Project for Open Voices: “Must Be the Recession”

The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay was authored by Jenny Colmenero ’13.

This essay comes from the first issue of the Project for Open Voices’ publication of student narratives. P.O.V. began as a student-led coalition that grew out of a desire to address issues of diversity, identity and inclusion on Kenyon’s campus.

“Must be the Recession,” by Jenny Colmenero:

One of the reasons I’m so thankful for being able to attend Kenyon is that it has allowed me to develop a consciousness of diversity and difference in a way that I couldn’t have at any other school. I believe that this is because of the brilliant education I’ve received from my classes, professors, and friends. However, I also believe that this is because Kenyon has a lot of ignorant people. Developing consciousness can occur through a careful and slow process of self-reflection and illumination – or you can be smacked in the face with ignorance so many times that you can’t help but wake up.

One of those “wake up” moments came at the end of my first year at Kenyon during a friendly conversation with an acquaintance about our respective summer plans. We discussed the usual hopes and dreams of summer (mall! home cooking! making a bonfire out of our homework planners!), as well as the less-wondrous reality checks. I mentioned offhandedly that I’d be working yet another summer at my favorite local fast food joint, trying to save up money for plane tickets home. The response I got confused me.

“Wow, I can’t picture you working at a place like that. Must be the recession, huh? Well, we all have to settle.”

I didn’t respond. Suddenly explaining that I only had the job because my father already worked there as a cook didn’t seem like such a good idea.

It’s not that this one comment wounded me too terribly. But it’s the aggregate – the looks of pity when I answer that now-dreaded question “So what do your parents do?”, the overly-enthusiastic praise I get for “moving up” and out of my community to “make it” at a school so far from home, the inability to articulate that I’m not settling, my dad’s not settling, we’re working class and this is the sort of work working class people do – that’s what hurts. The fact is – I’m not that special. Most people in the U.S. come from my background: the working class, the non-college grads, even the non-high-school grads. It often seems to me that the “Kenyon bubble” has been with Kenyon students since long before they first climbed the Hill; they see the people mowing their lawns, cleaning their kitchens, and serving their food day after day without having any idea as to how those people actually live.

I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, and I’m proud of the work that my parents do. But Kenyon does not have a community that allows me to express that pride.

16 responses

  1. If you want to be engaged and have more conversations about this and similar topics check out a Project Open Voices meeting, you are guaranteed to have conversations of true relevance with amazing people.

  2. There will be a POV meeting this Satuday at 2pm at Bemis Music Room (Peirce 210) if you’d like to talk more about these issues and many more!

    • We also have POV dinners Wednesdays at 6 so contact us if you want to attend! Much love to the thrill for being active supporters and collaborators and to Jenny for being willing to expose her narrative.

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  4. What’s the point of all of this if nobody cares?
    I would like to see a number of how many people actually read this.

    You can be proud of your parents, but don’t be proud of the job.
    These fast food joints are complete shit (yes, this is from experience)
    What’s to be proud of working at a fast food joint?

    • Hey Rustler, I’m the author of this piece.

      I’d say the point of all this is to promote discourse on campus about issues surrounding diversity; I don’t think there’s enough conversation going on at Kenyon right now about these issues and how marginalized some students feel here, and groups like POV help combat that. A lot of students here have had experiences like mine, but they don’t usually have a venue in which they can tell their stories (thx Thrill xoxo).

      As to your second point, I’m particularly proud of the job my dad does because it’s dirty, unpleasant, difficult, thankless work that he does very well and without complaining (for the record, at the time that was job 2 out of 3). My parents worked extremely hard throughout my childhood and still managed to raise me with enough love and support to become one of the first in the family to graduate high school and go to college. Some people’s measure of success is by how much money you make or how many degrees you have, but that isn’t mine. Therefore, super proud.

      Hope that helps!
      Jenny

      • To be fair, Jenny, you did kind of reinforce his point – “be proud of your parents, not the job” – in that the reason you’re proud of your father is because of his hard work and his strong character, not the nature of the job itself. It’s quibbling over semantics, but I tend to agree. It’s possible to take pride in how you do a job, but not necessarily the job itself; that’s how I felt about my restaurant job, anyway. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in how you live your life, but still crossing your fingers for something a little better. Why else would your parents work so hard to help give you broader career opportunities? That being said, no one should ever have to feel ashamed about their work, and Rustler phrased his point rudely. I think he was just being deliberately controversial.

        Also, thanks for this post. As a student who relies very, very heavily on financial aid, I don’t fit in with the Kenyon crowd either, and I identify with your story. Thanks for sharing.

      • Most of the campus doesn’t care.
        Who shows up to these events?
        Mostly people who are already involved.

        And diversity? I doubt it’ll be possible.
        Both sides have closed minds.

        The under represented groups always complain about the campus being narrow-minded and not diverse. These people are just as guilty. They try to stir up discussion, but never take action. Go out there, talk to somebody random. Maybe throw a sick party. People may eventually realize that the minority are people worth knowing and just as capable as the majority(of throwing a sick party)

        On the other hand, majority doesn’t care.
        They’re probably sick and tired of hearing people bitch about stuff. Why should they care if it doesn’t affect them? Give them a reason.

  5. I’m sorry, but Rustler, have you ever been to one of these events? Have you even attended a POV meeting? If you have you would know that every week we have at least one new face telling us about how much they care about these issues.

    “And diversity? I doubt it’ll be possible.”
    Do you even know what diversity means?
    What we are aiming for through diversity focused groups and meetings is making sure that the campus becomes more aware and more accepting. To make sure that we are not cultivating ignorant people in a very much already diverse nation.

    “These people are just as guilty. They try to stir up discussion, but never take action.”

    You cannot create change if people do not know what they are talking about. Most diversity related issues stem from ignorance. The solution to curing ignorance is learning through conversations. These problems are systematic and institutionalized, therefore they are hard to note. So we need to have discussions just to make problems that affect marginalized groups legitimate to those who are privileged enough not to notice them.

    Also a HUGE part of POV is its social justice/activists part. This group has talked to Board of Trustee members (which if you read our Collegiate article you would be aware of) and has started discussions about possible policy changes. These discussions are not just a pity party, they lead to actual change. The narratives we collected got the point across that students are tired of just talking and they want not only to be heard, but have an impact. This is happening. We’ve actually been talking about having a special edition POV coming out soon about students’ opinions on policy changes the school needs to see. So Rustler, if you want to just stop complaining and do something, there are plenty of options for you to do so. You can hit me up and I can connect you to the right venues.

    Also, since these narratives are actually being heard by people that have the means to effect change on this campus, these issues affect everyone, not just those that feel underrepresented/marginalized.

  6. Rustler, stop fucking trolling the Thrill. You know what? I’m sick and tired of YOU bitching about stuff. Why should YOU care if it doesn’t affect YOU. I sincerely hope you choke on your next meal at Pierce.

  7. Pingback: Do It Tonight: Intersections of Race and Class Dessert and Discussion « The Thrill

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