I’m free, though they’d say I always was

by Olivia Joy

This year. Wow. I feel weird writing this post, to be completely honest…maybe it’s because it’s surreal to me that it’s over. Maybe because accepting that the year is over means basically all of my friends leaving: going to Law School, going to be the best teacher in the world, going into the Army, going to change the business world, going literally all over the country and all of the world. Maybe because it means I’m one year closer to “the real world…” Maybe because the entire year literally felt like a month. I’m truly unsure. BUT I think it’s going to be a journey to try to encapsulate my thoughts about this year in this one post…but hey, I’ll sure try.

This year brought me to a place of newness. I got to have the opportunity to be in Student Government (I’ll get to that later), I changed my entire major, I got to immerse myself in opportunities that allowed me to experience Jesus in a new way and struggle all the while, I gained some of the best friends I could ever ask for, and I ultimately, had a completely insane year that I can hardly put into words. Bits of it: complete hell, others: utter joy. As many of you, or those who know me well, know, I sleep very little. Like very very little. I work myself to death, between first and foremost, my studio work, but second, my work in Student Government.

Fortunately but unfortunately, my experience this year in ASCWU-SG has completely transformed me. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean transformed me as a person…I wouldn’t let it. However, I do mean that it transformed me in a way that has given me a new way to look at not only the world, but more specifically, higher education and politics and the “higher-ups,” for lack of better terms. I realize that though the position that I ran for is a political position, I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for how much of this job is just that: politics, and how little of it goes to do what you were put in that position to do: make a difference. And the best part about it, when you are looked at as a criminal for questioning that political obligation, seeing representing students as the number one priority (please see my sarcasm). There were a great series of events that happened over the course of the year that prompted me with a choice: I can sit here in this position of so-called power/shared governance (which is literally all complete hear-say and crap, but that’s what they like to call it –yeah, we’ll call them “they”) and I can absorb the mentality of “them,” undergo complete manipulation and go along with their agenda OR I can choose to respond adversely. But responding adversely even has its caveats. This is what hit home with me and really was a pivotal point in my time serving on this board: I can absorb this cynical mindset, literally losing all hope, or  I can realize the reality of what exists around me, and go at it, head first, unapologetically, and  be motivated by their inability to serve with genuine qualities.

I struggled A LOT this year. Beyond anything that seemed petty, I simply struggled to watch them use us, use students in order to jump start their own agenda and priorities. Oh, you want to do something that would unquestionably benefit students? “Our budget matters more.” “My reputation matters more.” “Do you know what that would look like to the general population.”..Or my personal favorite: “Don’t you care about how people remember you?” NO. Absolutely not. Why? Because I am not trying to promote myself, make others look at me as though I walk on water…Because before anything, I care about students. And it’s a shame that more than anything, this year has shown me that they well… don’t.

They gave me the reputation of being highly emotional, being hot-headed, being one who is “too caught up in her feelings.” Respectfully, I may ask that they work to understand why. Yeah, I’ve got plenty of feelings, I’m emotional, but I’ll tell you why, because I absorb the heart of those around me and when the students hurt, I hurt. In meetings while in hefty debate, if tears stream down my face or my voice raises above that of their robotic murmur, let us understand that my emotions aren’t simply “getting the best of me,” believe it or not, I can still operate in a rational state of mind, but rather than working to discover this truth about me, they liked to make general blanket statements saying I’ll regret my decisions because I’m in a “flighty” state of mind. Yes, that’s right…I forget how to think when I raise my voice — logic at its finest, friends.

Perhaps this position enlightened me to a point where now I understand what it feels like to have someone uphold zero respect for you, what it feels like to be silenced. Let me explain something: I’m not the kind of woman who walks into a space expecting that people bow down to me each time I open my mouth — nor do I want them to…I’m not the kind of woman who wants people to uphold a sense of obligation to this idea that they have to listen in order to not be perceived as sexist…I am, however, the kind of woman who walks into a space, expecting that I will be given the opportunity to voice my ideas (just like him…like them). I am the kind of woman who walks into the room wanting to earn the respect of the people in it because of my quality, innovative ideas, but please understand that that is completely impossible if I’m never given the chance. I’ve been silent at times, when appropriate, but never once have I had someone “hush” me, unless of course it was inappropriate giggling during a test in grade school, let alone a man of an authority position who likes to say he is an advocate for students. ALL students, this includes those lowly women who only later I find out he would refer to as “that girl on the board,” because no sir, I forgot I don’t have a name.

It was the day after this meeting, where I was still restless at the thought that there are people operating within this institution who literally have no idea what is at the best interest of students. I was speaking with some of my classmates  about this interaction where I was “hushed,” explaining to them some of my discomforts. How each time I would open my mouth to speak, I was interrupted, the men not. (and this isn’t some rant against men, please do not see it to be so, it’s the unfortunate reality of a woman like me’s experience navigating the realm of higher education, which primarily consists of older men, who have little respect for anyone who doesn’t look like them). With my classmate I even expressed this interaction where we (students) were “called out” for not knowing the role of this specific man, for not knowing his job duties, somethings that is almost humorous, considering  the above consideration that reminds us all that no, this man doesn’t even know my name. My friend’s only response:

“It genuinely bothers me to know this, because you were elected to represent us students, and if a sixty-something year old white man can’t even let you mutter your thought, he must think he knows what’s better for me than you do. And no. I don’t trust them to know what I need because they don’t know me.”

See it was things like this, all throughout the year. I had to ask myself why. Why are they even here then? It’s not fair to any one of us, especially the ones who don’t know what they’re really like. Here’s where we come back to that choice: how am I to respond to this reality? Do I gain a sense of cynicism or do I go at it with my all, head first, not giving a care in the world what comes of my actions, as long as I have one thing straight: I’ve got students on my mind 100% of the time. It’s not about me. It’s not about them. It’s not about the piss-poor way that they treat us, it’s about the students and being willing to undergo whatever necessary (even if you feel like  crap because of it) to ensure students’ needs are at least being, at least heard. I obviously chose the latter, but had to work through the cynicism to get there, but it’s not worth it to stay.

Once I made the choice to shift my mindset (not to let my foot off the pedal, but yes, shift my mindset), I began to realize that I’ve got so much going that I cannot lose sight of through my bitterness and resentment toward these people. My utter frustration isn’t worth sacrificing my well-being as a human. I’ll sacrifice a whole lot; however, to lose sight of the fact that I’ve got a wonderful set of friends, an awesome family, and a God who loves unconditionally and let all of that take a back seat, that friends…that is what you call a mistake. My advice: recognize that the system is jacked…they’ll tell you that you can’t: prove them wrong, please, because you most certainly can. Do everything in your power to fight for what you believe in and stand up for what is right, it can be thankless, but that’s okay, it is well worth it in one hundred other ways, and beyond anything else, keep close to you, the things that matter most, they will be what gets you through the fight.

They asked me, “Olivia, why aren’t you running for Student Government again?” — you can only imagine the long list of reasons I would like to give, but respect, yeah, respect is a thing.

“You really want to know? It’s because I care too much. That’s the sad truth.”