We Are Calvin [too]: Rae Mason

Photo courtesy Rae Mason
Photo courtesy Rae Mason

This story is a part of a larger series. A description of the purpose of the series can be found here.

Most wouldn’t expect this from me. My time here at Calvin has been filled with knowledge, fun, pain, growth and everything in between. As a student of color I have felt neglected, singled out and misunderstood one too many times.

When deciding to attend Calvin, I figured I’d have a great experience because I was going to be a part of a thriving, inclusive, God-fearing community. Yet from the first day of my freshman year, my experience has often been otherwise.

I remember stepping onto this campus, and one of the first questions I was asked was, “So what country are you from?” Not even a “hello,” or “hi, what’s your name?” — just an assumption that I was from a different country, even though I’m from a small suburb in Illinois.

From that point on, I was wary of calling this place home. I sometimes felt like an outcast in my dorm because I was the only African-American on my floor. It seemed like only my suitemates wanted to get to know me. I tried to participate in events, but it never felt like I was wanted or could fit in.

In the classroom setting I always get excited when I’m not the only person of color in the room, which is very rare. There have been numerous occasions when the matter of race or injustice has been raised and eyes divert to me. I am not the spokesperson for the people of the African-American or AHANA communities, but it sometimes seemed that way during many class discussions.

There was an incident when a faculty member told me that I would have a better chance of getting a job after graduation because I was a black female — never a word about my gifts, skills or talents, but rather just my skin color and gender. Comments like these make me feel like just another number at this institution.

It is not welcoming when I constantly get unwanted hands in my hair, or when my fellow classmates ask me if I’m from the “hood,” or if I can teach them how to “twerk.” My hair is not an exhibit; just because I’m African-American doesn’t mean I was raised in the hood; and, yes, I love to dance, but I can do more than “twerk.”

I have thought about transferring many times. Even though I have been able to thrive in various leadership roles and participate in many activities that have challenged my faith, I have still felt like an outcast at Calvin. The main reason I am still here is because I have a strong support system, especially from the faculty and staff of color at this institution. Without their wisdom and support, I can’t say that I would’ve stayed or thrived here.

This is my life at Calvin. I love this place and what it has to offer; that’s why I’m still here. But I want my fellow classmates, as well as faculty and staff, to understand my position as a student of color and realize there must be a change in some areas and how we interact in this community. Not just for me, but for others like me and the others to come.

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