Changing Lenses

If not me, who? The life of a teenage girl going to college

Morgan-Alysse Black

Lantern Staff

When I first decided to come to Butler, I was nervous and excited all at once. Despite all my worries about what I was leaving behind, I got on a plane on Jan. 17 and jumped. 

Every time around the fall, I seem to have some grand realization about life. Around this time in the fall of 2020, I felt betrayed by life and found myself questioning God’s plan for me as I had just graduated with no solid direction in life. I felt like my life was moving, yet nobody had the wheel. Time seemed to be the only thing I could rely on, as I knew that time wouldn’t discriminate and would move no matter what. 

I decided to move to Kansas after my oldest sister, who I was so close to, moved to Kansas. She moved to be closer to her now-husband and build a life there. I missed her greatly and also wanted to try branching away from home, and I felt that was the safest way to do so. 

Later, I quickly discovered that Butler was a school that valued sports significantly. Many people always asked me the same question once they discovered I’m from out of state and not playing a sport. 

“Why in the world did you come to Kansas if not for a sport?”

 I always laughed and gave the same quick spill about moving after my sister got married, and how I thought it would be a good experience, and so on. Even before I moved, people often warned me I’d have a culture shock.

What these naysayers didn’t know is that, although I was raised in a predominantly Black area in Detroit, Michigan, I grew up in an almost all-white church. What they didn’t know is that I’ve interacted with people from all over the country. What they didn’t know is that I often found it easier to communicate with adults older than me. I usually found that even if I couldn’t relate to the life milestones they spoke of, there seemed to be more sincerity in what they spoke of than the words of my peers. 

My point is, I was no stranger to diversity or a difference of opinion, so when I was warned by friends and some family  “you know what it’ll be like in Kansas,” I smiled and nodded, but secretly I thought, “I’ve got this. My whole life has been in preparation for this.”

Taking the reins on your life can be so scary. As it got closer to my leaving, I began to get nervous that I was making a huge mistake. I was worried that moving out of state was just the beginning of me roaming around and never feeling an inner peace with the cards life dealt me. I had a hard time discerning what in my life I should work to change and what God wanted me to keep in life. I know people that have lived their whole life in virtually the same area. So maybe my circumstances were part of God’s plan for me, and who was I to try to change them? Finding my purpose and all the “what ifs” were the biggest themes that seemed to lead my life in those last months of 2020.

After all, this was possibly my first act of taking hold of the steering wheel in my life. Finally, I no longer would live only by what my parents instructed, and yet I was terrified. Even though I already bought my plane ticket, I still had doubts I’d even go through with it. What changed for me was coming across a Steve Harvey video. He spoke about how every successful person in the world has “jumped.” He said “if you’re waking up thinking there’s got to be more to your life than it is, man, believe that it is! But to get to that life, you’re going to have to jump.” He had a disclaimer though, your parachute won’t always open right away, but it will eventually so long as you jump. 

Although I was scared, I knew I had to “jump.” Jumping for me meant getting on a plane for Kansas by myself, with a heart full of pain and grief about all I was leaving behind.  What I concluded was that, as scary as it would be to jump, the only thing more scary than jumping is to not jump at all. So I did it–I jumped. 

What nobody told me about was falling, and how it would feel to fall.  Falling is where you haven’t quite landed, and where I was, I couldn’t even make out the ground below me yet. The “falling” phase was me actually getting on the plane with no sight of what was ahead of me, just faith that my life was going to get exciting. 

So I came to Wichita and stayed with my sister and her family a week before the spring semester started to adjust to the new state before starting classes. 

When I moved in, it was the first day of the spring semester.  I had a new roommate, and I was officially living completely apart from all my family, even my Kansas family. 

In hindsight, moving to El Dorado the same day I started classes wasn’t the wisest. I never toured the school before, so I learned everything on my own. Not only had many people already established friendships from the fall, but the pandemic also made it even more challenging to connect with people. 

What stood out most to me was how small the classes were, although a big part of that may have been because of Covid-19. I also was surprised by how many people spoke of being vaccinated. While I had no strong feelings on the matter, it proved my thinking that held stereotypes are often lethal to building relationships. I learned there were plenty of people in a small town area that had different feelings than what many would presume from the media. 

The one thing that I learned the hard way, however, was that building friendship here would be one of my biggest challenges. 

I spent months trying to establish a friend group of even a few, before deciding finding friends wasn’t at the top of my list. When I tried to make friends, I saw people stuck in their sports group. Transparency–the majority of the people of color that attend here, attend solely for sports. Does Butler even reach out to students of color besides for a sport-related concern?  

