Struggling, Graduation, and Home

*I am currently in the midst of processing and healing from the trauma I accrued during my time at Brown. I will attempt to post a series of blogs that will focus on these processes.* 

On May 28, 2017, I graduated from Brown University with a double concentration (or majors) in Sociology and Honors in Ethnic Studies. Through my own internal and external struggles, I was able to achieve a feat far away from home. But, I did not achieve this by myself. Rather, with the help of my mother,  my sister, my grandma, my mentors at Brown, and my ancestors I survived and thrived. 

All of whom believed in me, which allowed me to believe in myself.

Several years ago, I arrived early to Brown University for a pre-orientation program, which was the Third World Transition Program. It was during this program that I learned for the first time what racism, sexism, imperialism, and colonialism were and are. This was a  beginning for me because it was in these moments that I realized that the world of the Colonizers existed through their own imposing social systems, and/or forces that have confined my ancestors and me to reservations. They created borders that divided our families and erased our memories through physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual punishment and imprisonment. 

My beginning at Brown can be summed up in one word – violent.

I was experiencing ‘culture shock’ on multiple levels; emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. I felt that I was slowly losing a sense of myself because everyone (mainly the bilágaanas or white folx) around me seemed so much smarter. They were getting the better grades. I considered their writing to be better than mine and aligned with the University’s expectations, especially after I received a C- on the first paper I wrote for my sociology class. I felt inadequate and I felt like what I had learned my entire life did no matter in this moment. I had an emotional breakdown. Hence, all of the stress and the tears that I have been harboring released themselves. 

Thankfully, I was in my room, and I had some time before my next class to call my mother. In that moment, all of the self-loathing I was feeling manifested itself. I told my mom that I did not belong here at Brown and that I wanted to go home because it was safer there. I did not want to feel like I was inadequate or that I could not be the success that everyone imagined myself to be. Things were easier and more comfortable back at home. They were not so violent and damaging. 

My mother’s response was one that is quite memorable.

She said, “No. You are not coming home, shiyazhí. I don’t have the money to bring you back. You need to stay there. Just finish this semester and we will talk about it again…Remember that you belong there. You chose to apply to Brown, and you were accepted into Brown, and you decided to attend Brown. You belong there. Just finish this semester, it will get easier. I promised.”

Life at Brown did get easier but only because the education made me forget who I was, who I am, and who I was here for.  

What I struggled with in the beginning became normal for me. I began to take up space in the classroom, ask questions, respond to comments, and be critical of people’s lives and responses. I learned to dress to impress for those who sought to make me ‘better’ and for those who ‘promised’ me that a Brown education would make a better life for me than what I had before. I learned to speak and to smile with my eyes and hold conversations with people, pretending to be interested in their lives and their research. But it was exhausting. I felt it was so easier for everyone else but me. I felt that everyone knew how to navigate this white-washed world, and here I was, trying to reconfigure myself to fit in this place just so that I can survive.

Home no longer felt like home.

I felt uncomfortable every waking moment that I was on my ancestral land. I could not laugh at the jokes that my friends made and I could not look at my mother without critiquing her actions and questioning her motives. My time at Brown forced me to forget the teachings of love, respect, and care for my ancestors and my ké, my family, in order for me to survive in a toxic space.

I realized that I was slowly losing my connection to my ancestors every waking moment that I was at Brown and away from home.

But, in my final two years at Brown, I began to remember, because I stopped trying to please this university. I stopped trying to please people. I started remembering who I was, and who I wanted to be. My process of healing was integral to me remembering peoples and the violence we endure. My sense of restoration was grounded in my ancestors’ ability to endure the challenges and trails that the Creator sends our way. Through my ancestral teachings, my need to survive was no longer applicable. I began to thrive. 

I graduated from a University that has pushed me to my limits, and who almost made me forget myself, but I didn’t.

What I had experienced at Brown, I do not regret. I do not regret leaving my reservation or going to Brown. What I do regret is not listening and giving myself to the ancestors. I regret forgetting who I was and who I will be because I allowed the Academy to violate me. Those are my regrets.

Of course, it was through learning and remembering the lessons of my ancestors that I remembered the strength I inherited and the wisdom from within. 

Ahéhee’ – Thank you. 

  • Ahéhee’ shimá, thank you to my mother, who has always believed in my ability to persevere and overcome any obstacles in my way. Without her unconditional love and support; emotional and spiritual, I would not have continued my education here at Brown University.
  • Ahéhee’ shideezhí, thank you to my sister, who has always been by my side since the age of two. She reminded me of my ability to inspire and share my strength with others.
  • Ahéhee’ shidiyin dine’é, thank you to ancestors who have guided and provided me the wisdom and answers to share with the world our values, our stories, and our strength. 



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