekend, we could be down there in 15 minutes. So it’s a place we frequented often. Sometimes it was to go to the “alley,” where you could buy cheap ANYTHING. Mostly, we went for clothes. The flower market down there is where we bought all the flowers for my parents’ vowel renewal when I was in the sixth grade. There’s a place called Moskatels, which is basically heaven to me – it’s like a Michael’s outlet – where I dream of the crafty Etsy store I will someday open and where you can buy giant ornaments the size of my head for a dollar.

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One of my most favorite places to go was always Grand Central Market. I used to love hearing my dad reminisce of his trips to the market when he was a boy. He and his family (a family of 8) lived well below the poverty line and Grand Central was a great place to buy produce to feed so many people on such a small income. For me, the best part was the amazing Mexican food you could get and find a corner to eat in. Bustling with tons of brown folks, Grand Central Market is not far from the many historically significant Mexican sites in Downtown LA (Olvera Street is still standing and Linda Cielito is a go to for taquitos if you need a suggestion). These were my people and people my family seemed comfortable around.

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Seeing as I have spent many of my adult years not in LA and instead trying to find the brown folks where I live (shout out to Little Mexico in South Bend!), I was painfully unaware of the changes that were happening in my beloved little haven. Shortly after my return from Colorado a year and a half ago, the Expo line opened connecting the Westside (Santa Monica, Culver City, etc. = expensive) to Downtown. Given that parking in DTLA had always been a struggle, I thought the Expo was a great addition to avoid the parking fees (although free parking on Sundays at Grand Central and Moskatels! Hey! – But not anymore. Sad face). However, clearly the Expo was put in to connect the wealthy people to the brown part of town. Well off folks have started to move into Downtown creating a “hip and trendy” downtown and commuting to the Westside in a more environmentally sustainable manner. And folks who can afford to live on the Westside are heading into Downtown for weekend events.

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I do think there is something about creating a place for entertainment or embracing the cultural beauty that has long-existed in a city. However, the “improvements” have not benefited the folks who have called this place home since it was Mexico but is instead making housing prices too expensive for them to afford and columbusing the places in which they once conducted business.

I have used the Expo line to avoid the exorbitant parking pricing at an LA Rams game, to go to an old library operating out of an old bank vault, and to attend LA’s second annual Dessert Week this past fall. After leaving on a sugar induced high, my parents and I headed on foot to Grand Central for our beloved sopes covered in only the very best toppings and Mexican meats. Immediately my dad said something about all the White people followed very closely by “THEY SERVE BEER HERE?!” You see, Grand Central has less of a market-feel these days (I only spotted two produce stands) and instead seems to have been taken over by trendy craft beer, specialty bagels, organic ice cream, and yes, free wifi.

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Definitely not the food of Brown folks

Luckily, our favorite Mexican food storefront was still standing and we ate until our bellies were full thoroughly confused as to what was happening around us. We tipped the women who made our food. She seemed surprised. So, the folks who have columbused a place I love also do not tip the folks who make their food – this was once customary particularly knowing wages at these ma and pop places were not enough to pay the bills.

I think there is certainly a right way to bring communities together to share in the rich cultural history a city was founded on but erasing the very people responsible for that history is not the way to do it. Sadly, the place my dad went with his dad to pick produce early in the mornings no longer exists. I can only hope my favorite food stand will be there whenever I am able to travel out their next. We need to hold on to as much as we can in a climate that values conformity to the norm more that embracing our uniqueness.

International Womxn’s Day 2017

There is a blog post circulating today that points out how woman-heavy our field is and yet, Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAOs) are overwhelmingly men.

I just need to go on a minor rant. My institution requires employees take a winter holiday. However, they do not offer this as paid time. So, in my first month of work, I was required to borrow against my future vacation time. And so, today, in March, I still do not have any vacation time because I am still trying to replenish what I used for the winter closure. This is an incredibly long-winded road to say I was unable to take today off. As a newer employee, I am not in a position to cause waves by taking a day off without pay. I know there are plenty of other folks who wanted to strike in solidarity but for circumstances beyond their control, that was not a viable action today.

Instead, I wore the brightest red pants I own that are still work appropriate.

