For my Planning for Multicultural Learning education course I had to write a vignette about anything related to diversity. I decided to write about a time I felt vulnerable and exposed because of my identity. After seeing how much it meant to me to reflect on this experience and witnessing how much my class enjoyed learning about it I decided to share it with you all.
Being at Stonehill College is by far one of my greatest accomplishments. Being the second in my family to go to college and the first to go away for college, everyday I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be at Stonehill. I remember when I moved in freshmen year, I was terrified, yet confident that I would do great things here. My mother and my uncle dropped me off early one Saturday morning. I moved in 2 days earlier than the rest of my class for the Intercultural Experience Program. We drove 211 miles, it took us about 4 hours to get here. I remember unloading the car and my mother helping me carry all of my belongings into the room I would be sharing with three other girls. She had to leave right away because she had to be at work by 5pm that day. I walked my mom to the car, waved goodbye and ran because actually hugging her goodbye just was not an option. As afraid as I was to be in a new state, a different environment, experience the college life and be with people I did not know; I was as happy as I could be to be here.
What I did not know was that a place that could bring me so much happiness, could also make me feel so uncomfortable. The first semester of my sophomore year the financial aid office was literally driving me crazy. They were asking me for so much paper work. The more paper work I submitted to them the more they would ask me for. But what could I do, I wanted to be here and I needed my scholarship so I had to do whatever it took in order to ensure my enrollment. As annoying as it was, I kept doing everything they asked me for until they asked me for something that was impossible to accomplish. They asked me for a Non-Custodial Parent Statement, which my “father” had to fill out. Learning this caused me so much anxiety and stress. I was afraid of loosing my scholarship money for being unable to complete a form. But why were they even asking for this? They did not ask for it last year and nothing had change in my family structure. I decided to go to the Financial Services Office and find answers to all my questions. I walked in and I asked if I could speak to or schedule a meeting with one of the advisors. Rather than doing one of the two things I asked for the lady decided to ask me “What’s wrong, what can I help you with?” I repeat myself and asked if I could speak to an advisor or schedule a meeting. But once again she repeated herself. So, I told her that on Myhill it said that I had to complete a form, but that its impossible for me to do so I just want to know if there is an alternative. She asked me what form and I told her the Non-Custodial Parent Statement. Then she asked what was the problem with getting it filled out. I told her that I just would not be able to. She kept insisting for answers so I told her that there is no “father”, that even if I wanted to find “him” I would not be able to, that he has never been in the picture so “he” just could not fill it out.
I remember walking out of that office feeling exposed. Why did I have to share this with a complete stranger, in a public place? Why couldn’t she just schedule a meeting so that I could talk to someone in private. To make matters worse there were other students around, now they knew my business and they probably felt bad for me. I couldn’t help but imagine what those students were thinking “of course she only has one parent, she’s Hispanic and from the Bronx” or “does she think she is entitled to something because she’s a student of color and only has one parent”.
I work extremely hard to make sure that my personal identities such as my race and family structure do not define me. Not because I think there is anything wrong with my race or family structure; I am extremely proud of who I am and where I come from. However, I am aware that these identities hold negative stigmas and stereotypes, especially here at Stonehill. I have a 3.7 GPA, I’m a Resident Assistant and I am also involved in many clubs. However, those students did not know anything about me, just that I am Hispanic and that I do not have a father and that’s what they were going to judge me for.
I never had a father nor am I hurt by it. No one should feel bad for me. I had a great childhood and I have a great life. I was never in the midst of a bad divorce, circumstances were just different for me. My mom is everything I could ever ask for and more. I feel extremely fortunate to have the family that I have. My family structure is not a secret, but that does not mean I want to talk to a stranger about it in a public space. Having those words come out my mouth just felt strange. I never use I or me in the same sentence as father. All of my friends know about my family dynamic, my educators know, everyone that is close to me knows, but I have never been in a situation where I felt judged by it or had to explain myself. I just wish that now that they knew about these aspects of my life that I was also able to tell them about how amazing my mother is or about the amazing relationship I have with all of my siblings.
As overwhelming as it might be to share stories like this one it is important that we share them, especially for first generation college students. We should be having these conversations because it’s our reality. This is a true story of the obstacles that many first-generation college students face once they get to college.