Overall, I have had a transformative experience writing as an opinion columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian. I gained so many insights from a tremendously diverse group of individuals, and I would not trade the experiences and skills I learned at the DP for anything. However, I will not be returning to the DP due to the discrimination I faced on several occasions.
To be honest, I had a lot of difficult moments where I felt marginalized. From receiving racist comments from Internet commenters on my first article like “The author is a butt-hurt, candy-ass wannabe intellectual,” to getting threats from a guy in the South telling me that he was a Nazi who wanted to come to my house, there were several times when I questioned why I was still writing for the DP.
From the first columnist meeting, I knew that I was in for a ride. I walked into the conference room not knowing what to expect. But then when the columnists started to give critiques about the past week’s articles, specifically mine, I began to see how seriously the DP took the quality of its articles — and also how insensitive some of its members were to my experience as a black person.
In terms of my interactions with the columnists, some of them had opinions that I agreed with, some had some valid points that I disagreed with and others had some misguided views on the experiences of marginalized groups that they did not represent. And it was very hard continuously being the only black person in the room trying to defend himself.
This led to feelings of inadequacy and isolation. I began to feel like I was not as good as the other columnists. I even tried to change the style of my writing to appease their sensitivities. I remember one columnist telling me that my argument was “aggressive” and that if I changed my approach to try to change the minds of the people who disagreed with me, I would be better off.
I also struggled with the themes of my columns. Originally, I came to the DP wanting to write stories that spoke about my experiences within my different intersectionalities as a Penn student, i.e my blackness, my queerness and my “brokeness.” But over time, the other columnists tried to keep me on a path of objectivity where I included facts, statistics and quotes.
This was hard for me because I naturally did not know why I was asked to give evidence to my experiences. I was not directly mentioning names in my articles, so I did not feel the need to cite their words. That was not the point for me. The point was to write a piece that other people who had to navigate the harsh realities of Penn and this world could relate to. And I did not want to reduce my argument to mere facts and numbers. So, I did not.
Even more importantly, I continued to stay in the DP to make sure that the voices of other people like me were heard. As the only black, queer male in the space, I felt that leaving would erase the possibility of our narrative being told. So, I decided to endure the discrimination.
Looking back on it, I do not feel like the sacrifices that I made were in vain because amongst the sea of hateful emails and Facebook messages, there were also people that valued and appreciated my columns.
There was one guy from Connecticut that had a hard time coming out to his family. He sent me a message on Facebook thanking me for my article “A letter to the Black, Queer students at Penn.” He said that because of my bravery, he was able to come out to his family. That honestly made me cry, while also affirming my decision to write the way that I write and not let anybody influence me to change my objective.
So despite the negative experiences I had at the DP, I was here for a bigger purpose that was greater than me. I learned that I am stronger than I think. I learned that I can stand up for what I believe in even when nobody else is supportive, and I learned that my words are powerful. I have the power to change the hearts and minds of people, and working for the DP has taught me that my writing is valuable even when the other columnists tell me otherwise. And for that, I would not trade my experience at the DP for anything.
JAMES FISHER is a College sophomore from the Bronx, N.Y., studying communication. “Spilling the Real Tea” usually appears every other Thursday.