“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”
― Alice Walker
I started college by saying bye to my dad, sending a picture to my mum, and walking into Angell Hall to register for classes. I knew not a single person at the University of Michigan and it was the first time I had been to the state was a week earlier. Not to mention, I signed up for the wrong semester (spring) and was handled like a transfer student. So not only was I doing this college thing for the first time, I was surrounded by people who’d already done it before and many of whom did not look like me. Thus the journey of finding my chosen family began. Looking back I feel like I went through a bunch of different friend groups, many of which happened due to proximity. They all taught me a lot and I think it’s important to share those things, especially because of the toxic as well as formative friendships I have experienced in and outside of my own personal experience.
When I look back at my college experience, there are a lot of emotions that come up for me. Throughout all the emotions — whether I find myself relaxing tightly clenched fists, laughing till I am teary eyed or holding back a deeply exaggerated eyeroll — at the end of this rollercoaster, I settle back, relax and smile when I think of who I shared these memories with.
Regardless of whether or not it was in the moment, we’ve been there for each other for heartbreaks, exams, graduations, birthdays, bad movies, shopping trips, photo shoots, awkward moments, late night Pizza House runs, all nighters all over campus, lapses in judgment, concerts, rejection letters, acceptance letters, deaths, births and so much more. This piece isn’t a sap story for all the sentimentalities of college. Rather a reflection on everyone from the Black/African women who I call my mothers/aunties/sisters that I owe the world to the Residential College kids that taught me a thing or two about myself and everyone in between that I loved and loved me in return.
1. Get you some friends that want to see you thrive – I have seen too many people get spiteful because their friends were flourishing and they weren’t. No matter how bad of a day I am having there is nothing that makes me happier than when my friends are slaying the game. Like my first and second year roommate Marjai used to say, “Girl, when you make it, we all make it.”
2. Get you some friends that show you love – Love is such a loaded, multifaceted word. Love for me is friends spending numerous late nights to work me through yet another semester of French. Love is consistently letting me do the most on my birthday every year. Love is being your biggest supporter and chanting your name even if it’s remotely. Love is knowing that your friends will always have your back because you’ve seen them go in on anyone whether it was on Facebook or at Necto. Love is living in a house that was always ready to give you the tightest hug even after a fight. Love is knowing that I sleep with my phone on loud so you know you always have someone you can call.
3. Get you some friends that are brutally honest – If someone can’t tell you that your flannel doesn’t match the 90s look you’re trying to pull off, they aren’t real. As hard as the truth is to hear, it has been so useful. It made me reevaluate the ways in which I utilized or didn’t utilize my privilege effectively. Calling each other out/in when we perpetuated isms was vital. Sitting down and working through our flaws together, pushing ourselves to grow, becoming more culturally aware of our backgrounds in order to see the best in each other, that was friendship.
4. Get you some friends that understand that you need to take care of yourself – #SelfCare has come to mean so many different things. From a trendy new hashtag to a deeper understanding of Audre Lorde. I have learned to respect the healthy ways in which one cares for themselves. In turn I have learned to take care of myself. So thank you to the friends that taught me how to take time for myself, to shut off all the lights, watched trashy TV with me, and a shoutout to those that let me cook in their kitchens before I moved out of the dorms.
5. Get you some friends that are oak trees – A woman once said to me that are two categories of friends. You’ve got friends that are like paper and glass trees and you’ve got friends that are like oak trees. What she meant is that, the first group of friends are fine when the day is bright and life is nothing but smiles. Yet, when the storm hits, their support shatters, they are uprooted when you need them to be firm the most. However, friends who are oak trees are always there to support you to provide you cover when the storm hits. Not only do you need oak tree friends, you need to be an oak tree friend, because let’s face it, nobody likes a leech.
6. Get you some friends that…get you – Friends who take time to understand you and help you understand yourself. Friends that you feel no shame laughing wildly around and sobbing loudly into their shoulders. The ones you never have to explain yourself to because they listened when you told them your innermost fears and motivations. The ones that are your biggest allies as much as you are theirs. Friends that get. You. Completely. As. You. Are.
So in essence, shoutout to all of these friends, my chosen family. Whether we became best friends after one semester or our friendship grew stronger throughout our four years, thank you. Your friendship strengthened my resiliency and made navigating my identities as a woman of colour on the University’s campus feel less difficult — you will forever be held closely to my heart. To anybody reading this, whether it’s your first time in university or your final year, I hope you can take a golden nugget from it and I hope you’ve got or will get friends that will never demand your silence.