Dear Student of Color,
I speak to you quietly, as I search for a familiar face in what looks like a sea of white. I see you present, and I am comforted by your mere existence and its proximity to mine.
I speak with you loudly, as I march in protests and engage in classroom discussions and side eye the white boy with dreads. We may not hear each other always, but I know your voice is present whether you can or cannot speak.
I speak to you directly, in this open letter – this public conversation. And yet this is a conversation that has been happening long before I stepped onto this campus, and it will continue long after I graduate. Let me clarify: I speak to you not out of urgency to revolutionize the future or nostalgia for a better past, although with the Drumpf Administration maybe I should. Oftentimes a community discussion is done out of opposition, where we must rally to defend our humanity, our dignity, and our space.
Instead, I wanted to converse with you because I sympathize, relate, and anticipate your journey on this campus as my time as an undergraduate is coming to an end. To be able to speak to you collectively and inclusively is a privilege that I don’t want to take for granted. Also as students of color, I just want the ink to print boldly and loudly a few simple truths: you are exquisite; you are resilient; you are intelligent; you are joyful; you are exceptional in that you have the capacity to extend beyond means, margins, and glass ceilings. As human beings, you’re also allowed to not have your successes idealized and follies demonized. History books will reiterate that this nation was not built for us; the system was not structured for our success; the Constitution was not written with inclusion in mind — and yet here we are.
Whichever identities intersect and collide to make a mosaic of you, we are here and we’ve earned our seat at this table. And because we are students of this renowned institution, we understand the frustrations of navigating convoluted systems and structures; because we are shades of deep umber to rich golden brown to light beige, our existence is oftentimes politicized without our consent; because we are sons and daughters and legacies of resilient generations, we carry a different weight on our shoulders. Our seat is not just our own. It was built and carved by those before us — by fellow alumni like Genevieve Erin O’Brien, Dalton Nezy, and Amir Muhsin Abo-Shaeer. Our existence is resistance. Our presence is progress.
The thing about being a person of color on this campus is that diversity was promised to us on brochures and websites — but the fact of the matter is beyond performative diversity. The truth lies within the persistent microaggressions and the underlying racism within and beyond the confines of this campus. It is apparent in the consistently low percentage of specifically Black, Pilipino, American Indian, and East Indian/Pakistani undergraduates (UC Santa Barbara Campus Profile).
Even given the presidential election this year, it was difficult to face my peers and wonder which one of them didn’t believe in my human rights as a woman, as a first generation student, as a former immigrant, or as a person of color. I do not have words to share on how to properly react to such bigotry — but I do know that to spout hate and fear is cowardice; to compensate personal failures with self proclaimed superiority is a sham; and to believe that alternative facts somehow overshadow factual data is just willful ignorance. I find solace in knowing that we are more than their projected insecurities.
This conversation extends beyond our campus, but it starts with our campus. And given the amount of public forums and protests that occur, I’m sure that there is a deep understanding that there is always a larger conversation, a larger narrative, and a larger fight. When Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, visited our campus this April, she spoke of how we needed leaders. I believe each and every one of us has the capacity to lead.
There are so many opportunities in which we can do so — whether it be supporting Black Student Union’s 2013 Demands, advocating the need for an Ethnic Studies Department, expressing the need of more diverse staff in CAPS and Career Services, researching the history of the Chumash Nation and this land we are privileged to call home, or curating a curriculum that opens your eyes on issues that are so pervasive they become normalized. Resistance can take shape in many different forms, oftentimes it could be overt protesting but other times it could just be a conversation. This intersection is a line we must walk, and I’ve learned that we must move forward with courage and not always courtesy.
I am speaking to you, because given the socio-political landscape, conversation can easily become convoluted. But I wanted this opportunity to be a supportive nod as well as a gentle nudge that you are not alone and we are not alone. The amount of solidarity I’ve seen on this campus can inspire even the cold-blooded. There is work to be done, and if not us then who will rise to the occasion?
Ultimately, I hope your journey as a student of color continues to be valiant, courageous, and blessed. Stay woke.
Fellow Student of Color