• Gray Butler

An Open Letter To My Undergrad

TW: Mentions of Death and Suicide

There is so much that I wanted Pomona College to be, and while I can, and probably will find myself going down a well deserved rabbit hole of theory, praxis and experiences as to why and how Pomona has failed me as a disabled queer black student, at the core there is still this deeply personal experience that I wish to tease out from my intellectualizing of my experiences.

Yes so much has happened during my 4 years as a student in undergrad, yes I have spent more than my fair share of organizing, and rightfully angry at the Defunding of mental health, multiple deaths and suicides. on. campus. without. adequate. mental. health. support, failure to handle disability and mental health concerns, suspending Pomona’s Student Organization for Sexual Assault, failures to deliver on promises for resources for first gen low-income students, and the most recent housing crisis endangering homeless first gen low income students, just in the 4 years I have been there, with an even longer track history of incidents that routinely get buried and institutionally forgotten. And as angry, as tired, as exhausted and as jaded as I have become in some aspects, this is not what this article is about.

I would be lying to myself, and denying my full experience to say that I did not, and maybe somewhere still do deeply love Pomona, and maybe that’s why it has been so incredibly difficult to be a student in these spaces. In some ways where my disdain began and other’s like me ended, blurred into one amorphous cloud of disillusionment, frustration, pain and trauma. And I cannot nor do I blame my fellow students for this sentiment, because it is a very normal and expected response to facing continued axises of oppression, but it did impact me. And I am only now beginning to sort through the pieces of what that means for me, my traumas and my healing in light of a place that very reluctantly and begrudgingly offers support.

The fact was there were some things that were within my agency to do, but whether or not they were within my capacity is another story. But I have to still grieve those moments. I spent most of my undergrad feeling utterly alone and isolated, despite being at my dream school, despite being at a place that had the financial resources in theory to provide virtually everything I needed to succeed (Things which conveniently have been scaled down even pre-pandemic without any explanation or insight). I felt unguided and overwhelmed, I lacked the social way with to access the resources I needed, the process for getting help was convoluted and horribly opaque, and no one would really listen to me that I needed the help that I truly need. Turns out I most likely am autistic, and no one was willing to listen to me when I attempted to advocate for myself and my needs.

And I had my own trauma’s going in, I am a survivor of multiple forms of abuse, with a disorder that makes it incredibly difficult to form close sustaining bonds. I am also a person who has been so incredibly committed to working with my illnesses and disorders and seeking the proper care, care that has been made incredibly hard to access through my college’s policies. Care that I had to beg alumni to fund just so I could get the help I and other students desperately needed to be well. Care that took me 3 years to get and when I briefly received it I thrived. To which I had to spend another year fighting tooth and nail to secure that same care, also risking suspension for under performing once that care was taken away or made more inaccessible.

And even then, the connections I did make, the professors I have come to know, the ones who have seen my humanity, the ones who have held space and become mentors to me, the ones who have let me BE a full person, who have gone to bat for me, while few and far between, saved my life. My proximity to Pomona put me in connection with the people I needed to meet and be with, needed in order to heal. My relationship with Pomona is so incredibly complicated because in one breath it has been a source of immense trauma, erasure, and lack of care, it has also facilitated me meeting some of the most life changing people in the world. And I would be lying to myself if I only acknowledged half of my experience, half of what has made me, me.

I loved Pomona, with my whole chest, it became my home, and yet I watched so much of it pass me by. It took me 3 years to be able to connect with people, and even now I struggle. There was so much opportunity, that felt just within my grasp, yet so incredibly far away. And this wholehearted love combined with so many barriers to wellness, not only broke my heart, but instilled a message and sentiment within me that, no matter how hard I work, no matter how much I do I will never be enough.

The dissonance between the fancy words coming from the administration and my own experiences on the ground, were dizzying and disorienting. My reality did not match up with what was being said about my experience and the experience of so many like me. And as someone who has experienced abuse and gaslighting I couldn’t help but feel a similar disorientation and self blame and doubt. And it is not enough for me to say that Pomona was never meant for me.

It is true to many degrees. These institutions were never meant for us, and I wholeheartedly believe that policy and reform will only go so far. Hiring administrators of color only goes so far when they continue to enact policies that disproportionately harm students of color. When they leverage their positionally to blackness as a deflection of accountability, and false narrative that they support us. It may look good on paper but that is not the experience on the ground for so many of us. I want so much more, I deserved so much more. I deserved to thrive. And my heart breaks for the college student who spent 4 years struggling to merely survive.

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