Now that the term is coming to a close, you may be thinking about returning home or staying on campus. Some worries may come to mind such as winter break work or what classes you might take next term. You might not even have many immediate concerns at all and are excited to go back home. But, for some students, returning home means packing away their identities while unpacking the holiday decorations, which can make the season anything but merry. For example, LGBTQ+ students often do not get to spend holidays with their significant other(s) for more reasons than just COVID-19, which often includes fear of violence and excommunication from communities that they had called home for all or a portion of their life. Issues that these students face are very real, and we should take a moment to recognize the difficulties that you or someone you may know will experience this year with the added limitations of the pandemic and political climate.
Aggression resulting in a hate crime is most often directed at individuals’ race, ethnicity, religion (18.7 percent), sexual orientation (16.7 percent), gender identity or disability according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data with about 60 percent of all reported cases involving race and ethnicity (2018). For people of color in the United States, the threat of violence is present and relevant to their daily lives, which is protected less away from residence on the Lawrence University campus. Additionally, LGBTQ+ individuals have historically been kicked out of their homes, communities, places of worship and fired from their jobs because of their gender identity and sexual orientation, resulting in an epidemic of homelessness, lack of educational attainment and higher rates of drug use and suicide. These are just two very basic pieces of evidence to show that having certain identities can be dangerous or even life-threatening.
It is important that these issues are explicitly acknowledged to respect the struggle individuals with these identities live with every day. Colder, wetter, darker days are upon us and so too will be the holidays which can make life even harder for many. Some problems stem from meeting basic needs to the rejection of loved ones when a person is brave enough to try making a connection. Because of these reasons, many who can hide their differences try to do so for self-protection if their environment is hostile towards their identities. For others who cannot hide, they face whatever harsh reality awaits them. If you belong to any of these groups, you are seen and you are heard.
The added stress of social isolation and limited physical contact can be hard on all of us but make even more of an impact for students who relied on these connections to make a safer environment for themselves. They have found sanctuary in spending the holiday season with their friends and chosen families. It is an entire world of its own that all the bullies and abusers in the world cannot enter with them. Since many fewer of those interactions will happen this year, such individuals can face a significant amount of increased isolation, which can then lead to depression, anxiety, risks of the hostile environment and maladaptive behaviors. Be aware of these consequences.
To those of unique identities: Going back home or staying on campus by yourself may be very hard to cope with, but others still do care about you. Your identities are still important and valued no matter your situation. You are full of incredible strength to acknowledge in yourself first the identities you hold, and you are brave even if the only place you have shared them is on your college campus. You make this world a better place. There are resources available to you both on and off campus, so do find what you need before the transitions about to take place in a few weeks. Don’t forget to reach out to those you care about for support and to offer support. Solidarity and an honest heart are your best tools right now. Use them so that you may continue to grow and learn during your time here at Lawrence. You deserve the space to speak your mind and to contribute to your communities.
To everyone else: Your voice matters too. If you do not speak up when you see injustice and discrimination, then you are letting it live in your world. Now is your opportunity to act with sensitivity, compassion and curiosity. Use your voice of the dominant culture to listen by giving someone else the chance to be visible. The majority voice is powerful, so let it speak truths. Learn about groups different from your own without injecting a made-up narrative. Explore your implicit biases. Educate others who might not understand. Allyship can be great, if only you let it serve rather than take. There is no prize to be won for this work. There is much work to be done, but if the majority dismantles prejudices of white-supremacy, the west’s standard of beauty and more importantly of personship, the complex system of exploitive powers, then your work will not be for naught. You will be helping your fellow human beings gain the respect long due to them. So, reach out and make that connection.
This winter break be mindful of where you stand. There may be challenges that you may not have predicted in your future. That does not make you weak; you have a complex life with a million little details of evidence that you exist. Take the time to learn to cope again. Your self-care is important. It may even look a bit different this year, so you will need to be gentle and forgiving of yourself too. Remember, there are people who care about you as a person and who also want to see you do great things. Find them and keep them close to you for when the going gets tough. You will make it.
This year, do not leave the night silent. Check on your vulnerable friends and offer a helping hand.