I know I found out about Butler by happenstance, how many people of color actually came to Butler solely for academic purposes?  I’m sure the school would like to pride itself on diversity, but those large numbers of people of color attending primarily come from sports, and I think the students are aware.  These athletes aren’t dumb. I think this “elephant in the room” plays a role in how they treat the school and surrounding community. While it’s not uncommon for an athlete to feel frustrated at a junior college, these alarming numbers must hurt. 

So with athletes being hard to reach, I tried to get acquainted with students solely focused on academics. Sometimes I thought I met someone that seemed warm. Behind their smiles, I could feel myself being analyzed and them searching to put me in a box. Frankly, if you are a person of color in El Dorado and you’re not playing a sport for the school you’re…. (cue the sarcasm) not going here. 

While I’ve met a  couple of students of color that didn’t fit into that box of athletics, they seemed like they almost didn’t want to be discovered. They had found a group that felt comfortable to them, and I sensed they assumed disruption if I noticed them, so again I felt alone. 

I then discovered the campus culture amongst students to be heavily surrounding sex, weed, and alcohol. It seemed if you didn’t participate in those parts of the school, you were completely alone. In some ways, I tried to fake real participation, I thought I could control how deep I got. I quickly discovered that in all those things, one’s ability to control the situation is rare. 

The biggest offense to me was the stereotyping coming from people that looked like me. I got plenty of it from everyone else, so the assumptions from those that looked like me hurt doubly as much. Particularly with the men, I often got the assumption that I followed the same beat of the drum everyone else seemed to play. Frankly, the lies and gossip surrounding if I did or didn’t become intimate with someone on campus were traumatizing. Everyone seemed so unattached from feelings; morals were clearly so different from mine. I felt the pressure to be so many things from so many different people, I became burnt out and exhausted. 

“Residence Life in general, across the field, looks at our residence halls as a place to build community,” said Melanie McLemore, assistant director of Residence Life. “Our students aren’t utilizing it (campus) as a place to build community; they’re just utilizing it as a place to live and feel like they shouldn’t be bothered past that. It creates this disconnect where I feel like as Student Affairs professionals we want students to look at this as home, but also a place where they meet their best friends, and they foster those relationships with each other and with the college. They (students) look at it as a place to put their heads down at night, and it’s not as important to them. I think that creates some friction in a lot of ways because then they don’t follow policy. They feel like they can smoke weed and that’s “ok,” or have alcohol and that’s “ok” when those things negatively impact the community as a whole. That’s kind’ve their idea of how it should be.”

McLemore feels that student interactions are almost transactional: “What can this person do for me?” Whether “that’s my teammate, so they can help move me forward,” or “they’re a pretty girl and I can have fun for a night,” or they are a partier, so I know if I become friends with them, I can get invited to all the parties. I feel like that’s more how the students are interacting with each other. Is it positive or negative, it’s not for me to say, but I do feel like from what I’ve seen as a watcher and not a participant, that’s what I’ve observed.”

Not only did I resonate with those words, as they explained my experiences at Butler, but they also spoke to how I felt every day while living on campus. I realized how addicted I became to proving my worth as a human to everyone I met. I secretly begged the people I met to see more in me than what I felt they saw on the surface. I became addicted to making people want to change their lenses when they looked at me. I found myself so caught up in being part of the campus lifestyle, I didn’t know who I was. I always saw what environment I was getting into as an issue, but I was too emotionally weak to pull myself out of it.  

When I finally opened my eyes, it was like I was seeing everything for the first time.  I was stunned to realize I was lost in a foreign territory where pure intentions seemed unheard of. 

It took a reality check, but I was finally, not only able to see many of the situations I placed myself in, but I could finally care enough to pull away. At that moment, my lens changed, and I realized they were set on a different filter the entire time. I arrived here with my lens in life set solely on safety and innocence. I somehow switched my lens to complacency and unsorted emotions without even realizing it.  

I thought about changing my lens to fit everyone else’s lens, so maybe I wouldn’t feel so lonely, maybe I could just feel. Being away from home, especially in a small town can take a toll on the body. I thought my whole life of diverse communication prepared me for this;  maybe I was too presumptuous.  What I realized is that those lenses I started to wear were faulty, and tainted.  I picked them up because everyone else seemed to survive with them on, but they were cheap and broken from the start. 

Now I’m building my own lenses, I’ll take lessons from the previous lenses to make a better one. I’m taking the experiences from the broken lenses; it’ll give me durability to withstand so much ahead. But I’ll also take the lenses with the heart, soul, and belief of good things that the dreamer once wore. So here I am, with a broken lens, searching for how to reconstruct. 

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