My little sister absolutely loves back-to-school shopping. Everything about it excites her, from the color coordination of her notebooks and pencils to the smooth glide of Paper Mate InkJoy pens. I make fun of her a lot, calling her things like “nerd.” I differ from my sister in the sense that I couldn’t care less about which brand of notebooks or pens my mother bought. But when I reflect upon it, in my younger years, I, too, shared similar excitement. I enjoyed the newness of it all: new textbooks, new teachers, new classmates, new locker assignments. Even the floors were freshly buffed and waxed, the walls sticky with a coat of new paint.
When I entered college, I was promptly and totally overstimulated by my excitement with the new environment. Yet, it introduced some of the worst nerves I have ever experienced in my life. For a homebody and introvert like myself, having to live on my own away from home for the first time was terrifyingly overwhelming. However, as my time at the University of Michigan progressed, I adjusted and found solace in my “new” normal routine.
With the impending start of what will be my last year as an undergraduate, my nerves have returned, and my short-lived comfort has ceased. Though the University has remained the same since my arrival, everything outside of it has turned completely upside down. Bigotry, hate, racism and utter dissolution have begun to bubble and now fester like sores within our communities, seemingly stemming from the root of the executive branch of government.
That being said, the essence of my fear lies within the chaos of the outside world penetrating the little bubble of our campus, as our campus has been extremely susceptible to racist and oppressive messaging, defilement and hate speech that has surfaced within recent years. So, as we all pack our bags, whether they contain InkJoy pens or color-coordinated notebooks, I ask the questions: How do we learn to cancel out the noise? Do we remain fearless and poised in the face of negativity? How do we challenge ourselves to support each other in times of need? And how do we learn to not only understand each other, but refrain from becoming inept to embracing others’ differences?
This is no small feat, and by the looks of the racially charged incidents on campus in recent years, the answers to these questions have yet to reveal themselves. My fear additionally stems from the realization that I have absolutely no idea what the future holds for American society.
Though racism, hatred and oppression have found a home in this country for centuries, I think it’s safe to say these societal sores resurged forcefully and publicly after the 2016 presidential election. This may sound outrageous to admit, but I have absolutely no clue why people are so upset with President Donald Trump. As if he did not foreshadow the executive decisions he has enacted during his campaign. As if he did not reveal his prejudices prior to his inauguration. As if he did not instill fear within minority groups in the United States and spread hateful rhetoric through his speeches.
No one should be surprised by the events that have unfolded across the course of these few months of his presidency, simply because he told us they would happen beforehand, just as no one should be shocked with regards to his motives.
However, what should be excessively upsetting is the fact that there were enough like-minded people within our country to elect someone with values rooted in racism and bigotry. It is this portion of the population, which seeks to invite hate to college campuses, as we witnessed in the devastating events which took place in Charlottesville, Va., a few weeks back. Can these types of hate-filled infections reach a campus like the University? Am I valid for experiencing some anxiety because I almost expect this?
As my sister readies herself for her first day of class and fills her backpack with all of her new fancy pens and notebooks, I prep for my first day by crossing my fingers that this year will not bring the “alt-right,” neo-Nazis and white nationalists to our campus.
How are you going to spend your first day?
Stephanie Mullings can be reached at email@example.com.