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I love my field. I love the people in my field and the lengths to which many of us will go to advocate for those on the margins of our campus and society as a whole. However, I must acknowledge those folks do not exist everywhere – certainly not at the places I have worked since leaving Colorado State.

Today, I was the only one who wore red – the only one showing solidarity in any way.

And then I sat through a rather long staff meeting. I wished everyone a “Happy International Women’s Day” – no one knew what I was talking about. I met our own SSAO for the first time. I have heard him speak before. He is always very candid about his background. I am not sure if he is trying to beat us to the punch of recognizing his lack of student affairs experience.

It is refreshing to see a black man in such a position. However, in LA, I have found that diversity of race and ethnicity are the norm. What I find so curious is that this man, a former student-athlete at my place of employment, former practicing lawyer – while clearly competent and experienced in his field – is our SSAO while I know of other student affairs professionals on this campus who have worked in our field for 15, 20, 30 years and have not seen and will not see those kinds of positions open to them.

I am coming to learn that even in student affairs, a field that seemingly appreciates social justice work, is not always the most welcoming place for everyone. And finding places to work where values and behaviors are congruent are outliers and not what I should expect on this journey – at least not outside the state of Colorado.

To end on a positive note I’d like to say thank you to the womxn, men, trans*, and gender non-conforming folks in my life and on my newsfeeds who did something today to show the immense power of those who face gender-related bias and oppression every day. Your quotes, pictures, live videos remind me that despite an ignorant work place – there are folks out there who get me and are ready to fight the good fight.

Neither steel nor iron, but flesh and blood

As humans, our beautiful bodies are made up of 70% water. Prick us, and we bleed plasma and cells. And although a few of people hardly get sick (note: this is not me, but I’ve heard of you magical unicorns before), no one body is indestructible. We all need a break from time to time.

I say this to remind everyone: Black women’s bodies are not unbreakable.

Three weeks ago in North Carolina, a Black girl, a middle schooler, was caught fighting. Or she was caught trying to break up the fights. There are different accounts. What I do know, what we all know, after seeing footage, is that a school officer came over, lifted her off the table, and slammed her to the ground. That is not an exaggeration. He slammed her like she was a rag doll, an item in the war against middle school fights. She later suffered a concussion.

It’s been 24 whole days, but I haven’t been able to put that image out of my head. It plays in my brain–this grown man, slamming a child to the ground. It reminds me of the Black women who, a few years ago, was thrown to the floor from her desk by a cop. And it disgusts me to my core. Even if this girl was the most frustrating shit-talker, even if she was leading the modern-day French revolution at her middle school..for what? That man has a good 75 pounds on her at least. Picking her up alone was not okay, but he could have done only that. Why did he feel the need to slam her?

Unfortunately, this isn’t new, and we know this will continue not to be new.

We live in a world where our bodies are disposable, casual objects. When we face police brutality, we may not only be murdered, but others will forget to say our names. If we don’t die, we are chased at pool parties and sat on. If we are sexually assaulted or harassed, we are mere Jezebels, our bodies “asking for it,” especially if the perpetrators are White men. God forbid if the perpetrators are White men. We are kicked in grocery stores, ignored when we need help in public places but shoved when we are “a nuisance.” Our hairs are chia pets, yankable in the eyes of non-Black folk. We are spat on or spat near for wearing a hijab or a dashiki or for speaking our languages. We are grabbed and pushed and pulled up–and this starts in elementary school. Hands are laid on us, and not just in church. And if a woman is Black and trans, we know violence is more likely to happen- 17 reported times in 2016, to be exact.

Often, and always, the breaking moves past our physical bodies: We will speak up against injustice, online or in person, either in the most blunt or passive way, and people will find a way to invalidate our experiences, or call us “irrational” or explain “what is or isn’t a big deal” (in fact, if someone does this with this article, congratulations: you are the annoying prophecy I predicted). We will be told we are untrained, or thieves, or dumb, even if we’re actually doctors (no, really, yes, we are). Or just trying to shop peacefully in Victoria’s Secret. Or demanding to be seen for our brilliance. We will be told we can walk home alone because “Black women are un-rapeable,” we will be called everything but n****r in college (and I do mean everything), our names will be stripped away from its native tongue and butchered and we’ll be told our beautiful string of consonants and vowels are “hard to pronounce” or “too ghetto.” 

