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Race in a Race

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When I host two prospective students today for Jumbo Days (an overnight experience on campus for admitted students) I will try my best to be honest with them about what my Tufts experience has been up until now and what they're getting themselves into. Whenever I use that phrase, "getting themselves into," people look at me with a side-eye and question whether or not I want to be here, or if I want to dissuade students from coming to Tufts. Truthfully, I love being a student at Tufts. The work of making this place feel like a home is rewarding and, as the presidential election showed us, a never-ending journey. However, a conversation that I'll have with my baby Jumbos, just as if I were a student at any other college or university, will not omit the realities of what life at Tufts is like for many historically marginalized and oppressed peoples. These are the same conversations I have with my friends here in the dining hall or in my dorm room, my friends back home, my family and, yes, prospective students I come into contact with.

This week, I was pushed to places, mentally and emotionally, that I had not visited in my entire life. I initially believed (naively so) that this election for senate presidency would somehow magically be shielded from the miseducation and misplaced vitriol that floods politically competitive environments, whether they are a college campus or an entire nation. And it was ... until the last day, Tuesday, when the temporarily infamous "Generic Candidate," a satirical Facebook page posing as an imaginary candidate, introduced a concept into the election vis-à-vis his online pulpit: whiteness.

By posting a screenshot of a salient tweet from a candidate about the suspicion that should be raised when faced with an all-white group of people with a 'moral' cause, a box of worms was opened. Unfortunately, many white Tufts students reacted like three-year-old children and played with the worms like toys, rather than pausing to self-educate or contemplate what was happening.

His mere acknowledgment of race as an actual thing -- a living, breathing dynamic "thing" -- was labeled "divisive" and attacked for speaking a truth that students of color are coerced on a daily basis to ignore and run away from. His willingness and desire to help lead conversations on campus that interrogate and break apart issues of race, whiteness, gender and privilege translated into his very humanity, in the span of a few Facebook posts and tweets, being questioned and belittled.

One white student thought the whole situation hilarious and posted: "Does anyone know how to file a bias incident report? Do you really want this guy as your President?" By bias incident report he was referring to an online system at Tufts where students that feel as though they have been a victim of bias can report incidents. Really?

The accusations of "reverse racism" were so rampant I could have vomited.

Right in front of my eyes, I bore witness to internalized racism, misogyny and blatant bigotry disguised as sarcasm and "inclusivity" being spewed from students who call this campus home. This is what happens when oppressed people speak up. This is what happens when patterns go unchecked and racial rancor goes unquestioned. I had not felt less at home here than I did that night, but it's important to remember that these instances are not university or community specific-- muffled hate never discriminates.

Experiences like these are essential to personal and political growth because they reflect a reality that is often hidden from us in our day-to-day lives. The erasure of lived experiences and the intrinsic role identity and background plays in the lives of many Tufts students is not something many people of color are unfamiliar with -- Tuesday merely echoed our daily struggle of being expected to educate white people while simultaneously defending our existence to them. If this sounds exhausting, it was. I cried a bit Tuesday and I wasn't even running for anything ... I did feel like I was running, though. I'm still not sure why.

These are the things I will share with my prospective students during Jumbo Days. Unless, that is, they are white. Then maybe I'll save my breath.

This column was originally published in The Tufts Daily column "Politically Erect"