KABELO MOTSOENENG ’20
Alexis “Lexi” Roberts transferred to Wesleyan University at the end of her first year, last spring. When Lexi and I became friends, America and its abundant whiteness, with regards to close and intimate proximity to white people and casual racism, were new to me. Though I came from a country where white supremacy is the order of the day, America was the inversion of my reality as a black queer person, I became a minority in all matrices of my identity, though privileged to be male. An American education symbolized a degree of freedom and acceptance, though that was delusional.
When I met Lexi at the PRIDE Welcome Weekend, an initiative of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, we hit it off like a house on fire. That weekend remains one of the key moments of my time at Trinity: a reminder that people of color on this campus are seen, that they exist, that they have a community, but the dominate community and culture does not hear them.
I remember how Lexi was excited to become an informed artist-activist, we shared that value, we shared that belief; and that is how we came to chose Trinity. We hoped we would become better artists and fight against injustice. But how do you become an artist when the art you learn about is removed from your reality, when you read colonial material about white artists who share no similar experiences to yours? Although I endured, it became apparent that Lexi needed some-thing other than Trinity; she needed an educational expe-rience that matched her educational and artistic needs. It was not just the educational isolation that caused Lexi to leave, it was compounded with the cultural dislocation.
Lexi is from New Jersey, so I assumed she had an easier experience with race than I did. I assumed that she had been accustomed to the idea of being a racial minority in America. I assumed, that here, “neath the elms,” I had the worse experience than Lexi. She had the American accent, no one asked her to repeat herself when she spoke, because hers was an accent easier on the white American ear. But Lexi, like most women of color at Trinity, has a thick afro that crowns her head. Living in North was a reminder that she did not belong. When she walked into the bathroom to comb her afro, white girls closed-mouth smile, remained silent and soon left; this, of course, grew into a daily occurrence; she had to find time where white girls were not in the bathroom, so that she could comb her hair without feeling like there was something awfully wrong with her. But the closed-mouth smiles, too, are a daily occurrence on the Long Walk, at night, our black shadows seem to torment many, thus, some change their routes upon witnessing us approaching.
The amalgamation of events that unfolded in the fall was evidence that a Trinity community does not exist. The claim that a Trinity community exists is a dangerous fallacy that favors the dominant rich-white-male population at Trinity. If a Trinity community exists, then how is the alleged community accountable to one another when violations that threaten the well-being of other groups occur? The anti-Semitic words and im-agery on Crescent Street, a rampant rape-culture, police brutality (enforced by Campus Safety), xenophobic violence in the form of vandalized non-American flags, anti-queer violence in the form of scrapping of LGBTQI flags belittle the claim that Trinity is a community. These events were followed by pretentious messaging from the administration that solely reported on the acts but failed to punish the violators. If Trinity is a community, who is benefiting from the community? The supposition of a Trinity community is based on the experiences of a dominant group at Trinity, a group that shapes campus culture and thus, erases and minimizes the experiences of vulnerable groups. The belief that a Trinity community exists should be followed by various forms of evidence that are aligned with the lived experiences of the supposed community. The claim that Trinity is a community systematically, various individuals thrive without performing emotional labor for generationally privileged groups.
Perhaps Trinity is branded as a community, but the glossy marketing is part of the reality of higher education, that can be explained through the corporatized model predominantly white institutions use. The glossy marketing is a disconnect from the daily experiences of students like Lexi who transfer because the institutional messaging does not reflect the ways in which minority students navigate this campus. Institutions with white supremacist residue inadequately support students of color, yet their public brand suggests otherwise. If a Trinity community exists, then we make the claim that we, all people affiliated with Trinity, are not placed into the bubble before we find our places. To make the claim that Trinity is a community, though supposedly broken, we refuse to acknowledge that white girls closed-mouth smile when they see people of color. We refuse to acknowledge that neath the elms of oppression, we all are not equal some of us have a place, some of us fight to exist and be heard.
KABELO MOTSOENENG ’20