And yes, to anyone ready to question–some of this, from the physical threats to the emotional dismissal–includes me. Although I am “soft,” I, by virtue of being Black and being woman, I know what it’s like to be seen and treated as “unbreakable.”

At times, we may be loud, angry, tired, sleepy, strong, sassy, and/or upset, but that doesn’t give others licence to treat our bodies like trash. These are, in fact, human emotions and traits that everyone possesses, demonized in us because it is easy to demonize Black folks and it is easy to demonize women, so naturally, “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.”

We have got to do better. I think about the work I need to do, from making it a point to #SayHerName (and be active on Kimberle Crenshaw’s #SayHerName site), to constantly working against my cissexism and remembering trans and non-binary Black women in the fight for honoring our bodies. But I, and other Black women, are not the only ones who have to roll up their sleeves. Beyond recognizing this country is built on the backs of Black women, non-Black folks and Black men need to do the work with us, and give us space to tell our stories. And damn, we need justice for Black girls in schools, girls who are not only seen as problems but are manhandled instead of the humans they are.

#IntelligenceSoWhite

This fall has been an absolute shit show. I’m sure at some point we’ll get to the giant orange elephant in the corner, but we’re just not there yet. So, I would like to address some other shittiness that occurred in the last few months.

The first was the story of a Black Woman DOCTOR bad-ass who was on a Delta flight when medical assistance was needed. Of course a flight attendant found it impossible that a Black Woman MD existed. To read the full encounter and see why I won’t fly Delta ever again, click here.

I do want to acknowledge that good things can come out of these super shitty situations THAT ACTUAL PEOPLE – HUMAN BEINGS – have to live through.

In this case, Black women took over twitter with the hashtag #WhataDoctorLooksLike

Here are some of the amazing shots captured…

Then a few weeks later, an academic paper made online headlines as the result of a student of color sharing her instructors feedback. Ugh…

I wish these were isolated instances but they are not and so many women (and men) of color face them on a daily basis at thousands of university campuses.

My first instance of this (that I can remember) came in my junior year of HIGH SCHOOL. I had an incredibly challenging English teacher. It was the first time I struggled in an English class (if we don’t count the extra reading comprehension class I had to take in the second grade). He wanted us to think outside of the box. This should be the tell of a great instructor, one that was actually preparing me for college. I felt like maybe I had finally thought of something. I analyzed the Scarlet Letter through the lens that Hester Prynne was treated exactly as we treat teenage girls who get pregnant while attending a Catholic high school. I got a C, which was even lower than my previous grades in the class – a hard pill to swallow for a straight A student. I was told my writing would make a great sociological paper but not an English one. Fair enough (at least I think so today – at the time I wanted more guidance).

So for my next paper on the Great Gatsby, I met with my instructor regularly. I was going to get this right this time. I eventually settled on the topic of wardrobe in the story. I talked to him about the language that was used to describe the outfit choices of the different characters. He thought it was a great idea but encouraged me to focus in a bit more. I narrowed in on Myrtle Wilson’s three outfits in a single chapter to show her want to be a part of the money world but used the author’s language to show she was a fraud. The colors and fabrics of her dresses were analyzed as being symbolic of dirt and greed. When it was done, I remember being impressed with myself. It was unlike anything I had ever written before – again the signs of a good class.

However, that feeling was fleeting. I was out of town in the State’s capitol meeting with the Board of Education regarding the implementation of No Child Left Behind in the State of California (I say that because of the irony in what happens next). So, a friend turned in my paper for me. When I returned to campus, I was handed my paper with 100 at the top and the phrase, “Now that’s how you do it” in the instructor’s signature block letters. But he also told me to stay after class.

My mind was racing but I thought he was just going to have a conversation about the work I had done and how the next time I’d have to do it without meeting with him. Instead, the first words out of his mouth were,

“this isn’t your work.”

“Excuse me? I don’t understand.”

“You didn’t write this.”

“I did.”

“You plagiarized.”

“I didn’t.”

I can still remember this so vividly. He had helped me. He knew my work. Worse off he had no interest in reporting it. He was going to let it go. But I wouldn’t let a teacher or a department smear my name for the remainder of my time in high school. I had hopes of going to college, I didn’t want other teachers thinking I was unethical in my academics. I was stunned. I left the classroom on the verge of tears. I remember telling my mom – who is the mother bear to end all mother bears when it comes to protecting her cubs.

