a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
By Ngor Luong
Finals week is coming.
I just found out that only 12% of people in my hood has graduated from college (you can check yours here; just enter your zip code). This is even lower than the acceptance rate of Middlebury Class of 2019, which is reportedly 16%. It’s harder to get out of the hood than getting into Middlebury. I laughed it off because isn’t it absurd? Some of you might think, “Wow, it’s good! You should be proud of yourself!” I am! Don’t get me wrong! But you know what this means as well? I can’t afford to lose! Not only do I feel the need to succeed for myself, I need to do it for my family, my community and the people who have given their own time and money to help me “make it.” I feel the need to not disappoint them. One internship rejection means one step back from “success.” One C means one step back from scholarship and graduate school. One “free” summer means one step back from crafting my professional resume. If a step from the ladder is snapped off, I have to spend more time putting it back together before continuing climbing. Who’s there to catch me when I fall? Probably not this institution. Back to square one.
I’m always surprised when my friends tell me they are going to just travel in the summer and maybe teach English in “some developing countries.” And I’m here scrapping at the bottom of MOJO to find a paid internship. “Take a break this summer. Do it for you,” they said. These comforting words feel really good at the moment until later I am drowning in my own cynicism and fear that I won’t have enough “skills” to perform the same job that those who went on vacation every summer got through a connection.
I feel the need to force myself to swallow cynicism, from the people here in this institution and from the people back home. Those back-home think that I have integrated into this white and wealthy institution. They have joked about me being “white-washed” because I go to an elite college. There are some people here who think that I should be thankful for them paying full tuition because their tuition subsidizes mine. Thanks for your comment. Should I feel like my entire future lies in your hands? Whether I can attend this school or not depends on your generosity? How can I feel like I can thrive academically with you when apparently, your richness sporadically undermines my battle to get here?
Since I was little, I’ve embodied the title: the one who “made it” to America. I bear the weight of being the one who escapes poverty-stricken Cambodia to being at the bottom of a socioeconomic class in America. This fight to see light at the end of the tunnel has never ended, rather it has taken many different forms: me against my childhood, me against my teenage self, me against my young-adult self, me against the hood, and right now it’s me against this elite institution. And no, my parents didn’t tell me to work harder than my peers, but this institution does. It tells me to look around at how hard my classmates work and triple that.
Of course, the school has sent out countless emails asking us to take surveys on “stress,” assuming that it comes from the pressure of being in challenging classes. What about the stress of being a person of color who has to fight to get to this institution and now has to fight to survive in this institution? Every day I wake up, I fight. Every day I am on a survival mode. On top of fighting to meet the deadlines of their assignments, my fellow peers of color have to fight to defend their humanity, to prove that they used their intellectual capability to get here and not through the sympathy of this institution. Does Middlebury want to know this when they ask us how stressed we are? And the school is telling us everyone here has an equal opportunity to get an education. They’re telling me that everyone here sits in the same classroom, eats in the same dining hall, sleep in the same dorm, and thus we should experience similar academic pressure. I disagree. How am I supposed to write a paper on institutional oppression in China, African countries or Latin American countries when I experience it first-hand here on campus. I cannot simply forget about the stress that comes from being the marginalized one when I have to stress about my final exams. Finals week is coming and I’m burned out. If the school wants me to produce the same quality work that my non-marginalized classmates do, listen to us and fix the system, so everyone can all stress equally.