As much as I appreciate the support and praise for writing about my experiences as an Indigenous woman and marginalized member on campus, I am tired of it.
Do not get me wrong, I enjoy writing these difficult articles and speaking out about issues that go unnoticed at Bates. However, having to revisit, recall, and continue to plea to the Bates community to hear my story takes a mental toll on me. When I started writing for Forum for The Bates Student, I wanted to make my voice heard, but along the way I began to realize how much energy I was using.
Each article I have written chips away more and more of my strength in navigating these white-dominated spaces on campus. I feel recognized as one of the few students of color on the newspaper staff, but invisible when it comes to having to move off the sidewalk when a group of white students approaches me, or feeling unacknowledged when people fail to hold the door at Commons for me while I am a few feet away.
After writing my article about Indigenous People’s Day and the follow-up article “Hello, Bates, It’s Me…Remember?” I received great support from students and faculty for my courage in speaking out. However, the support dwindled as time passed and the importance of Indigenous People’s Day became another post on Bates’s social media platforms.
While it is important for Bates to recognize this day for the few students on campus who identify as Native, NDN, and come from First Nations, tribes, and a global Indigenous community, what structures are in place to uplift these students and their lived experiences? When it comes to racial equity and inclusion, why is there not an observance day for other student identities? Other equally important celebrations, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK), has workshops and opportunities to tackle certain issues, so there should be more recognition for all student identities.
How can Bates become more inclusive if student experience is reduced to one collective perspective? Bates tends to take all Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) student backgrounds as a collective experience, which diminishes the value of each individual and their cultural community. I feel that Bates tends to blend the lines and lump together all BIPOC students into one category: nonwhite. Reaching the goal of true diversity requires a closer look at the full spectrum of BIPOC identities.
Bates’ take on racial equity only focuses on the Black experience in a predominately white institution, which is not inclusive of the rest of the community. Looking at the Black students and their experiences, we must consider their own diverse communities and backgrounds too. Bates needs to and should acknowledge the importance of Black culture and Black people, but they need to also include other people of color to truly consider themselves inclusive.
Inclusivity means recognizing all personal experiences and their identities, not squeezing their differences together because the commonality they share is that they are marginalized. So what about the rest of us? Racial equity is a multi-dimensional topic, so focusing on the relationship and discourse between white vs. Black students in higher education diminishes the rest of the IPOC community.
While applying to Bates my senior year of high school, I was discouraged when I learned that Bates had no support structures or systems in place for Indigenous students. I knew I would feel unnoticed after graduating from a high school with one of the biggest populations of Native American students in the school district. In my first year of Bates, I sought out other students that shared my identity. I was fortunate enough to meet one other student within my cohort.
Trying to start a club for Indigenous students at Bates seems impossible because I do not think we have enough students to make up the bare minimum of the club –– which is seven people. Is this what my life at Bates is going to be like? I already come from a marginalized community, but will I fail to exist as a presence on campus because there simply aren’t enough of us? What about other identities on campus that share my reality? Will other POCs also be recognized?
My question now is how many of us will it take for Bates to see us? What is the bare minimum of student presence needed to have our own workshops and events? I want to see more representation of my community…not be the only one representing. I want my perspective to be valued, but not at a disproportionate value; I don’t want to have students see me as an exotic person.
Bates has a unique racialized experience, catering to Blacks and Latinos, for example, because that is the majority of POCs here. For those who do not identify in those groups, there are no clubs or faculty to relate to or to join. I feel forced to choose between dissolving into a POC community that I do not share the same experiences with or being alone with my culture. I should be able to do both, but the reality is, no matter what I choose, I am disconnected.
If I choose an identity at Bates that blends into other social groups, I feel disconnected from my culture. If I am a part of my culture that no one relates to, I feel disconnected from Bates. This racial battle has caused my fatigue; I am simply tired.