I was never told where I had plagiarized from – only that I had. It wasn’t posed as a question, only stated as a factual accusation.

I knew I had a computer at home but one that didn’t have access to the internet so if they thought I had taken something off the interweb, that was literally impossible. (And for those of you wondering, smart phones didn’t exist yet – I know, call me abuela.)

My mom called the school. She advocated for me when I couldn’t advocate for myself. Eventually, it came out that my instructor had thought my paper was so well written, he showed the department chair, a senior English teacher on sabbatical at the time who had determined there was no way a 16 year old had written this paper. She couldn’t give a source. But my mom demanded one. And after the added pressure, she found someone’s dissertation out of Boston College who had analyzed the wardrobe of the Gatsby characters. As I sit here typing, I can’t help but think I would now be flattered to have my writing compared to a dissertation. But at 16, I didn’t know how to do that kind of research, we still went to the library to look in actual books. The school convinced me and my mom that this would not be anywhere on my academic transcript. My instructor offered an apology and wanted to move past it.

This is where a piece of Tiffany Martínez’s blog, really resonates with me:

“They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language … My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this?… I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to “cut and paste.” I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them.”

In light of the recent news stories about women of color, I wonder if my last name had been different would either of the two White educators have questioned my intelligence, my ability to write a compelling argument. I won’t ever know the answer to that. [Tolu’s addition: I don’t know, either, but something with the history of who is believed to have a great mind makes me think it would have been another outcome had your last name been different.] What I do know is that an instructor I looked up to, who was also the football coach (and I was a student manager), did not take the opportunity to tell his superior that he thought I was capable of such writing. An instructor who I thought might some day think of me as the kind of student who would never quit but would keep trying no longer viewed me so positively. I would not ask him for a letter of recommendation. Despite it being his advice I used to write my personal statement, he is not someone I would run to when I received acceptances to different colleges. My tenure as manager of the football team would be spent trying to avoid him.

As someone who suffers pretty debilitating-ly from Impostor Phenomenon (and has for a very long time), this is crushing. Actually putting effort into something did not provide me with a happy ending and clouded my view of what “effort” means for years to come afterwards.

My first year in college, my sister continued in her role as football manager with my previous teacher. He asked her where I was going to school. She said, “the University of Notre Dame.” His response, “Makes sense. Good writers go to schools like that.”

I wish the name of schools didn’t have such an impact on people because maybe I wouldn’t be in such debt right now. But his response and many others like it, are why I chose Notre Dame in the first place – I wanted to prove people wrong.

A year later, the department chair would return from Sabbatical and teach my sister, she would be blown away by my sister’s writing and make a remark about it running in the family. Sadly, one small comment cannot undo the hurt, pain, and trauma that would cause me to continuously doubt myself throughout my post-secondary education.

 

A Letter to my Freshman Self

Just over nine years ago, at the ripe age of 17, I made a decision – a decision that would guide many of the twists and turns my life has taken since then.

My admission letter said “Welcome Home” and I believed in all the promise that statement seemed to hold.

I am often found touting great things about the campus I called home for four years.

Proudly sporting “The Shirt” every Saturday in the fall. Standing behind our football team.

And more often, benefitting from the doors it opened for me.

However, those in my life are very much aware that I struggle with my alma mater. I love what it stands for but hate the lengths it will go to protect those things (e.g. a botched sexual assault investigation covered in the Hunting Ground – blog post to follow).

It prides itself on tradition.

But the problem with tradition is that is leaves certain groups of people out. “Traditionally” my alma mater (and most others) existed only to benefit White men. My alma mater only began admitting women in 1972. When I attend game watches, there is still an older demographic who are sure to let me know they attended in the “glory days” before I would have been allowed to even apply.

Notre Dame is not the easiest place for folks of color. That identity was one I had a hard time naming at that time. But through intentional reflection and conversations with those around me (thank you SAHE folks!), I have processed through much of my experience.

Apart from cheering on my teams in the fall or during March Madness, my engagement with Notre Dame is non-existent because I hold such resentment for a place that promised so much but didn’t deliver for me or those I surrounded myself with.

