By Carolin Martinez Diaz ’19
This piece was conducted as an in-person interview with a single question asked: “What has been your experience at HWS as a person of color and international student?” The student response was transcribed and approved by the interviewee prior to publication.
I think my experience as a Dominican Latina immigrant, those are my identities, the main ones, I think that I’ve had good experiences and I’ve also had bad experiences. I don’t think my experiences have been as extreme as other experience’s because I’ve heard horror stories of things that happen on campus to students of color. I guess I can say that I’ve been fortunate enough to not have those experiences even though I don’t know what that would mean. I’ve been thinking about it since I’m a senior and we’re coming down on our last 30 something days. Freshman year, I don’t think I had a culture shock. I went to a high school that was predominately white in New York City. I’m from East Harlem, but I went to a high school in Chelsea and that’s a more affluent neighborhood than my neighborhood, it was a battle to even get in to that school. The students from District 2 had priority over the students from District 4, so we had to appeal the process twice and I did not have a high school until the day of graduation from middle school. So that was kind of my first roadblock for institutions blocking me to be successful.
I’ve never had to put this into words. Being here at the Colleges, I’ve struggled sometimes with different identities because I live in NYC, I am Latina, I am a Dominican Republic immigrant and I speak with an accent. I’m a strong woman. I have strong values. I have strong beliefs and I am willing to have conversations, but there’s a limit to things, especially in the classroom. Being a student of color on a predominantly white college also means that you have to prove that you belong not only to others, but also to yourself. So I’ve always had to be cautious about the way that I behave in front of certain people and here’s what I mean.
I have several on campus jobs at the colleges; therefore I work in spaces that are predominantly white. I am vocal person, and I’ve expressed the need for more diversity not just within the student body but also for the faculty and staff of the colleges. I spoke up about it saying, “You need to hire more diversity.” They were like “Yeah, yeah this is great. You’re making great points”. You know what they did? They gave me more hours and they gave me another title and I was like “Okay great thanks I guess” like I’ll take it. I need the hours. These offices are always asking, “Why can’t we reach the POC population?” because we cannot identify with people. We need more people that are First Gen that know that sometimes it is hard to ask for help and first generation students might not be aware of all the resources that are available, and that can also talk through these processes and resources. I mean not to throw shade or anything but a Chief Diversity Officer would be great in that scenario.
Now there’s another experience I’ve had. I’ve met great professors here. Professors that actually always care about their students. From Professor Hussain who I had my HEOP summer, to Professor Conde who was one of my favorite Spanish professors here, the Professors in the Spanish department and Craig Talmage, he is amazing! So I love my professors, however, there’s one professor that I’ve kind of had issues with what they say to me sometimes. I work a lot, obviously. I have to. I don’t necessarily have a choice and they are always asking, “Why do you have to work so much? Why do you do so much?” One day there was event going on and the professor asked if I could attend I said, “Oh I don’t have time because I have to work” and the professor said “But why do you have to work?” and I was like “Because I have to pay my loans.” and the professor’s response was “Oh”. I don’t have the privilege to or the opportunity to not work; I don’t want to put a financial burden on my parents. I don’t know if the professor thought it was an expectation from my parents to send me money or if they thought it was an expectation for me not to work because all I’m supposed to do is academics when I don’t have that ability to just focus on my academics.
My parents have 3 kids and they also have to help our family from back home. So that’s something they have to do and I don’t want to add more to it. College, especially paying for a private institution, that is expensive. This shit is expensive, for no reason.
Being a student at the Colleges I’ve also developed friendships with the staff of the colleges. Jackie Doyle, for example, she’s someone that I look up to and that I can talk to about anything and I had a conversation with her once where I was said “Listen Jackie, this is great and all, but I don’t want to be the token Latina” and at some point I felt like that was Career Services and I’m grateful to them because they have provided me the opportunity to meet people that have helped me, and I have been lucky enough to have interned in Silicon Valley twice. And I told her I don’t want to be this token person and she’s like “Listen, it’s something that like if you want to succeed you have to be in the spotlight of. The one that made it.” and I acknowledge that it’s necessary for other people. We want role models. We want to see these people, but I think it also takes an emotional toll when you have to constantly be doing something. And it goes into the Herald’s article about Culture of Exhaustion about how if you’re not doing something every single day you’re kind of failing socially which is so weird!
