As we rush toward the end of the year, I constantly see people rushing to finish their 2017 goals. But as the year comes to a close, I am more reminded of all the things I have not done and will not complete, such as NaNoWriMo 2017 and a new college.
In November, my writing came to a quiet, sudden halt. I stopped posting about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) because I couldn’t write. How could I write an entire world for a novel when I felt I had this world crumbling in front of me?
This year’s NaNoWriMo coincided with my college transfer, but the grassy quad and beautiful, top-ranked liberal arts college morphed into a stranger-than-fiction experience.
There are several reasons for why I am leaving. There is an overwhelming popularity of math, pre-health, computer science, and economics—along with better support for those fields in career services and job fairs. The politics major was the same number of courses as the economics minor—a blessing for a double-major but lacking depth for someone who looks forward to an entire career in politics. With only one year of college under my belt, I learned I was already less than two years away from completing graduation requirements. Additionally, student organizations were not very present. Although I enjoyed my work at student-run think-tank, as well as articles I wrote for the college newspaper, I learned that the literary magazine had shut down two years ago and several student political groups listed online were defunct.
More importantly, I found myself growing more and more silent, farther from myself and who I was.
One of the things I deeply appreciated there was getting to know other students and hearing their background and experiences, and the opportunity that the college provided as a platform for their voices. But for myself, I began to avoid talking about my own experiences. For example, I didn’t talk about my Asian heritage. I didn’t talk about being raised Catholic. I didn’t talk about my family, friends, or hometown that I loved.
The fact is that despite my own experience of isolation from my heritage and the difficulties that came with that, being mixed and born in the US is a privilege others don’t have. The fact is that the Church is often seen as toxic and poisonous, and can be triggering to others who have been oppressed and hurt by religious communities. The fact is that I was ridiculously lucky and privileged in my upbringing from having two supporting parents to being able to afford a great education.
But this feeling of censorship wasn’t just limited to myself. When I joined the college newspaper, I felt too many important stories—such as an admission officer disparaging sexual harassment training or transparency with the college budget, where students feared being blacklisted for speaking up—were being cut from publication in preference of easier, more palatable stories.
The quiet began to feel dangerous and the stringent appearance of peace was suffocating.
The week that classes ended, a student publication shared an open-letter from a student who had been sexually assaulted and threatened with a murder-suicide by another student from our college. It was shockingly similar to the student I had spoken to. Earlier in the semester, I covered a story about student leaves of absence and spoke with a student who was recommended a leave by administration and eventually transferred – a result of being stalked by another student who was allowed to remain.
The publication spread on Facebook and in response, students held a protest against sexual assault. At the protest, other students stepped up to tell their stories of assault on campus, and struggles with an administration that was better at lobbying emails back and forth than taking effective steps to help students who were hurt.
I profess, I’m not an activist. I’m more the journalist on the sidelines, there to account and photograph, interested in the change of policy it might instigate, fascinated by the vigor others express. But this mattered deeply to me.
There were nights I went to sleep in my dorm room, thinking about the student whose stalker appeared in their dorm room in the middle of the night. The student was transferred out while the stalker was allowed to remain on campus and attend classes.
I’d walk to my classes, thinking about the student-made sign at the protest that read: “I have class in the same building as my rapist twice a week.”
I served on the executive board of a student organization that had weekly meetings at our sibling college. But I became more guarded walking there alone when I was told about a list of student sexual assaulters on their campus, created by older students for keeping parties safer. (A short-term solution to a long-term problem of an institution that would not expel offenders of sexual assault.)
I thought about how I’ve never had this many male friends in my life until now and as much as I trusted them, it was scary knowing so many sexual assaulters were classmates, friends, those very people you trusted; and if something happened, the college wouldn’t be on my side.
In a morbid fashion, I found myself involuntarily counting the number of girls in my classes, in my sponsor group, in my friend group, trying to guess the statistical probability that this will have happened to one of us during our college years.
The beautiful peace, the stunning campus, the smiling glossy-brochure attitude truly felt like a Twilight Zone amid a backdrop of students protesting and reading out a list of seemingly ignored demands and a snarky spray-painted message toward the dean regarding a lack of transparency with the college budget. A student who I interviewed for an article that was cut by editors, said that while they loved the school and hosting prospective students—having been one themselves—they saw how these issues were smoke-screened and made to seem nonexistent.
I realize that studying in politics, I’m preparing myself for a lifetime of fighting, but I don’t want to spend everyday of my undergraduate life fighting—whether that is for an article to be printed, for administration to handle sexual assault better, for my faith and right to speak. Understand, I loved the classmates, people, and friends. Regardless of different opinions, backgrounds or beliefs, I would have stayed and fought, if other factors such as the major, student organizations, etc. were the right fit for me. I am going to miss them so much and they deserve so much more.
Today, after eating brunch with a group of high-school friends, I realized I missed my train and, in an uncharacteristic fit of nostalgia, decided to kill time by walking to my old high school about five minutes away from the station. It felt fitting on the last day of the year to see the old alma mater. After transferring colleges twice, I can’t help but think that my high school will be one of the few places that I will have spent the most amount of consecutive years at.
While I was there, I thought about my 15-year plan for myself that I made during high school and how that plan fit to a T for a very different person than I am today.
We like to look back on our year and think about how much we’ve accomplished, but as I look back on 2017, I can’t help but notice what felt like obstacle after obstacle that I’ve had to accept, change, and tackle. Rather than gaining ground, it felt as though I’ve had to change and give up more and more of myself. Admittedly, it was never in my high-school self’s plan to:
- Take a gap year
- Spend hours commuting to unpaid internships every day, feeling like I was slowly dying even though I knew it was worth it
- Transfer colleges (again)
- Find myself dressed as a cat on Halloween, sober and walking alone back to my dorm sometime past one in the morning, when my friends have split up to go hookup, smoke, or something I don’t really care to explain but is very 1970’s.
This past year has stripped away a lot, and what is left has revealed a lot more than I was ready to face at the start of the year.
Instead, I’ve come to recognize myself as someone capable of handling discomfort and unconventional routes; someone who will say, no, again and again and again no matter how many times I’m told I should try some wild drug at least once in my life (yes, I’m calling you out, b, no hard feelings 😜); someone who is critical of religion and its current institution, but holds faith regardless how many times others question it; intensively academic and craving depth in politics; fiercely independent, demanding of myself, ambitious to the core, Type A, neurotic coffee-addict—scars and all—that I am.
So here is to the end of the year, stripped down to who I am and learning to live with that.