The Center for Diversity & Inclusion is pleased to release the My Truth Series. This series contains daily blogs and videos that will be released throughout the week, May 2 through 8, capturing the lived experiences of diverse students at  Hope College. 

The comments contained in the videos are those of the respective Hope College students and do not necessarily represent the views of Hope College. If you choose to comment, please follow Hope’s Virtues of Public Discourse. Comments that do not follow the Virtues of Public Discourse will be deleted.

Ash is a Class of 2022 Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies Double Major. This exceptional senior was involved in: Prism, Step2Success and the Phelps Scholars. He was awarded the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Award.

Hey. My name is Ash, and this is my truth

When I first came to Hope, it was admitted students day. “How is it for gay students here?” I asked my admissions officer. “I’ll be honest, you will struggle here, but you will find your people,” she said. And how true that was. My freshman year, I was a Phelps Scholar and had decided to live honestly with myself; I wasn’t out in high school, so I was really transparent about my queerness and how (at the time) I identified myself as a lesbian. Since, I have come out as trans, given myself a new name, and begun to transition in a way that makes me feel good about myself and my body. And here’s what I have learned from the realization that I am queer: there will always be people (who may speak louder or present themselves more visibly in a space) that tell you that you are an anomaly- a sinful, wrong natured, confused person in need of divine guidance from good straight Christians, or who tell you that you don’t belong somewhere (in the Church, at Hope, in your family, at your job, in politics, the list goes on and on…). But, there will also always be people here to support you and uplift you. Find these people. Listen to their stories, and ask them why they believe the things they do. Trading stories will tell you so much about what someone values and what they care about, as well as if you can count on them and if they can count on you. It’ll also help you figure out more about yourself- what you value and why. Maybe you don’t have a story that sticks out to you as the story yet. You don’t need to! Just talk about your favorite memory or your biggest fears. 

Now let me tell you my story. 

In the Phelps Scholars Program, I interacted with a lot of people. I gained a lot of friends and lost some, I watched people leave Hope, and I considered leaving myself. My freshman year, I thought I wanted to be a geology major. I was so wrong. I came to my first chem lab, and by the time it was over, I had already dropped the class. I needed something else, so I decided to take a Women and Gender Studies class, because I care about social justice and thought at the time that I was a woman. I ended up in the most advanced theory course that you take before the capstone! And it was challenging, but I learned so much about theory and life, and what it means to have theory that reflects your lived experiences (Shoutout to Dr. Kendra Parker, I hope you’re well and I miss you). From there, I took more WGS classes and decided that was a good fit for me. I also took a few Philosophy classes and felt the same way about Philosophy. I didn’t know what I would do with a degree in Philosophy and WGS, but I loved what I was learning, and that was more important to me than figuring out what job I would be okay with working once I graduated. 

I also got pretty involved in the queer community and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Sylvia, one of the best people I’ve ever known, and I worked first individually and then together on activism to get the Institutional Statement on Human Sexuality removed, and subsequently with another mentor of mine, Em, on forming Hope’s first officially recognized LGBTQ+ organization, Prism. But here’s the thing- we have always existed here. Officially recognized by the administration or not. There has been a community of people here that are queer at Hope that we found recorded in the Anchor since at least the 1970s, and they have always been fighting for recognition and freedom here. I’ve been lucky to talk with a bunch of alum and heard their stories and all of the wisdom that comes with it; and one thing they all seem to agree on: they want to see Hope do better and be better for us, the current queer students. And now that I’m about to be an alumni myself, that’s my biggest wish for Hope as well- that they listen to us and hear our stories. That they pay attention to what we need. That they take us as seriously as they take the athletics department, or SAC, or the STEM programs that happen here. 

When Prism was in it’s first year, we talked a lot about whether or not we belonged in CDI. There was a lot of concern about whether or not assimilating into CDI would mean that we were settling for Hope’s administrative values or that we would have to sacrifice our intersectional activist roots. There was also a lot of feelings that we didn’t belong in CDI because most of the people involved in Prism were (and still are) white students, and we didn’t want to take away one of the few spaces that was explicitly made for students of color. It was especially important to me that the space I took up wasn’t being taken from someone else in order to fit me in. I didn’t want to continue this cycle of imperialism and colonization in my day to day behavior. 

“What do you need?” asked Dr. Doshi, my professor at the time. “What do queer students on this campus need and where can you count on others to support you and meet those needs?” These questions have swirled in my head for quite some time, and I still struggle with those ideas. Where do I fit in with people who have needs similar to mine? How do I make sure that I’m not overstepping my privilege and not trampling on the efforts of communities that have been here before me? I don’t know if there will ever be a clear answer, but I have realized something that should have been clear to me a lot sooner. Justice is for everyone. EVERYONE. It is an injustice to sacrifice my needs and martyr myself in order to make sure I don’t offend someone. That’s like saying you can’t do something without trying. We are all active participants in the world, and nothing is helped or fixed by inactive observers. We can never be and will never simply be observers, watching to make sure our actions are in line with our beliefs. Observing is an act in and of itself; and I have found that I betray my morals and ideals more when I sit and do nothing than when I act according to how I believe. And with that comes the need to have a space for yourself. Justice for yourself.

You can aim to make the world a better place for others and for you, and I have come to believe that the only way you can really empathize with the needs and wants of others is to understand and meet the needs and wants of yourself. There is space and justice for you in there with everyone else, and while you still need to be mindful of your positionality in a space (how your identities and physical/spatial location impact others), you can’t be so aware of yourself that you refuse to take any space or have any presence at all. So, take a chance in somewhere that you wouldn’t normally go. Challenge yourself to be the only one like yourself in a space with people that are different from you. It’s okay to be the only white person at an LSO meeting. It’s okay to be cis and straight at a Prism meeting. You can come and build a community with people that aren’t like you. At the end of the day, forming relationships with others that you aren’t like or don’t understand is the solution to making sure we all succeed in getting justice together for all of us. So come on over- let’s share our stories. Let’s learn more about each other. Let’s fight for justice. Together. 

See you later. Peace, 

Ash

Published by Margo Walters

Margo works in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion as the Program Coordinator/Office Manager. She has lived in Holland since 2003 in the same house full of children. When she is not too busy, you can find her performing or in the back yard in the garden.

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