Life in the Ivory Tower

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Life at a top private university in the South isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Sure, some aspects remain the same to my undergraduate public university experience–the endless papers, the engaging yet demanding professors, an over-representation of beige and grey interior decor..Other issues, I could do without.

As much as my undergraduate had a reputation as a party school, I never felt left out as a minority. With a large AAPI population, Asian American Cultural Center, and more student-led cultural clubs than you can count, my undergraduate life felt full of new experiences and a sense of safety. Here, not so much. Every criticism and condescension feels personal, a thousand pricks which increase incrementally in pain. Aside comments like, “Ugh, the people in this class” when I tweeted about being one of the only minority kids in the room in a #educolor chat. Belittling remarks about where to attend class when the location shifts every few weeks. Harsh, withering comments from a superior that felt quite personal, despite peers who performed equally on a task. It feels so alienating, even if faculty don’t “mean it.” Even if it’s “just part of their generation.” Even if “oh, you know, they’re just a little racist.” Enough is enough. The unsettling amount of microagressions plaguing both the student body and acting faculty disgusts me. How can anyone live with so much hate, so much disdain in upturned noses?

Grading here is fair, as are many of the faculty in terms of performance rating. However, the running commentary surrounding topics, from diversity education to representation, leaves me feeling exhausted. It’s exhausting being here as a minority graduate students. I feel like I have to act as an ambassador for not just my country, but an entire section of the globe….because THAT’S how white this campus is. Not to say I don’t have amazing conversations with my peers or that they’re ignorant. The students who are admitted here are articulate and culturally savvy. However, it pains me when I notice I’m one of the only ones who has lived experiences with personally directed racism. I’ve spent nights crying, wondering if I was targeted because of my race at work. Though I feel comfortable in my skin, I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had gone to Columbia instead.

I’m sad here. One cannot survive on academics alone. I miss the AACC, Lunch On Us programs when controversial topics were discussed openly, I miss taking classes from faculty who knew exactly where I was coming from and who sometimes even came from a place like me. I miss a sense of lived cultural competency I’m not getting here. I miss not hearing behind-the-scenes talk of, “Oh, she’s a traditional Chinese applicant” and blatant ignorant comments like, “What do our Asian friends think?” as if we all thought the same thing. My anger has petered out into exhaustion.

I wish it was different. I wish my voice wasn’t seen as bizarre or “unique” or as just another “student of color.” I want to be heard, as a person. Please pass on the privilege and listen, really listen. I can’t be silent anymore.

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