I have to be honest, I never thought that Penn was going to be a place I would fit right into. Maybe it’s because I am mixed-race, but I don’t think there is such a place on this earth. That’s never been why I do any of the things that I do. I’m a woman in Engineering, the only Latina in my major and I’m interested in social justice, a passion I don’t exactly share with my fellow STEM majors. I have lived most of my life feeling a constant dissonance between myself and my peers and within myself. That dissonance is home to me. It’s where I find growth, challenge, kindred spirits grappling with their own identity crises. When I reflect back on my time at Penn, I am deeply grateful for that dissonance.
Thank you to all the haters who’ve told me that I only got into Penn because I am a Latina woman in engineering, you helped me understand why I think affirmative action is still necessary and not enough. Thank you to the woman in my sociology class my sophomore year who said that teenaged pregnancy is high among low-income communities of color because they get pregnant on purpose to reap welfare benefits, you helped me articulate why I think that’s nonsense. Thank you to my sexist lab partners who told me the only use I had in our final project was making the poster look pretty, you made me livid, but you helped me figure out exactly what we’re up against when we continue to fight for equality in STEM fields (hint: it’s not just about representation!). Thank you to the professor who defended me when that happened. Thank you to the stranger who stood next to me when I asked for support at Take Back the Night. Thank you to everyone who ever called me names, threatened me or spat on me because I stand in solidarity with Palestine, you brought me closer to my SJP community and helped me understand why I need to continue to do the work that I do. Thank you to the darkness that depression brought me. You helped me see the treasure that light is, and made me a stronger person for it. Thank you to my Penn Haven Co-op family for always challenging me to live with intention, and to figure out what that means. Thank you to everyone who has stared at me in confusion and asked “What Are You?” You have helped me come up with an answer that is more true than I ever thought possible. Thank you to all of my activist-y friends who make me feel safe and create spaces where I don’t have to explain myself. Thank you to my non-activist friends who make me feel safe and remind me that I don’t have to be dissecting everything all the time. Thank you to my families, all of them.
People tell me that I would have been better off at a place like Swarthmore or Oberlin, but I can see with absolute certainty that Penn was the place for me. In feeling like I don’t belong, I found my home. In feeling marginalized, I found my center. In feeling like I am surrounded by a culture of people who put profit over people and don’t know how to love each other deeply, I have found myself surrounded by people who are supporting each other to be poised for the fight as my next era looms ahead.
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