I was half way into my first semester of my senior year at Humboldt State University when my adviser, Dr. Campbell went on sabbatical. I thought, “Great”. Honestly I wasn’t going to miss the guy. I was in my 6th year of college because at the 2nd semester of my 5th year, he missed the deadline to unlock the hold on my class registration which prevented me from getting first dibs on the classes I needed to graduate the following year. Is this really the fucking adviser they assigned me? Who hired this guy? Does he give a shit about ANY of his students? Or does he not think i’m serious about school because I’m brown and wear band tees with short skirts with ripped stockings? I was glad Dr.Campbell was going on sabbatical, but I was also scared to death because…who else was going to help me graduate?
In 2012, Humboldt State University’s student population was about 70% White, 20% Brown (Latino/Hispanic/Chicanx), 8% Black and Asian, and 2% International. Their faculty was about 90% White. Not exactly representative of the student body, right? There were seas of white folks everywhere – all the time. Not exactly a familiarity for someone like myself, who grew up in a very ethnically diverse community in the ‘hood. I felt like a visitor the entire time I was there. Moreover, I felt like most of the faculty weren’t equipped to educate someone like me – brown, poor, 1st generation.
I spent my days getting high most of the time. Hanging out with black and brown folks at HSU who understood the struggle of constantly advocating for one’s self. By that I mean, having to go the extra mile to educate someone on why their racists jokes aren’t funny, why calling a language “Mexican” isn’t appropriate, why we should keep our Latino Peer Mentoring program, why we shouldn’t fire the only Spanish speaking faculty in the Library, and on and on and on. I needed a break from constantly having to make space for myself. So, my friends and I took walks into the forest, sat by the lake and smoked our bowls. Weed was our escape.
Escaping reality was probably the reason I didn’t pursue any research in Psychology, aside from not wanting to tolerate hearing the watered down versions of diversity and inclusion given by my professors and commented on by my peers. Every time there was a discussion about race, ethnicity, or class, my heart would palpitate, my palms would sweat, and my hands would itch to be raised, but by the time I was ready to chime in, the discussion was already over. I missed so many opportunities to speak up about being brown and being poor because I felt I would not be heard. And with that mindset, I decided to stay far the hell away from the Psychology department and just focus on completing the classes I needed to graduate.
By the time registration rolled around for the second semester of my 6th year, I had to meet with my “fill-in” advisor. They assigned me Dr. Gold, the Psychology Department Chair. Holy Fuck. I loved Dr. Gold! I took his Social Psychology class and looked forward to going to his class every Tuesday and Thursday at 8am. 8AM? Really? Who enjoys getting up that early? ME – that’s who! Dr. Gold’s job was to teach us that people are different people in different situations, and that stereotypes and assumptions are harmful because of XYZ. To me, these things were no brainers. But some of the students in his class really struggled with these basic human concepts *cough – the more privileged students had issues grasping the concept – cough*. I appreciated how he always corrected any bigotry. I wished he would have been my advisor instead of Dr. Campbell.
I was so nervous meeting with Dr. Gold. I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. Does he remember me from his class? Does he know I received an A+? Does he even know I exist? He looked up my academic record and remained silent while he glanced over my grades. I came prepared with the list of classes I knew I needed to take to fulfill my graduation requirements. I did all of the work because that’s what I was used to doing with my previous advisor.
As I sat there, taking an inventory of the books populating his shelf, he casually asks me, “Are you thinking about grad school?”
“Well, I’ve thought about it. Don’t really know what I want to study,” I said, trying to sound like I was not scared as hell to be thinking about graduate school.
HELL YES I was thinking about graduate school! I was so intimidating by the very thought of getting rejected and I was also regretful that I had not done participated in any undergraduate research to make myself a competitive candidate for a graduate program.
“Well, these are grad school grades,” he says and we finally make eye contact.
I hoped he would see the fear in my eyes so I wouldn’t have to explain why I had not made any effort to pursuing my education. But instead, I smiled, knowing damn well I was only doing that to hide the anger I felt for not appreciating my 3.5 GPA sooner. Why hadn’t Dr. Campbell said anything to me about my grades? Did he even care what I did after graduation? Why hadn’t anyone pointed out this potential path sooner?
“Oh, that’s good to know,” I replied.
Then I asked him to approve my classes for the following semester and thanked him for his words of encouragement. The chair of the Psychology department just gave me the stamp of approval for graduate school. Fuckinaye, bro. I was hopeful after that. I still didn’t know what I wanted to pursue in graduate school, but at least I knew now that there was a place for me in graduate school because I earned it.
I wish I could tell you that I applied for graduate school after that. But I didn’t. Four years later i’m still trying to figure out what I want to do. But when I do get to my Master’s program, I know damn well that there will be a seat for me at the table. A well earned, well deserved and comfortable ass seat.