Op-ed: Emerson can’t settle for the status quo

On the first day of my freshman year, I discovered one of my suitemates was mixed race, just like me. She was one of the few people I’d met who could understand my confusion at navigating my multiracial identity. In my honors class, I met another girl of Middle Eastern descent and more queer people than I’d ever witnessed in one place.  I saw diversity everywhere, and it filled me with joy.

So when the #ThisIsEmerson protests occured last fall, I had no idea why students were protesting. I encountered clubs for every group I thought imaginable—an Asian students’ club, a club exclusively for women of color, a club just for Latinx/Hispanic students, and many more. Meanwhile, the most progressive organization at my high school was the Gay Straight Alliance.

I felt accustomed to Emerson’s inclusivity and demands after nearly a semester—and admittedly, for the first month or two, I resented student protesters. I unknowingly fell into a dangerous mindset that doesn’t advance progress, but actually impedes it.

I thought students should be satisfied with what they had and accept the college’s flaws. But Emerson students hold our school to a high level of accountability, and attending Emerson showed me complacency should never be the standard.

Coming from a small, rural Pennsylvania town, my standards for equality growing up were fairly low. This past summer, on my second day home from college, there was a protest outside of my former high school. Adults and children shouted and held posters with homophobic slurs at students leaving school. In high school this wouldn’t have phased me, but spending a year away from my hometown at a liberal college sheltered me from what life was like in other parts of the country.

While attending Emerson and using “they” series pronouns, I forgot how easily I dealt with feminine pronouns in high school. I knew I wasn’t comfortable with people referring to me as “she” and “her,” but I heard it so often at home that I became numb to it. After a year at Emerson, I felt accustomed to gender-neutral pronouns—so when I returned home, every feminine marker felt like a stab to the gut. Similarly, in high school I referred to myself as either white or Lebanese, but never both. It wasn’t until my year at Emerson that I not only felt comfortable classifying myself as mixed, but also understood and embraced my identity.

It only took about a week in Pennsylvania for my mindset to change again. I observed demonstrators spit in the face of my high school principal and label him a sinner because they thought he was gay. Suddenly, it didn’t seem all that important whether or not people misgendered me.  I reverted to the mentality of, “Life at Emerson isn’t that bad, so I don’t have any right to be asking for more.” Once again, I resented the “Emerson Bubble,” and looked down on those who demanded more from the college.

The problem with this mindset is that it stalls progress overall. I grew up hearing that I should accept my high school’s flaws because I was lucky to attend a nice school in the suburbs. The rhetoric repeats itself. So, even though Emerson may seem like a sanctuary compared to other schools, we should not stop aspiring to improve as an institution.

We are allowed to ask for more from the administration. After dealing with teachers misgendering myself and my peers, reading the memo from Anthony Lowrie accusing student protesters of “witch-hunting,” and tracking the stagnant search to find a Title IX investigator, I feel students deserve better. If nothing else, the fact we pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend this college gives us the right to demand more.

We can’t wait for the world to catch up with us before we move forward. I will always know that Emerson is a haven compared to my home, but I can try to help both places improve. We are allowed to demand better. In fact, it’s our responsibility.

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