Li: Growing Pains
Dartmouth taught me how to appreciate what was always there.
This column was featured in the 2017 Homecoming Issue.
A full year after arriving at Dartmouth, I realized that something I had been used to my entire life had largely went missing after making the trek across the country to this campus. It was a feeling, an identity, a subconscious way of thinking that I had held onto my skin like a blanket that never kept me warm. It was so engrained in my sense of self that I hadn’t known that it existed until I realized, a year later, that the blanket had slid off me like the heavy, fruitless baggage that it was.
I filled what I had lost with something new. Shortly after this realization, I got a small tattoo of my Chinese name on my left inner forearm. The symbolic meaning of my name is “to shower with God’s love and grace,” and at that point of my life I finally felt connected enough to half of myself to accept that name as my own and wear it proudly, and literally, on my skin.
This tattoo marked the era that I had entered into: one where I no longer wanted to overcompensate to not fit into a stereotype or being ashamed of looking different from most people in the room. I looked back on those times when people called me “Americanized” or told me that I “seemed white,” and I no longer felt proud the way that I used to. I felt sad for the girl who considered it a compliment, and I decided to help her.
Coming to Dartmouth was when I stopped trying to reconcile my love for myself with not wanting to be myself. I settled on complete acceptance. I learned that the experiences I had deemed normal were not, in fact, normal; they were micro-aggressions — and some were not so micro — designed to make me uncomfortable in my own skin. I learned the value that I carry as someone capable of transcending two different worlds and the strength of my individuality without needing to validate its existence. The second that I started to expect more from others and how they treated me, the less I felt trapped in a skin that half of me had always wished I could take off. All of this happened at Dartmouth without me ever realizing that it was happening, and now, two years later, I can tell you why.
I love Dartmouth because she has given me relationships that show me how much value I have without needing to be more or less of anything. My friends have stayed up late with me to hear my story and shown me the value that my story has to offer. They have sought to understand the reality that I live, and they’ve helped me to understand that my individuality comes from within me and how I express it, not from trying to distract people from the stereotype that I’m afraid of. I’ve learned from them that I am entitled to stand up for myself.
I love Dartmouth because she gave me a family of women who taught me how to feel empowered. From this family of women, I have learned that building a strong community is something that you must invest your heart and soul in and that the community you build is the product of your values. We followed in the footsteps of the revolutionary women who made our house local, and together we continue to push for our values of diversity and inclusivity by make our home a space where women of all backgrounds feel loved and accepted. We have rewritten the words we follow, painted on our walls with new spirit and created new traditions to embody the love we have and the growth we strive for. These women have given me the strength to value myself as a woman of color and to use that strength to help other women realize that they are worthy enough to be appreciated. They have shown me that growth is intentional, and that as a collective we can build a better world the same way we have built a better sisterhood.
I love Dartmouth because she taught me that I could identity as a woman of color, and doing so has changed my life. I didn’t know that “person of color” was a term until I got to Dartmouth, and realizing that I could self-identity as one finally explained the uniqueness of my experiences. It allowed me to understand a simple fact of my existence: People will treat you differently for how you look, but you have the power to be as you are.
I love Dartmouth because I don’t always like her. I am repulsed by values of the old Dartmouth, one where difference was put down and bullied away, and the vestiges of sexism, racism and exclusivity that we continue to fight today. I am horrified by the unsafe home Dartmouth has become for so many women who have been violated and treated as less than human on this campus. I am frustrated by policies and systems put in place that have not listened to the students’ voices, but instead the College’s reputation and endowment. However, I understand that what is perfect cannot be loved, only worshipped. I love Dartmouth not because I want her to be perfect, but because she has created a community that is constantly dreaming up ways to be better.
It is not that I love Dartmouth so loyally and blindly, but that she has given me individuals, communities, traditions and a passion for learning that I love wholeheartedly. I love Dartmouth because of what I have made out of my experiences here and because she has taught me how to envision a better world and the part that I can play in it. I can now see how my Chinese name was omen for the life I’ve lived, and I love Dartmouth for clearing out the smog that prevented me from seeing what was always there.