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.