There was one day, it was last semester and I was having a really bad day. It was a rough week and I was wearing sweats, a big hoodie and a hat. I was basically trying to hide. A close friend comes up to me and he taps me on the shoulder and he’s like “You look sad” and I was like “Yeah, I am. I don’t want to do this anymore” this was the first moment that I realized that you have to put out this persona of keeping it together and I don’t know if it’s because this is the culture of the school or if it’s because I am a student of color and I am constantly on the spotlight, because I am a student who is very involved at HWS.
Oh! Let’s talk about my favorite thing on campus! Culture clubs and funding! I love it! Ok so I am currently Treasurer of LAO, I’ve been a part of LAO for the last 4 years. I remember being first introduced to LAO through my mentor from my HEOP summer prior to my first year at HWS. I attended the first meeting that semester; I remember that LAO meeting like I was yesterday. I remember meeting people, I remember talking to people and it was like a place of home and ever since then I’ve met my best friends.
When a culture club goes up to BAC, we present our event. This is what we’re trying to do. These are our costs. Now, I understand that there are limits to the budgets to be fair. That’s perfectly understandable. But however, there are times when it’s not necessarily all that fair. Now, I didn’t know this until recently that the money that was left over from BAC went to William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government. I didn’t know that until when we did BAC. That would have been very helpful to know 3 years ago and I confronted people about it and they got very defensive with me. So I went up to this person like “No that is public information” and I was like “Really, the money that is left over goes to Congress and Government is public information. Can you look it up for me please?” They were not able to find it. They were upset because they weren’t able to find it and then they were like “Oh well you should have just known that” How was I supposed to know that? This information is not accessible to me.
I think that with my academic achievements and internships I’ve accomplished my own goals. I’m proud of myself. So it’s kind of like I’ve always done things for me and I don’t necessarily look for credit cause the only people I’m trying to make proud are myself, my family basically, my mom, my dad and my 2 sisters. I am the oldest. I am the guinea pig. But also my parents they left everything in the Dominican Republic. My dad: a business; my mom: her entire degree when they didn’t know the language, they didn’t have family here. We still don’t have immediate family here we have 2nd cousins and aunts. So it’s like you left all these things and it’s for the betterment of your kids. I was 9 when I came to the United States and my sister was 5 and then my little sister was born here. So that’s why I do things. And I think that yes, there are a lot of systems in place that prevent us from, that have and could have prevented me from getting the things that I’ve gotten, but I also haven’t let it get to me. I think that in my stubbornness and I say stubborn in a positive way because to be successful you have to put in the work. Yes, it is a lot sometimes but hard work pays off, people see the hard work that people do. It’s noticeable. If you’re detail oriented, if you care about people. If you’re nice to people, people will be nice to you for the most part. But I think that that’s kind of what it is and I think that being a Latina and being an immigrant I shouldn’t have studied abroad, I probably shouldn’t be in college. I probably shouldn’t be at Hobart and William Smith with the scholarship that I have. I would not have interned twice in Silicon Valley. I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud, my internships. And then just you know being a Hai Timiai member, when this school was created I would have never been part of it here, like the first time, the first William Smith graduating class I would’ve never. In my childhood of being raised in the Dominican Republic I would’ve never thought that I would be here right now in whatever sense that is.
I think that it is through hard work and it is through dedication and being the person to do it for the first time, this does take a lot out of you too. I think that, going back to what I mentioned earlier about that person telling me that I was sad when I was having a rough day, because apparently I’m not allowed to have a rough day. It takes a lot, like you’re almost supposed to have this persona of I don’t even know what to call it because, what do you call it? You have to put up this front of “Yes, I have it all together” and sometimes I really don’t and what do you do with that when people ask you things, or when people come to you for advice, when you yourself need advice. I have found a support system here, but I think that we need to have that conversation more with people that “Yes, it is hard and it will be hard and I honestly don’t think it will ever stop being hard” but I am willing to work for the things that I know will make me happy.