(I’m cheating, no chai today. Just delicious, creamy soy milo with a big arse dollop of Cool Whip.)
Last Monday, on August 23rd, I began my first semester at my dream university in my dream programme. Today, I wanted to briefly chat about how my week faired and whether my expectations were met or colossally let-down.
Before I dive into the fun bits, let me tell you about the Uni I attended prior to my current institution. That school, which I will simply refer to as Local Crap Uni, was a mostly conservative-filled campus with white professors pretending to be experts on the marginalised experiences. As an academic myself, I do have some level of respect for people who devote their entire time, energy, and livelihoods in the pursuits of a specific subject. I mean, I’m technically doing that, so I have very little room to make critical judgements on that, for the most part. However, as a person of colour, particularly of Asian and Polynesian descent that is specialising their studies in Asian cultures and histories, learning about the topics and the impacts of colonisation via a white coloniser’s lens was extremely traumatic and detrimental to both my mental health and my academic pursuits.
For example, in one of my courses, all of the materials that the professor used to help “teach” us and “better acquaint” us on the subject matter were authored by white male academics. The subject revolved around female presence and representation in Japan entertainment during the 1980s. When I tried to have some discourse diplomatically and politely with the professor with how this was harmful and provided inaccurate and inauthentic knowledge on the subject in big ways, she shut me down and went on to complain about how “difficult it is for women to make their name in academia without uplifting the white male voices that set the standard for the particular subject matter.” I tried to tell her that this was disturbing and offensive to students who attended her classes to learn more about their own culture and background, as well as an unhealthy role model situation for other non-males wishing to be college professors. She was unsympathetic and extremely rude, to say the least.
I came home from that meeting and fumed. I paced the living room in my house while I ranted and vented to Madame Gabs. Then I sat down and cried my heart out. Is this what I had to look forward to? Majoring in very specific Ethnic Studies courses taught by white people who would use their privileged identities and positions to enlighten their students on the white perception of their “influences” on non-white and colonised peoples? To contribute heavily to the systemic oppression and degradation to anyone who wasn’t male, white, rich, and conforming? My family comes from both India and Fiji Islands.
I damn well know exactly what Western colonisers did to my people and am only moderately aware of the psychological and generational trauma that stemmed because of it. With respect to my studies on Japan, a white man is not going to inherently understand what it was like to live as a woman in a revolutionising and hastily westernising nation that had to deal with the uprise of working class women in the 1980s, which was also a big era for sexual and gender identit awakenings for Japanese women.
When I had to take time off for my heart surgery, I dropped out of college. I’ve rarely spoken of this as it happened last year in pandemic era and a big part of me did feel some semblance of shame and ineptitude at “adulting” properly. After my semester ended, I quit college for what I believed would be the absolute last time. I knew that I was never going to get what I needed and desperately desired out of my education, not as long as it was ruled by the white people telling our stories in a stripped and watered down variation with mediocre, conservative lenses. I felt completely defeated and demolished.
When I received an invitation to attend my current university, which I’ll refer to as OMG Dream Uni, I was extremely hesitant on accepting. Gabs and I had so many discussions and arguments and debates on why I should or shouldn’t accept (her for the former, me for the latter). Eventually, after my heart surgery went as alright as it could’ve and I came to recognise that I wasn’t going to die anytime soon (at least not within the next few years), I reluctantly told her I’d give it a shot. I was going to give it one semester. If I had the same discomforting and maddening experiences, then I would know once and for all that college and I weren’t meant for a mutually satisfactory commitment.
My major, just for reference here, consists of two separate majors and one minor: Japanese Lit & Language + Asian-American Studies, with the minor being Comparative World Lit. Each of these subjects are very multi-ethnic and multi-cultural heavy, to put it simply. During my orientation, I met with and spoke with advisors explaining to them that it was vital for me to take classes by people who were expert representatives in their fields and proceeded to explain why. When they gave me this shiny little grin without saying much, I wanted to punch a wall. I thought I was being mocked and depreciated and humiliated again.
Holy fucking squirrel on a stick, was I fucking wrong.
I’m taking the following classes this semester: Japanese Language, Introduction to Asian-American Literature, Asian-American Sexualities (Queer sex and gender identity-centric), and Introduction to the Study of Language. Each and every one of these courses with the exception of the last one are taught by Asian and Asian-American professors (the sexualities professor is Queer too!!!). One of my Japanese professors ( we have two) actually teaches the class from Waseda University in Japan. On top of that, they are all SO beautifully inclusive, accepting, respectful, and welcoming. My professor for the Study of Language course is a white woman, but she’s also super inclusive and self-aware of all the things that I’m passionate about. She openly acknowledged that our school and city are situated on stolen Native lands, and she dedicates an entire section of her course to helping us learn about the specific Native peoples and their language and culture (she has guest speakers from that community coming in for those specific lectures) so we can be more aware of our presence in the world as both individuals and parts of a larger society. When I e-mailed her about accessibility things for my ADHD, she was 1000% willing to work with me without making me feel like complete and utter shite.
