The Women in Housing series is a project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Ariel Tan.
As an immigrant, the feeling of home was something that took me a while to grasp. When I first arrived in the United States, home was obviously on the other side of the earth. I grew up in a predominantly white town. Everything was foreign, and it was easy to feel alienated. I remember when I defended aggressively against the comment, “All Chinese people eat dogs”; when my classmate made fun of my seaweed by saying “Ariel eats gross grass”; and when a boy told me drawing Sailor Moon on my book was weird. Moments like these were what highlighted my non-local status. I learned very quickly that there are things they looked down upon, whether it’s my culture or my hobby. Nonetheless, my house was a place where crying and emotions were looked down upon as a sign of weakness. This made me miss home, a place back in China where I could just be myself and be with my family who passed no judgement on how I dressed or what I ate.
My transition to high school granted me a sense of belonging. I got involved in our school’s marching band, a community where I found sisterhood and a taste of young love. I enjoyed an award-winning performance where I performed a rhythm solo, the color guard sleepover where we giggled and gossiped all night long, and the New York school trip where I was asked to prom. I thought I succeeded in my assimilation in becoming more like my friends and thought the key to not being humiliated again was to make others like me more. But memories like this were also things that shattered me upon graduation. Unlike most college freshmen who looked forward to their new adventures, I was both heartbroken and desolate. At the time, the friend circle and romantic relationship were what I was too dependent upon. For me, home was where they were, and without them, I was again alone with no home.
During my first two years of college, I wandered among organizations and involvement to find that feeling of home again. Between humanities classes and psychology research, a part of me started to critically reflect on my previous experiences and my low self-esteem. Although I made genuine friends and had great school achievements, I depended heavily on external sources for my happiness and empowerment. The concept of home was shaped by my insecurity of being rejected: I took notes in high school on what it meant to be liked and wasn’t confident in myself for truly being accepted if I revealed my vulnerabilities. Because of this, I was constantly seeking approval and acceptance from those around me while troubled by the confusing social landscape of university where a sense of community was hard to nourish. I couldn't help but feel the need to change and simultaneously worried about being rejected by others when I hadn’t figured out the social code in college.
It wasn’t until I attended our school’s Equity Minded Education that I resolved this internal turmoil of longing to be accepted. Watching “Miss Representation” and learning about social justice issues faced by minorities, I was shocked by the fact that there is an oppressive system perpetuating what implanted in my mind about who I ought to be. In a three-week long Resident Advisor training program, my fellow RAs and I discussed power and privilege through group activities and literature discussion. After realizing the amount of discrimination against female and immigrants nowadays, I felt furious, but also free. I was logistically disturbed by the amount of normalized violence I had to experience, and I was emotionally relieved from my deep insecurity of not being accepted. At a bonfire, my fellow RAs and I held hands and shared some of our biggest insecurities with both openness and encouragement. I found a tremendous amount of strength when I was being vulnerable about whom I am and I gained an incredible amount of confidence as I recognized the role I can play in progressive social movement.
My residence life team empowered me and enlightened me, greatly shaping my undergraduate experience on both a personal level and a community level. Through my programming effort in residence education and my reflection on my own intersectionality, I have formed a virtuous circle between my criticism on systematic oppression and my increasing compassion for social reform. As I became more engaged in the social justice dialogue, I started to see the world through the lens of equity with less judgement, and have learned to recognize how oppression affects communities differently and in compounded ways. When I became less judgmental in my interactions with others, I stopped criticizing and judging my own actions; when I accepted others for who they were, I also started to believe that I could be accepted for who I was. Being surrounded by people emphasizing communication, learning, and acceptance also initiated my desire to change. To change internally, I understood that disregarding how I look or what I achieve, my internal kindness and openness is what will lead to supportive friends. To change externally, I found empower in educating others and getting involved in progressive dialogues. My residence life experience improved my self-esteem dramatically, because I learned to affirm people’s experiences as truth, to build a community that accepts who I am, and to be fulfilled with what I believe is the right battle to fight for myself, for my friends, and for my community.
At the end of the day, as I strive to create an inclusive and supportive living environment for residents, I have found internal confidence, acceptance, and inspiration. Compare to the young version of myself who thought home is something granted by others, I now know, home is where the heart is at.
Guicheng “Ariel” Tan is a new professional who has worked in student affairs in higher education for a year and half. She currently serves as the Graduate Housing Resident Relations Coordinator for her alma mater, UC San Diego, and is deciding among higher education graduate programs for Fall 2017. Outside of her housing role, Ariel loves playing video games, reading and watching anime, working on her blog, trying Asian cuisine recipes, and spending quality time with friends and family.
The Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.