My first week on campus was… something else.
The combination of emotions I had on each particular day were complex to say the least.
My first week at Chico State as one of the 1600+ transfer students for the fall 2016 semester left me in a state of captivation. It was as if my whole life had been submerged in a twilight zone, and I had finally emerged into a beautiful and terrifying parallel universe. The act of packing my backpack, collecting my thoughts, and going out into the day had taken on a new meaning, vastly different than any previous “first week” I had experienced.
What do we do when we go to college? What are the experiences we anticipate, and the relationships we hope to make? Every student’s individual perception of what college is like is different. As a low income, biracial Anglo/Native American, female-born individual, who also happened to be gay, my approach to college was that I had an infinite number of obstacles against me and they would only get worse as time progressed.
I began my journey at a community college, and felt like I had already failed.
Beginning my higher education journey in the community college system, I had a vision of working every single day, as hard as I could, for the things I wanted and the goals I hoped to achieve. Being from a predominantly affluent region as one of the few teens living in impoverished circumstances, I wasn’t provided with information about financial aid or supportive relationships from faculty, peers, or organizations: it was me against the world, and I had fallen through the cracks. My mentality when applying for college was that there was no way I could afford it, so I couldn’t possibly accept admissions to four-year universities right out of high school.
So I began my journey at a community college, and felt like I had already failed.
In a society that prizes academic prestige and personal acquisition, you hear “pick yourself up from your bootstraps and work for it” before “let me help you access the tools to do so.” I didn’t even consider my personal circumstances as systematically hindered, and instead began a long three years of self-blame and an unhealthy level of competitiveness that manifested daily in anxiety, depression, exhaustion, isolation, and financial destitution.
I had always anticipated transferring to a four-year institution at some point, but that moment always seemed to be far, far in the future.
When someone mentioned to me that I could apply for financial aid and programs like the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) for low-income and first-generation students, I was shocked. When I was told about programs at Chico State that would better my work experience and cater to my aspired profession, such as CLIC (Community Legal Information Center) internships and on-campus jobs, I was inspired. Social justice movements facilitated through on-campus events, such as Take Back the Night, Trans-ending Oppression, and Black Lives Matter rallies, fueled fire in me to make tangible and important changes in the world.
When I received my acceptance letter, I sensed a deeper foresight developing. Chico State would become not just the school where I’d complete my degree, but the platform for my chance to succeed in a world where a person like me is always “behind” and never good enough.
Millions of students pass through the community college systems in the US, the majority of them low-income people of color, and some never see the end of their degrees. They are sentenced to conclude that any education beyond high school is unattainable, like I almost did.
Chico State would become not just the school where I’d complete my degree, but the platform for my chance to succeed.
Now just on the shy end of achieving a bachelor’s degree, I am sensing something inside me that was never encouraged before. Every day I find myself building a foundation for my adult life, inspired by professors and staff that are passionate about what they do, peers who make me feel supported and loved, and health, wellness, and educational resources that I never had access to before. What gave me the chance to succeed was people understanding and believing in me when I felt like I could not.
The system has worked for and not against me for once, a circumstance not all people have the privilege to experience in this country. I’m now in a place to help champion others in similar circumstances, so we can collectively find our places of equity, knowledge, and prosperity in the world.
My first week on campus was a window looking into my future success. It has opened daunting and exciting new horizons, and given me the courage to face them with an unwavering stance. I have found possibility in bettering myself with someone finally telling me “yes, you can.”
I am finally here, and I will continue to climb.