Being a woman of color at a predominantly white institution has a way of making you feel completely alone in a room full of people solely because of the color of your skin.
Often in the classroom, one of the places where I feel the least represented on campus, I fear speaking with conviction because I know that I will be perceived as the “voice of my people” (whatever that means) or my opinions will be disregarded because of my “angry black girl” demeanor.
However, being at the Facing Race conference finally affirmed my feelings of contempt for the institution that I was once so proud to be accepted into. I have been seeking validation since my freshman year, looking for answers everywhere.
I impulsively asked Junot Diaz to speak to the experience of a student of color at campuses like mine and it was then that I knew that despite my reputation of being angry and militant and obsessed with talking about race, my concerns were valid and my “obsession” with race was not just a figment of my imagination. His half facetious response to my question showed me that I am not alone in my uphill battle and that I am not the problem, it is the white supremacist nature of the very institution that is problematic. I experienced a sense of solidarity that I have never felt on my own campus, with the exception of venting sessions with other students of color.
Having attended panels on race in comedy, dating, higher education, and many other aspects of our seemingly mundane lives, it became clear to me that I am not the only one who sees race as a pivotal aspect of my identity that informs every part of all of my interactions. While small liberal arts environments try tirelessly to sell an image of diversity and social consciousness, the fact of the matter is that not all of them adequately confront identity politics and are thereby inherently exclusive and normative.
Having only recently discovered the complexities of my identity as a woman/woman of color/feminist and all of the myriad things that I identify with, I could write an essay about all of the things that I learned at last weekend’s conference, but my most important takeaway was that I am not pulling some surreptitious race card when I refuse to conform to the dominant group’s standards. Race is real, not because it is in any way biological, but because it has been deeply entrenched in our institutions for centuries.
Aya Gallego was born and raised in New York City and is currently a senior International/Global Studies major at Middlebury College.