Where Do I Start?

I have been a quiet person all my life. It’s not due to me being shy; it’s just that sometimes I simply don’t have anything to say. In high school, I was intertwined with the group of girls that would fight if someone looked at them the “wrong” way. I never participated in the fighting, and my friends described me as the good one in the group that would calm them down. I would listen to all of their violent stories in disgust, but my face would never dare show it because I was sure they would turn on me. People saw this group as the typical ghetto black girls who only attended school to start drama and impress guys, and would eventually get pregnant by sophomore year. You could tell that’s what people thought, especially in the classroom. These girls would argue with the teacher and leave the classroom when they were asked to put their phones away during class. For some reason they were seen as heroic advocates for student rights, but I simply saw it as being completely disrespectful, and an excuse to resist education. Whenever I would choose to use my off hours to go to the library or get help with a subject, they would condemn me for not being cool.

The sad reality of my situation is that education, being a part of a systematic institution, has drilled into the heads of young people belonging to many oppressed communities that they are not the ideal candidates to benefit from it. A system is designed to create different paths in which people may sometimes choose, however, once they’re stuck on that path, the system restricts them from getting out. Oppression ties into this very well because it is an evident tactic that has been used from the beginning of time to create superiority among different groups of people. Below I have some stats to that show the unfortunate divide in education among groups who have and still are facing institutional oppression.

States with widest gaps in college degrees (black/white)

Black White Gap
Colorado 34% 53% 19 points

States with widest gaps in college degrees (Latino/white)

Latino White Gap
Colorado 20% 53% 33 points
       

Here at MSU Denver, the six-year achievement gap (we typically measure graduation rates in six-year increments, not four-year) is -13.3% for African American students and -2.6% for Hispanic students, meaning that students in these groups graduate at a rate of 13.3% and 2.6% lower than White students. From being a student here, especially a student of color, I hope this empowers you to work hard towards closing that gap by taking your education seriously.

Like I mentioned before, there are other paths the system has laid out for its recipients to take. For these oppressed communities, drugs, gang activity, and incarceration are some of the many paths the system has destined to be in our future. These institutions can vary depending on government, education, health care, religious organizations, and criminal justice systems. The target for these institutions especially in relation to oppression is people of certain social identities. They are able to institute these paths through numerous laws, policies, social constructs and common stereotypes that have somehow been deemed the norm.

What is the solution to institutional oppression? For me, I am black. That comes before the fact that I am a woman. I am already at the bottom of the totem pole when I face racism on top of sexism. My experiences in the classroom have been constant reminders of where I am in life and how important it is to be in college at this time. I am constantly being challenged by my white male colleagues, and sometimes I feel like they always want to undermine my intelligence. My English 1020 professor once said to me that my writing was surprisingly good enough for me to consider pursuing an English major. As a student, her comment could be seen as a somewhat encouraging, but as a student of color that is completely disheartening. I felt like she had a predetermined notion that my performance in her class would be poor due to my skin color. These remarks motivate me more than ever today. I have realized, especially when coming to college, that there are many obstacles I must face in order to step out of the path the oppressor has set up for me. I have been taking classes specifically designed for me like “Women of Color” to help expand my horizons on how I can utilize education for the greater good. The fact that I have the choice to determine my own future is enough fuel for me to be inspiration to my young brothers and sisters of color.

As I close, I hope that my perspective opens your eyes on how you can be a part of a revolution to change the standard.

Go, Fight, Win!

Jennifer Lutalo

Peer Ambassador for First Year Success

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