So, when a contest asking alums to write a letter to their Freshman selves was announced this past Spring semester, I thought about my lack of attachment and the processing I had done. I decided that it might be time to finally speak up and say something about my lackluster four years in South Bend. I quietly wrote a letter to myself, describing the difficulties and hope needed to persist. I told a single person about the endeavor, Kathy Sisneros at CSU. She had pushed me more that I would have liked at points BUT she played a large role in getting me to a place where I could talk about race and name my own and how it has shaped my own experiences, including those I had at Notre Dame. I had her read over the letter to challenge me once more as I finally hoped to tell my story with those who could change the trajectory of how future Domers experience life on campus.

Last month, I was dumbfounded to learn that my letter had been selected with 64 other alums to appear in a book that every incoming student will read this coming fall and for years to come.

I suppose before we get to the letter, I just want to acknowledge that my experience was far from perfect. And I doubt that it would be entirely different today. But the fact that Notre Dame has chosen to publish such a letter – and allow thousands to students access to it says something about the change the institution is at least trying to make. I work in student affairs because I want to make a difference in the lives of students and make higher education more accessible and rewarding for folks from underrepresented backgrounds. So, it really brings me joy to know that there are campuses out there trying to make change on an institutional level. Or are at least acknowledging the shortcomings of the past. We all have to start somewhere.

Okay, okay, here it is…

 

Dear Ashleigh,

Congratulations! You did it! While Frosh-O was a literal nightmare for your introverted self, this is still the place you’ve been dreaming about for a while.

However, you will soon realize you are not in LA anymore.

Your peers will begin to ask if you think you are here as the result of some affirmative action policy.

An instructor will be so surprised to find out that your last name originates in Mexico and he will poll the class to see “who can tell.”

A peer will publicly say undocumented people deserve to die if they arrive in an emergency room.

But I want you to know that you deserve to be here. You are no less worthy than they are. You are not operating at a deficit. Your voice matters and you should use it – use it to challenge others, to tell your story. These experiences will build resiliency and clarity of purpose. They will help you to embrace your identities in ways you haven’t discovered yet.

People will think you are not Brown enough but also not White enough. Regardless, you will find a group of people who love you because of your identities, not in spite of them. They will help you embrace who you are and stand by you as you learn more about your history through Latino Studies. Better yet, in the time you spend in McKenna, you will finally find professors who look like you and reflect a different experience.

As time passes, daily microaggressions will build up. Lean on your friends. They are having similar experiences and you do not have to face it alone. Find other students of color in your classes to exchange knowing glances with when something ludicrous happens. The silent camaraderie will get you through. These experiences will make you a better professional in the future as you work with students and try to relate to their lives.

It will be hard when those around you are taking weekend trips and going to exotic places for break, while you are just trying to make enough money to put food on the table. You will work countless campus jobs, and this is where you will meet some really great people. But also know Rector Funds can help with that class ring you’ll eye in your junior year. I wish I could tell you it won’t always be this way but Notre Dame is expensive and the decision to come here will impact you far after graduation. You are lucky enough to have a family who will do what they can to support you as you establish yourself. And, hopefully, one day, you will be able to pay them back. I have faith that will happen.

 Hate has its limitations. You will feel it but do not succumb to it. People are the sum of their experiences and yours just looks different from others. Focus on education, on being the outlier to their stereotypes and opening their minds in the process.

Hope is a better use of your energy. The presidential election of 2008 will bring hope for the country. In your personal life, find hope in the small things.   As you walk down South Quad, look up to that shinning Dome and remember the huge role Mary played in the faith of Abuelito and dad. Remember the tears in dad’s eyes when he saw Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Basilica because he knew she would take care of you and she will, just remember to visit her occasionally.

There will be days when this seems like too much to handle – like this is not the place for you. But this will also be the place that makes you who you are. You will find your best friends here. You will find your passions here. You will find that dreams you have been chasing are not necessarily right for you. You will question everything. And in four years, you will look back and be so proud at everything you accomplished – so beyond prepared for everything the world might throw at you. And you will come to realize, you were meant to be here all along.

 All my love,

Your future self

 

Renteria, A. (2016). Dear Ashleigh. In J. Kang & I. Tembe (Eds.), A letter to my freshman self: Domers reflect on their undergraduate experience (pp. 41-43). Notre Dame, IN: Corby Publishing.