I remember move-in day like it was yesterday. My mom cried the whole hour and half ride there, there was stress oozing from everyone in the car, and I recall how big the Framingham State sign looked when I pulled up. As soon as I saw the sign, I remember thinking back to when this journey had started. I had gone to one information session at my high school, talked to Meri, the admissions recruiter, and scheduled my visit. I went on a tour with my mother, had an amazing tour guide named Gris, and knew this was where I wanted to be: Framingham State University.
A distinct story my mom always likes to tell is that she remembered the exact moment she felt as though I would end up at FSU. She knew this when we were driving away from the school after our tour and she had looked back through her mirror in the car and saw the Framingham State sign getting farther away. She would revisit that sign in her head until I had gotten my acceptance letter in the mail within the following weeks.
I won’t lie; I questioned my capabilities as soon as I got to FSU. How could I not? I was surrounded by white faces and found myself proving myself to a lot of people every day. I was the spokesperson for all of the Black community and although of course, that should upset me, it does… I felt as though I had to be. Not because I owed it to those who were asking, but because it took me a while to understand that maybe these folks I have been in contact with hadn’t learned about these micro-aggressions they were saying day in and day out. I came in as a sociology major because I knew I wanted to fight injustice every single day, but I had forgotten how it starts with the little things: educating those who say hurtful things but they are meaning well. I knew never to blame these people, they were simply just unaware. Being honest, it did upset me in the beginning and to this day, it still does. However, I have chosen to take those feelings and enact change moving forward. Instead of sitting in my anger, why not write about these issues, bring them to the forefront, but also correct those who are standing right in front of me? Although it is not the job of people of color to educate and give people resources, I battled with being a well-behaved woman of color my freshman year but also wanting to help those who needed the push towards understanding inequality, racism, and so many other issues.
No change can be produced if you are remaining comfortable. If you stay silent, you are condoning what is being said.
In the beginning of my first year, I would let small things slide but they would stir inside of me. I would think about them for days and no one around me truly knew what I was handling. If one of my friends at the time had said something pertaining to communities of color, used the term “ghetto,” or whispered the word “B L A C K ” to me as if it was a bad term—I questioned all of those things, mentally. But I did not want to be seen as the First-year who had a “big mouth.” Or again, as the “angry Black woman,” because…typical, right? I wanted to fit in… but why was I choosing to fit in with people who only made me feel bad about myself?
I’m sorry that I do not recall when it clicked, but I remember I had finally had enough. I remember finding the strength in questioning what someone had said outwardly to help them at least think about what they had said, and why it was problematic. “What do you mean when you use the term ghetto? What’s the picture you have in your mind when you say that?” and later, after they said their follow up, I would say, “you know, some people actually live in those low-income communities that you are making seem like a bad thing. Do you think they wanted to struggle like that?” Allowing them to process my answer, maybe they would say something along the lines of “oh I didn’t think of it like that,” or “Okay Tasia! I get it!” With that, I always wanted to ask a follow up question, do you though? Since I am a Black woman, the amount of people who perceived me (and continue to do so) as being aggressive was excessive. Although I was just trying to have a casual conversation, I would hear later people reiterating the story saying that I was aggressive, I was mean, and I was hostile… What did my first year of college do to my confidence? How did it damaged my self-esteem? How did it alter how I saw myself, my Black community, and those who I chose to hang around with?
You choose the energy you want to be around. You actively make that choice every single day. Are you going to be around energy that makes you feel bad about yourself, makes you question if you truly are friends, etc.?
When I had attempted every day to light the fire of knowledge in everyone else, it was me in the end that had been burned. I had realized I needed a new energy. One I could be proud of, one that built me up, one that recognized my capabilities, supported me, and understood what it was like to be a person of color walking in this world. I did not want just the understanding of it; I wanted those around me who felt it with me every single day.
My first year was about chances. Your first year is about risks. I had spent so long believing I should be ashamed of who I was, clubs that focused on POC’s, and talking about these issues. Your first year is not about fitting in it is about speaking out. The value of entering college is that you are meeting a variety of people, shoved into one place, and I promise you, you do not have to like everybody. Ultimately, you should be surrounding yourself with people you truly love and those who truly love you. I understand how hard it is to go to a new environment while being Black. Worrying about what will be said to you, the looks you will get, the demeaning and condescending words you might receive, but at the end of the day you will find people who will believe in you. You have to look, make the effort, step out of your comfort zone, and create a space full of positivity with people who accept you.
But also, ensure that you are accepting you. You are capable. It may take a while to learn that and some days, even in my senior year currently, I am walking the shaky edge of “I can do this” and “am I even made for this?” But when I look back on who I was and who I am now, although still passionate about the things I have been passionate about for years, that has not changed, I have learned not to compete with those around me. I compete with who I was yesterday.
I have found peace in that, and so will you.