This piece was written for the 3rd Annual Weaving Voices Monologues at Smith College. The event was held on April 11th, 2015 from 7:30pm-9:30pm in Weinstein Auditorium.
This is my story and my story only. It does not represent the experiences of all students of color at Smith.
Content Warnings: institutional racism, hate crime, depression
Rebecca Lee is a queer/bi Taiwanese American girl born and raised in Southern California. She likes bubble tea, writing poetry, and crying about her TV shows. She leaves roots in people, not places, and dreams of a better tomorrow. She is leaving evidence that she is the same girl she was, but so much more; that she grew and survived; and that she found her people.
Categories. Boxes upon boxes. Locked drawers in shadow. Compartmentalization.
Your life at Smith can be broken down into parts in so many different ways that it’s hard to write about your experiences. How do you condense four years of growth and nuance into one cohesive narrative? You’re afraid that you’ll miss something important, so you wait until the last possible second to finally write it all down. It’s fitting, in a way. You’ve always been a procrastinator, after all.
Your first year began wide-eyed and precious. You were so full of energy, beyond ecstatic to begin this new phase in your life. You were ready to reinvent yourself, tired of being the quiet Asian girl, tired of wondering to yourself if your friends really liked you, tired of feeling forgotten. At Smith, you were finally able to admit to yourself that those inklings you pushed away for so long were hints that you had a wider capacity for love than you thought possible, and you adopted a new label: queer. bi.
Do you know how fucking huge that is? That you felt safe enough here to come out to both yourself and your friends in the span of just two months speaks volumes about the openness and acceptance in the student body here at Smith. You spent three months dealing with the fallout from your parents while you had the time of your life exploring your newfound sexuality. It was as much freeing as it was painful, though they eventually accepted that you weren’t going to change your mind. You joined Prism, the queer students of color org, ready to embrace this new part of yourself.
Then came the Anne Spurzem letter, which made you question everything about this paradise you thought you’d landed. You couldn’t believe that this was happening. People kept saying that what she wrote was indicative of her age, that she was from the old generation. But after that came the hate notes slipped under the door of the person who would become your best friend from Smith. Ironic, since after an “investigation,” Smith placed the blame on her and asked her to leave for a year, pending readmission. She transferred and is doing great things, no thanks to a biased police report, the Judicial Board, and former college president Carol Christ. You still hold a lot of anger and bitterness toward the college for mishandling a hate crime in such an awful way, and you could no longer pretend that this was a safe space for all. It was no longer even a safe space for you, who exist within almost all of the same axes of identity your best friend holds.
Yet through the pain of betrayal and disillusionment, you were able to find a community so beautiful it changed everything about how you see the world. The Bridge community and the Weaving Voices community truly came through for you, and you were introduced to an activism that centers healing and collective knowledge. By channeling your anger at this institution into helping to write the Open Letter that connected these moments of racial bias to those that struck ten years ago, twenty years ago—struck so many times in the history of Smith College but were always brushed off as isolated incidences—you became part of something bigger than yourself, bigger than your own individualized hurt and confusion. You will always be grateful to your Bridge mentors for bringing you into this community of people who saved your life. You don’t know what you would’ve done otherwise.
The past three years have all been affected in some way by your experiences from your first year. And how could they not? Your first year was the site of tremendous growth, learning, and trauma, and it changed your entire worldview. You threw yourself into what you saw as community activism during your sophomore year, co-running Prism while also serving as a member of Q&A and what was then the Diversity Committee. You even planned four house parties, essentially by yourself, that year. You can’t remember how you were able to do so much while also keeping up with your academic work and finding time to breathe.
When you hit your junior year, you quit everything except Weaving Voices. You told yourself that this would give you more time to focus on your studies, more time to dedicate to taking care of yourself. You didn’t realize that this was the beginning of a depression so insidious that you would not be able to fathom what life was like before it a mere year later. Burnt out and coming to terms with your depression, you were again faced with institutional racism—this time, as a bystander—when students, mostly students of color, protested against Christine Lagarde’s slated appearance as commencement speaker and were met with shame and dismissal from the administration, their professors, their classmates, and their friends. You no longer had the energy to be angry, but you felt the disappointment when you realized that people you trusted and respected saw your friends—who were operating under knowledge they had gained from classes taken at Smith—as naïve children protesting for no reason other than a desire to pick a fight.
It’s almost the end of senior year now, and you’ve spent the last few months learning once again how beautiful this community can be. You’ve disappeared in your depression to lie in your bed and forget the world, but you have also stopped beating yourself up for something you cannot control. You’ve encountered more kindness and respect than you thought you deserved from your professors and mentors, and you cannot be more grateful. You no longer deluded yourself that students at Smith were any better at examining their own privilege than anywhere else in the world, and stopped being disappointed when your friends said things you believed to be oppressive. You’ve spent more time with people who understand where you’re coming from and love you, strong opinions and all, and you are now looking forward to commencement with no regrets.
When a prospie asks you if you like Smith, you tell her that you do. You tell her that what really makes it special is the community you’ve found here and the friends you’ve made, and that you wouldn’t change a thing if you could do it over again. You talk about all the ways Smith has failed you as a member of the college, but you are also thankful for how much you have grown during your time here. You have learned so much about yourself, about the world, about dealing with heartbreak, and have grown into the person you were always meant to be. You have found the kind of people who love with their entire souls, whom you would fight for with your last breath, and you have learned so much more about multiplicity and existence than you could have imagined. You are so thankful for these experiences. They have made you stronger, more confident, more compassionate, and more ready to face whatever is coming next. But you will always hold Smith to a higher standard, because you believe that whatever the institution is now, it can always be better. And you will never apologize for that.
You end this moment with some truths. You don’t have advice, but you do have power in your words. Be patient. Listen fully. Tread lightly, and do not hesitate to stand up for yourself and for those with less power. Live compassion as if it is a lifestyle, and bring love to everything that you do. Trust that life will take you where you need to go, and do not let go of the people who will support you in your rough times and stay to celebrate the good.