In fall term of my freshman year, as some of us remember, the KKK came to our campus in an attempt to punish the community for entertaining a name change.
I remember seeing many upperclassmen of color take in President Dudley’s 1-2 emails on the incident and the too-little support from their peers at the same time as I did. I watched them quickly respond with plans to push the administration to address the root causes of why hate groups felt comfortable enough to come here. I remember looking at the students in awe at how they were immediately so strong and ready to take action. I didn’t know how to emulate that. I felt like there was something missing in me, some secret quality that every student at W&L who isn’t white, cis, and straight should have to take whatever this college throws at them in stride and push for change.
What felt most certain to me was that if I made myself think about how the institution in which I was trying so hard to succeed was at best halfhearted in supporting my and my peers’ right to exist, I would have probably fallen apart. So I blocked out the incident and the university’s response as best I could until recently. Still, I’ll never forget that moment of feeling weak because I didn’t join my fellow students of color in fighting to not be ignored.
Later that year, when I got closer to some of the student leaders I saw as superhuman, I learned how many of them were forced into those roles. They too had moments where, while they were reeling from attacks on their racial and sexual identity, had to summon the strength to defend their right to feel wronged repeatedly–just to push the university to give them the bare minimum of support It’s like they were teaching moments where the lesson was that asking for university support was futile.
That way, we’d feel it fell on us to carry out the emotional labor of supporting our community… even when it was us who needed support as well.
Today, as a junior, I am more involved in inclusion in our community, in part because of that same lesson I had learned with that first incident of hate I saw on campus. I’m driven to do what I can to make it so that no student new to our college ever feels inadequate for not acting “strong” when they need to give themselves time to recover from acts of hate.
However, so long as students of color and LGBTQ+ students are on their own in supporting themselves, I’m stuck with the near-certainty that that ideal won’t be realized until long after I graduate.