Some of the stuff we talked about in our classes consisted of all the things I’ve been discussing on this blog through the years in one form or another with respect to representation of Asians and Asian-Americans in literature and media that didn’t consist of token identities or hurtful stereotypical moulds treating us like cultural monoliths, and how white people usually perceive themselves as our “saviours” in many circumstances and situations that don’t warrant it because we’re constantly viewed as having “weird, oppressed” families and other stuff like that. (I know… that was quite a sentence.) Not only did our professors drive these conversations in an open forum and promote positive discourse of the topics, but they also did so without ever being hostile, accusatory, or demeaning to their students. They were more than willing to listen to us and acknowledge that there is still a lot that they don’t know themselves, that they love to learn from the students they meet, and hope that students can help teach each other in the process… and I just… Holy fuck, I felt like I died inside.
The only person I’ve ever been able to have such intensely vehement conversations with in regard to being a Queer marginalised person in a society that treats me like I’m worse than gumshoe is Madame Gabs. But here we were, sitting in a classroom, all contributing to the same conversation with similar yet vastly differing experiences, and we were learning how to make a difference. Equity is the name of the game. Plus, soooo many of my fellow students are also Queer people of colour that I never felt awkward or negatively judged whenever I did choose to speak up and out loud to everyone. I was one of ‘em. Not some strange, bizarre, brown-skinned human standing in a massive crowd of pale flesh, blue eyes, and poorly constrained judgement on my audacity to exist.
On Thursday after my last class wrapped up, I sat in my chair and sobbed.
Then I walked into Gabbie’s office while she was working, sat down on her floor and gushed and sobbed a bit more. Then I thanked her for pushing me to do this because I was so fucking ready to toss in that towel.
Ohmygod Dream University ended up being everything I had hoped it would be and so, so, so much more!! I was born to go here, to get my degree(s) from here. The first time I applied to them waaay back in 2012, they turned me down. Even though I was devastated, I also understood that at the time I was a godawful student. So, when I got the invite this time around, I spent every moment since and henceforth in a fog of disbelief, this surrealistic cloud just hanging around me. Now that the first week is done and over, and it’s been established that this is my fucking reality and it’s totally happening, that surrealism has faded and paved a path of shocking yet empowering gratitude.
Oh Boss Man, the motherfucking ambition.
I haven’t been this ambitious since before I got married to that scum-scrape of an abusive husband that I used to have. Even further back than that, all the way to high school during the Cretaceous Era. It’s been so damn long since I’ve felt this fire in my veins and this incredible sense of adrenaline that I only ever got from racing cars. Now that it’s here, it’s positively addicting and rejuvenating. For the first time since my heart surgery and post-op recovery, I actually feel like living and doing something fucking extraordinary with my degrees.
The options are quite various, and I’ve received some indications as to what the Uni wishes me to pursue, and even though I haven’t really given every detail a fully contemplative panic-attack yet, I’m unbelievably excited at the prospects of it all. Especially when you consider that the only prospects I’d been eyeing last year was the one that led straight to my dead brother and mentor in Cloud World.
There is one thing that I’m afraid to voice but I’m going to do it anyway, mostly as a form of positive affirmation, and that is the desire and hope to be able to return to OMG Dream Uni one day as a professor. If I ever receive an opportunity to teach here, then I can most definitely die and, boy, will I die fucking happy and satisfied with my second chance at life.
So, my first week at my dream university in my dream programme, which is one of the best on the whole damn West Coast of the USA… expectations? Fucking blown out of the water straight into the atmosphere of fucking awesomeness. Surprises? EVERYTHING and, God-bless, they have been bloody brilliant. Fears? Somehow falling behind or screwing up so badly that it all goes awry, or that it’s all some kind of weird ass dream as I’m actually lying in a coma from a surgery that got boffed the hell up. Both would suck royally. Let-Downs? Me, myself, and I for being so damn pessimistic and scared. Being a little scared is good and all because it shows you care, but when you’re so fucking scared that you become unable to take a chance and bask in the glowing momentous beauty of it all? That’s idiocy. I do that constantly. Don’t be me.
Right now, I’m riding the rush of everything this week has brought me. I’ll check back in with y’all in a month and see if these life-changing joy-gasms are still lingering like little creepy shadows. Praying to Boss Man that they sure as fucking hell do. Linger, that is.
Until next time, stay hydrated and punch that fear in its fucking eyeball. ✌🏽