LARA ABIONA ’16
I have recently discovered that when you deviate from the normative culture in terms of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and so forth, you are more likely to feel the constraints of the said culture. As an African-American woman, I do not have the privilege of naturally blending into Trinity’s dominant demographic of preppy, affluent, Caucasian students. I am likely to be ostracized if I do not conform to a Eurocentric standard of beauty. I am twice as likely to be invisible, so I must innovate a way to make myself heard without perpetuating stereotypes of being the “angry Black woman” when standing up for myself or speaking passionately in a classroom discussion. However, I see my marginalization not as a hindrance but as a challenge to reclaim my right to simply be. Being a Black woman on campus is certainly a challenge for many reasons; however, I see it as a healthy challenge that motivates me to transcend my environment in order to find my peace and to hopefully liberate others who suffer in silence.
Having two identities in which I am not in a position of systematic privilege-—Black as opposed to White, and female as opposed to male—compels me to be extremely aware of myself as both an African-American and a female. I think of race and gender unilaterally as well as intersectionally. In terms of race, I have always been an underrepresented demographic. In elementary school, I was the only African-American in my entire graduating class. However, growing up in an environment in which my identity was not well represented led me to form my identity in a very individualistic sense. As I grew up, I noticed some boundaries, such as overcoming the stereotype threat of being the only African-American in AP courses with mostly Asian and Jewish students, and speaking with confidence in male-dominated classrooms. These boundaries were accompanied by my desire to break free from these attempts to marginalize me, so as to access my full potential. Although it felt triumphant, it was a very lonely battle. At Trinity College, the boundaries are more blatant and are accompanied by sheer bigotry and parochialism. Racial discrimination on this campus ranges from racial profiling by Campus Safety officers to denying admittance into fraternity parties that have apparently “reached capacity” while a group of White girls are immediately let in. On one occasion, I was out with a friend on my way to the Umoja House on Vernon Street when a large group of people were on their way back from Crow, and one White male, who I believe was very intoxicated, looked directly at us and started chanting “White People! White People!” The tone in his voice emphasized his feelings of superiority and a deep passion to ostracize me simply because of my skin color.
Gender discrimination at Trinity also creates barriers. The patriarchal design of the social climate sometimes makes me feel as though I must shrink in order to be accepted. There are classes in which I was one of the dominant speakers in classroom discussion and I felt that some of my classmates, both male and female, disapproved of me taking up so much space. As a feminist, it is especially hard to overcome this boundary without being seen as too radical. It requires a level of comfort that I aspire to reach yet have not quite grasped at this point of my life.
Each identity on its own presents obstacles, but the combination gives me even more of a challenge. There are many people at this school with multiple identities that deviate from the normative “Trin” culture who are also on the journey to find their peace. It is these members of the community that give me the strength to continue the fight to be myself. I know that I am not alone.