My mom has this old Hindi saying that translates to, “in the community of blindness, the ‘one eyed man (or woman)’ is king (or queen).” She has used this phrase to describe many of the experiences that I have navigated in Higher Education so far, and it is a humbling quote to remind me that I do not know all of the answers.
As a Student Affairs professional at a predominantly white institution who started in K – 12 urban Education, I’ve been able to leverage my experiences in a lot of different environments. The location of my institution is in a gorgeous college town that is seriously lacking some melanin. In our community of blindness, I’ve become the one-eyed queen that speaks to professors about creating an inclusive classroom, the diversity department on culturally appropriate intervention, and our recruiting team on how to recruit and retain students of color.
I find myself happy to help because I love this school. I love our professors and their commitment to diversity, and I love how much our school cares about how having a diverse student body would benefit everyone. However, I find myself reconciling the privilege I have and trying to approach every situation in a different lens.
Growing up as upper middle class to two highly educated parents, I cannot deny the privilege I have. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to a very expensive private institution where my parents paid sticker price, but I also can acknowledge that the “backpack of burden” that comes along with being a woman of color has made an imprint on my life as well. Being Desi taught me how to be proud of my culture (but not too proud). To smile politely when people ask for math help, or ask me “if I must be really smart because I am Indian.” To explain to my parents that I am NEVER going to law school (ever) and they should stop telling all of our family members that it will happen. Or to explain to my father that the reason his business was vandalized in 2002 was because of 9/11.
My parents came to America ready to subscribe to whiteness. They felt like they came as guests, and they were ready to assimilate in order to be successful. They fought hard battles against discrimination, and were resilient despite all of their challenges. They approach American culture with gratitude, and are so happy to be here despite all of their setbacks.
The students I taught had ancestry that could be traced for generations, and they cannot as easily subscribe to whiteness as my parents were able to. I know that I do not have the same problems that my students had when I was teaching in urban public schools. I do not face the same level of police brutality that my old students have to endure, or the embarrassment that comes with being followed at the mall by sales associates.
Finding the balance between understanding my own privilege, advocating for my brothers and sisters of color, and trying to approach diversity in a lens outside of my own personal experience has been a challenge. Tucked into a college town miles away from the section 8 housing I would pass during my commute only 2 years ago can really put me into a bubble. Taking the time to read more, listen more, and push myself is what is helping me do justice to all underrepresented communities. I am still the one-eyed queen, but with continued practice, reading, and more humbling experiences, I hope to open my other eye.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
This post is part of our #HigherEdDesi series, which aims to share the stories of what it means to identify as “Desi” and working in higher ed. We hope to provide a context of how we came into Higher Education and what that journey looked like for each one of us. For more information, please see Juhi Bhatt’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
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Podcast With Mallory Bower on Career Services and Job Search Tips