When I chose to go to Colby College in Waterville, Maine, I knew I was making the right decision. I was excited about the school because of its small population and high academic standards. On the other hand, I almost rejected Colby's invitation because of the lack of diversity on campus.
I went to Crenshaw High - which is all black, with some Hispanic kids - in the heart of Los Angeles. Along with leaving that behind, I would also have to trade in my bikini for long underwear. The 60-degree winters in Los Angeles could not compare with the 20-degree winters in Maine. But I realized that I could not let Eskimo weather prevent me from getting a good education. So without hesitation, I packed my bags and fearlessly ventured across the country.
Coming from Los Angeles, it was really weird to look around Colby and see that most of the faces looked alike. I felt I had to be careful of everything I did, because it seemed as if almost everyone was watching me and would judge my whole race by their impressions. Although I did not feel the need to be accepted by them, I did feel the color of my skin in a way that I had never felt it, and it made me uncomfortable.
At the beginning of the first semester, I used to go to campus parties. I stopped because the music they played was just not happening. Every 10th song would be vaguely familiar to me.
It was a bit exhausting to discuss music with most students since it was as if we were speaking in different languages. I was talking about the lyrical styles of artists like D'Angelou, Mary J. Blidge, and B.O.N.E. Thugs-N-Harmony, and my friends spoke about Third Eye Blind, Jamiroquai, and Jewel.
This gave me the idea to feature Tupac Shakur in my oral Spanish midterm. I got a good grade while exposing the class to the music I like, even if it was in Spanish. A few people from my class wanted to borrow some CDs. Ultimately I found myself listening to the radio station everyone listens to, which turned out not to be so bad after all.
When I talk to people outside of school about living in Maine, they immediately want to hear about any racial conflicts I have had to deal with.
The most blatant show of racism was when someone wrote racial slurs on the board in the office of a campus group I am a member of - Students Organized Against Racism. It hurt to see the disrespect shown by breaking into that room. I was angered by the cowardice and could not believe someone would selfishly invade a room that often acts as a haven for me.
As I get older, I understand that my world has been very confined. Being at Colby for a year has helped me realize that there is an entire world waiting for me to embrace it. I have grown tremendously since my departure from Los Angeles and it hurts to see some people at home in the same place they were when I left.
I owe it to myself and everyone who has helped me to reach out and try to help other people. In the fall I will be attending Colby's program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, for a semester, but I'll be back just in time for winter. I have great plans for my life that include writing a book, and I hope I can be an example to a lot of people who come from the same place I have.
* Venola Mason, a sophomore at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, is majoring in Spanish and minoring in math.