The assumption that there is a universal and singular experience as a womxn erases the nuances and variety that exists. This column seeks to address the many intersections that may overlap in an individual’s life. All this is done in an effort to celebrate the reality of womxnhood in the various ways it may be expressed.
Sophomore Mikaela Orange does not have any trouble describing herself — “strong, challenging, joyful and authentic” immediately jump out as the definitive words. No matter the location, context or situation, Orange is determined to let her presence be known. It is a determination that remains steadfast and has always been ingrained in her.
The combination of her family’s move to California and her arrival at Lawrence has strengthened Orange’s connection to her hometown of New York City. The bright lights and shifting architecture, proud displays of rich and thriving cultures, endless opportunities and activities are just a few things that Orange sorely misses about New York. Distance has made Orange all too willing to jump on an airplane to return.
Since entering her sophomore year, reflection has made the city’s influence on Orange undeniable. “I feel New York in every single thing that I do,” said Orange. “It pushed me to be a leader, to be outgoing and made me a vibrant being.” She admits, however, there is a pressure to stand out. The huge landscape of the city can offer an abundance of adventure, but isolation and the fear of being unnoticed in the madness of it all are just as likely to occur. Orange resolved from a young age to not be lost.
The familiarity of her own sprawling neighborhood — populated mostly by Black and Afro-Caribbean families — comforted Orange. There, she loved the idea of blending in, mostly because the feeling of representation at home was a sharp contrast to the feeling of difference when she attended school in Manhattan. While she loved and embraced her identiy, she could only be perceived as different.
Among her predominately white peers, she was not fazed by the way they conducted themselves differently around her or by the subsequent changes in her own conduct she purposefully made when in school. Instead, she saw the act of codeswitching as one of the many obstacles Black womxn must navigate in order to simply exist in spaces uncomfortable with her presence. “When I was in school, I didn’t feel uncomfortable about my identity,” she said. “I did have a lot of moments, though, where I felt like I was censoring myself.” She continued, “If I did not, what I would consider to be my vibrant personality would be aggressive or too much to handle. When I did not water myself down, I would be ‘too threatening.’”
Orange would certainly push back against the idea that she was acting like anything less than her authentic self at all times. But unfortunately, singularly standing out because of her identity paralleled the need to be noticed for her other virtues. The dichotomy added pressure. In retrospect, she admits there were moments of confusion as she felt tugged in both directions.
Orange found herself relying on the fundamentals taught to her. Her family and church community had always encouraged her to create a space where she could be unapologetically herself. Church often provided that space for her, and she tried to be true to herself even outside it. She found people who deserved to know her in all her glory. The outsiders would remain limited and miss out on something special.
“One of the consequences of being a Black womxn is that letting your presence be known will always be come off as scary,” Orange explained. “It makes people recoil. But, being a womxn of color has taught me a lot. It has taught me how to be more accepting because I have experienced people not accepting me. It has taught me to not be afraid to take up space. It has given me a lot obstacles that have made me the person that I am.”
Orange has always used dance as a method of expressing her personality and thoughts. The freedom and creative outlet she channels through dance cannot be replicated elsewhere; her previous experiences in soccer and musical theatre pale in comparison.
As co-captain of Lawrence’s Dance Team, the chance to fully choreograph has been both challenging and rewarding for Orange. Unsurprisingly, her tenure as a leader has already reintroduced the familiar problem of others being uncomfortable around an outspoken womxn of color. Dance, however, remains unmarred in her eyes. “We have a team of amazing people and movement is always freeing,” she said.