Disconnecting from the Bubble
When I was in middle school I’d always love the days when I had a doctor’s appointment. Not because I’m just super enthusiastic about medicine, but because that usually meant getting picked up early from school.
That meant I got to have a special lunch from a fast food place. Or they’d call my name in class and I’d smile at my friends like, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m outta here.”
But the best feeling I had on those days was getting in the car and driving away from the school. Sounds weird, let me explain.
When you’re in school, you can fall into this false sense of security that tells you your current situation is the end all be all of the human experience. Everything in school is so dramatic, every small inconvenience is the end of the world because school is, essentially, your whole life.
Driving away from school on sick days, I would look at all the other people in their cars going to different places. I distinctly remember once asking my dad on such a day, “Why aren’t all these people in school?” I just couldn’t believe that there was a whole world, an innumerable amount of experiences happening outside of my little bubble.
I can feel that bubble, even now, at the University of Maryland.
Something about living on a campus at a fairly liberal university, you forget that you're still very sheltered. There’s this feeling that you’re an independent adult just out there, trailblazing. But the bubble remains.
The student organizations, the events on campus, the discourse in classrooms— it’s all very safe. Not in a safe space kind of way, but you just feel very surrounded by likeminded people.
I’m living off campus now, so there’s a little more separation between me and that environment. Even now when I take the bus home, I feel that same awe that I felt in middle school. It's a little relieving to know that those assignments, that girl in my class that I don't like, they're all growing smaller behind me as I head home.
For two years I lived in that campus bubble, but right at the end of those two years— the bubble popped.
If you haven't heard, a black lieutenant, Richard Collins III, was stabbed and killed on my campus at the bus stop in front of Montgomery hall— just a one minute walk from my old dorm. The man that stabbed him was a drunk, white UMD student who followed an aggressive, horrible "Alt-Reich" Facebook page.
If you ask me, the FBI's investigation as to whether it was a hate crime is pointless. If someone is subscribed to a page like that— one that routinely mocks and propagates violence against minorities (black men especially)—and then kills a black man, they're pretty guilty in my eyes.
Richard Collins had his entire life ahead of him. I've seen the profound impact he has had on his friends and family, and that was taken from him by hate.
Before his murder, I felt so safe in the campus bubble.
Even when the racist flyers and chalk writings started appearing on campus. Even when the noose appeared in a fraternity house. I was convinced they were isolated incidents rather then symptoms of something scarier plaguing the campus. But seeing someone's life taken— I can't even think retrospectively on my sophomore experience because it all seems so trivial.
UMD has an environment that at times makes me feel coddled, and at others makes me feel unsafe.
Disconnecting from the environment (living off campus) definitely gives me some reprieve from the two conflicting emotions.
I genuinely don't know where I was going with this piece. I've been writing it since last semester, just revising, editing, deleting it entirely. I haven't come to a single conclusion about how I feel on this campus.
I feel like that's how minority students feel at PWIs (predominantly white instutues). You can't feel 100% safe or 100% valued as a human being. Even at the peak of your enjoyment, there's always that thought in the back of your head that someone died here. Someone doesn't like minority students here. Someone here thinks you are less than.
And people can rail and rail against safe spaces and the need for freedom of speech and differing opinions, but I'll offer this: When one person's opinion is that a group of people don't deserve basic human rights, there is no more room for discourse. It is no longer a level playing field. It's a denial of someone's humanity.
Since being back on campus I've had this swirl of emotions in my head. It lacks a clear cut solution. I just pray for my safety and the safety of other minority students.