Ever since I came to Haverford in sixth grade, I knew I was different. Whether it was stares in the hallway or whispers in my peripheral view, I knew I didn’t fit in.
I was quietly sitting at lunch and eating my food one day when I saw some kid staring at me. I could tell by his facial movements that he looked like he was sickened.
“Are you eating a dog? I heard your people eat dogs. That’s disgusting, I could never eat that,” he said, revolted.
I was eleven years old.
In middle school, I was stuck in a section with peers who despised me. I didn’t do anything to make them mad; I wasn’t like them and they hated that.
Every single day of the year I was bullied and harassed. They knew I could hear them and kept making fun of me.
“Why do you act so gay? Why do you talk so gay? Why do you look so gay?”
When I begged them to stop, they never did. They would jeer and ridicule me every day in class, yet they went unnoticed by any of the faculty. Beginning that year, I stopped talking in class; I thought it would save me from the torture. I tried to hide, create a bubble around myself where their voices wouldn’t reach me, but every time they ridiculed me, it somehow managed to puncture the bubble. I was their punching bag, and I knew it.
I still have not gotten an apology to this day.
Yet, slowly, time moved on and things cooled down. I found my group of friends, tried to enjoy high school, and tried to forget about the past. By Fifth Form, I thought I was out of harm’s way.
But as I walked through Haverford’s halls this September, thrilled to start my year, see my friends, and meet my teachers, I could sense something was off.
I walked into my Chinese class and sat down in the back of the room feeling uneasy. Everyone was staring at me. Minding my own business, I tried to focus on my work when I saw one of my classmates out of the corner of my eye. He was laughing for some reason, and I turned my head to get a better view of what was going on.
As his cold, heartless eyes met mine, I froze. He snickered, then looked the other way, like he had something to hide. It turned out that I was the joke. He was laughing at the diversity work I had done, ridiculing my role in the Diversity Alliance.
“This is so stupid. Do these people actually think Haverford is racist? He is such an idiot. These posts are so dumb. ‘Let’s redefine masculinity,’” he read from one of my posts. “What a joke.”
I was mortified. As I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, I was overcome by an onslaught of emotions. I wanted to hide from the stares fixated on me, rebuild the bubble I had worked so hard on in middle school. But I was exposed and defenseless, debilitated, and broken. For so long, I had wanted to become white. I had wanted to escape the looks in the hallways, the laughing behind my back, the ridiculing.
I drew a deep, shuddering breath and tried to quell my quivering fears. I had bottled my experiences for so long now, and I knew I had enough. I was tired of having to conform to society’s expectations. Society pressured me to assimilate, to become “white,” and, when I capitulated, I realized I created a monster. I hated that I couldn’t control who I was. I hated that I was different from other people.
But most of all, I hated that I spent sixteen years of my life caring what other people thought of me. I hated that I conformed to caricatures that I thought would allow me to hide. I knew I wasn’t this persona.
I wiped my tears, and I watched as a smile formed on my face. Like the moon, my smile glistened in the obscure night, shining bright, no matter what stood in my way.
I have finally discovered the people I love the most. They inspire me every day to keep fighting for students like me because I’m not the only one with this story.
I am now the Co-Chair of the Diversity Alliance.
I have finally discovered the people I love the most. They inspire me every day to keep fighting for students like me because I’m not the only one with this story. Students like me have been silenced and ridiculed. I will never stop fighting until we have justice. We all deserve to feel loved and accepted.
I owe it to myself to become self-reliant because that’s all I can ask for: to be myself. To love me for who I am. To not care what other people think of me. No matter how many times you laugh behind my back, no matter how many times you stare at me in the hallway, it doesn’t bother me; I am finally free.
Our voices may be silenced, but we are free.