In an awkwardly small Under1Roof group composed of two moderators, two other seniors, and me, I found myself saying what I hope is the dumbest comment I’ve ever made about my identity. “Well it’s kind of a joke,” I began, “but I feel like over my four years here I’ve begun to identify as a white male.”
I’m not a white male. I’m actually quite far from it as an Indian female. So how did this identity confusion happen? Maybe it’s because I’m light-skinned or because I’m not very feminine, but I haven’t been able to embrace the woman-of-color label on campus. The world is my oyster, and I’m getting my pearl, but apparently it’s naïve for anyone but a white male to believe that. OK, so then I kind of feel like a white male.
Oh God, am I confused. I know this is absolutely ridiculous, I know this has to be wrong, and I know that this is a situation that could probably only happen at Columbia. I had expected my senior year Under1Roof group to confirm that I had finally worked out whatever questions I had as a freshman, but I found that I am more confused with more questions than ever, still experiencing the growing pains of college.
When people say college is a time for growth, it’s with the idea that you’ll find yourself and become a better person. Sounds quite pleasant, but in reality what has to happen in order for you to “find yourself” and “become a better person” isn’t always so pretty. The most significant moments of realization I’ve had in my college years haven’t always correlated with a dreamy upward progression. Some have been downright absurd—I find comfort in white male identity. Some have been unsettling—I came in with lifetime career goals, and I’m leaving without them. And some have been mortifying—class of 2018, I hope you don’t have to learn the hard way that adding your classmates on Facebook before you get to campus is not a good idea.
I feel uncomfortable about who I am, what I believe, and what I’ve done quite frequently, and this seems to be an unfortunate yet common indicator of what I believe is personal growth. I’m not sure if today I still like or even agree with all the columns that I’ve published in this paper over the past year, and that’s quite unsettling. In a few days I don’t even know if I’ll agree with what I’m writing right now. As a small-scale example, I recently opened a column by writing about death. I thought it was a great hook at the time, but now I just feel embarrassed that I had been so melodramatic. (Shout-out to my editor Emma Finder who suggested I take that part out. I should have listened to you.) I try to tell myself that these moments of doubt, unpleasant as they might be, are signs of growth. I’m a better writer and thinker today than I was a few weeks ago if I feel like I’ve advanced beyond what I’ve said in the past, right?
But, as is the case with identifying as a white male, there are some moments of growth, or rather change, where the silver lining is harder to see. I wrote a piece for The Eye earlier this semester that I believed could be good for Columbia’s community. Now, a few months past its publication, I’m scared that my piece actually may have harmed the individuals whose voices I was trying to represent. I laid bare the stories of those I interviewed when they were going through some of their hardest times, and I worry that it was not my place to tell those stories even with their permission. No matter how hard I try to spin this fear as a mark of personal growth—meaning, I know better now—the regret isn’t getting any easier. The benefits of what I’ve learned from this decision may not outweigh the costs to others of that mistake. Growth can come at a price.
We change so quickly in college—or, at least, we have the opportunity to do so. I wonder if this is our delayed coming-of-age spread out over four years. At least for me, college was my first true experience of independence, and with that have come my first awkward steps into adulthood, many of which have been less than ideal. I say this not to claim that growth is bad. I say this because if this place is confusing and weird and hard at times, it may be for a good reason: We are growing. In a few weeks, I’ll be graduating from Columbia a bit confused. I haven’t figured it all out the way I had hoped I would. But my uncertainty, oddly, has at least told me I have grown. To anyone who’s been reading this semester, thank you for watching the process. I hope you, too, are growing.