My Tufts Daily column (4/11): Seeing through the optics of whiteness, a love letter to Black Tufts, and the erasure in “incidents”

#BooksMyJobGaveMe Podcast, Journalism, Respect Your Elders, Tufts Daily

My Tufts Daily column, about Black people at Tufts, the white gaze, and the erasure in  “incidents”, complete with honesty (how refreshing!) Check back tonight about the process of writing this column, and more candid musings on the difficult miracle of, well, being. 

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

A truly purpose-driven love letter

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013

I have been truthful from the beginning about my not quite knowing what I am doing with this column, but I have not been completely honest with you for a while. I think with the first column I had an intent to be the “true Brionna,” but I wanted to welcome you (but not all of you, not every voyeuristic eye that’s consuming me as a Tufts black woman for my “story”) on the journey as I explored myself and this (ex?) plantation we call the Medford/Somerville campus (look up that Tufts history, the Royall House and Ten Hills Farm, and sit with it).

In the beginning, I wanted to feature and connect with the often institutionally neglected black population here, because I wanted to speak to you publically, in one place at one time and on the record. I wanted this column to be far-reaching, but it can’t be at once universal in its message and critical. Every week when I started to write with intent and purpose — to talk to you about greatest triumphs and the disturbing underbelly of the college experience and the difficult miracle of existing at Tufts — I could feel the sincerity draining from my words.

I became preoccupied with how I’d be perceived by the white oppositional gaze of Tufts and the high schoolers visiting the school, clutching the Daily and their visitor brochures as they shuffle around campus while someone walks backwards and spouts about pre-major advising and meal plans. I am having that “Simba, you have forgotten me” moment, and now I am in the middle of the part where Simba has all kinds of epiphanies.

Even though I do a lot with this oppressive language (English), I fear I haven’t been doing enough, because I haven’t been honest, and even now I can’t be, but I need this on the record.

I love you, black people at Tufts, even (especially!) strangers, and I smile and say “hi” because I know that some days we feel like we are disposable at Tufts, like we are numbers, counting and learning tools on which our administrators and classmates work out their personal and academic development. So I smile at you, so you know I see you, and the least I can do is acknowledge your presence, because being present here isn’t always easy or healthy.

I do not think that survival can be understated in this moment, on this Thursday, when I still live in Sunday night, when my friends and I were dispersed around campus and, collectively, our worlds stopped with an email that announced the white supremacist “graffiti” on campus in Bello Field. The email read as coolly as an announcement about parking closures due to snow. What followed — a plea that members of “our” community  “reach out to friends and colleagues in the Tufts community as sources of support and comfort” — said to me, “If your feelings are hurt, if you’re not safe leaving your house, if you’re having violent, real flashbacks and recalls of what this is, try to feel better even though there’s no black counselor at the Counseling and Mental Health Services to turn to, even if you needed to.” The “graffiti” on Tufts’ property is not an “incident.” An incident exists as a singular moment. This is just the most recent (or publicized) manifestation of a symptom of the disease of what exists.

With these 600 words, I wanted to make this space in this Daily, so you could see and know that you are here, lovingly made and remembered by me, on the “record.” But I have acted, at times, under a constant optic of whiteness and fear, and my friends and fellow survivors deserve better. So over the next couple of weeks, I am giving you — not all of you — my best, as much as I can.

My First Tufts Daily Column: Respect Your Elders

#BooksMyJobGaveMe Podcast, Journalism, Respect Your Elders, Tufts Daily

This semester should officially be known as my “Daily” semester: I’m working as Managing Editor, I’m writing for Arts/News (when I damn well feel like it, or when there’s an exceptionally amazing episode of Real Housewives on), and I’m  a Features columnist! Cue the daily Daily overload. My weekly Features column is called “Respect Your Elders” (because I’m all of 22 years old. I’m elder.), and chronicles my Tufts experience thus far with unsolicited advice, and delves into the significance of being a first generation college student. At the outset I was worried that writing such a personal and widely applicable column would be appropriating my life/story, but I’m confident that my target audience (read: Tufts students who rarely if ever see themselves, their experiences, concerns, or thoughts reflected in the Daily) will appreciate my efforts. My column comes out e very Thursday, check it out *here* and here)

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

Notes from a senior (active) citizen

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

BJ Column

Hi! I am Brionna, a senior at Tufts, and you are about to go on a semester−long adventure with me. I hope you brought your quest cap, and buckle up. It will be bumpy, it will be uncomfortable, but stay tuned in and keep reading — it will befan−freaking−tastic.

For starters, let’s discuss the purpose of this column. This column every Thursday will serve as a cautionary tale for some, a beacon of hope for others and a makeshift space for me (this is where it gets bumpy), but it’ll highlight and capture some of my musings on Tufts as a second−semester senior preparing to leave the Hill for greener, but perhaps equally steep, hills in the “real world.”

My time at Tufts has been peppered with bouts of activism, reflection, long nights at Tisch poring over something−or−other and midday naps that somehow turned into up−at−3−a.m.−rants, but it hasn’t been short of insight. So, let’s begin somewhere near the beginning.

I am a first−generation college student. What that means, for me, is that I am the first person in my family to attend college and I’m the closest to graduating of anyone in my family. As a result, much of my Tufts experience has been a very fly−by−the−seat−of−your−pants sort of adventure, with no road map, color−by−numbers or eight easy steps. Yes, I bought all of the “secret to surviving college” books pre−matriculation, and yes, I read them cover−to−cover. I have yet to encounter a (inexplicably) naked roommate, and being a “collegiette” for me doesn’t involve sorority life. I will be discussing and reviewing aspects and stories from my Tufts experience through the rearview mirror of my college career. We will go over how showers kept me going during sophomore year, the “major” question you field from your family (and other inane questions, like the equally maddening follow up, “What are you going to do with that degree?” We’ll discuss the degrees that nobody talks about — the MRS. and MR. degrees — and look into what it means to be an active citizen at Tufts, fighting a good fight even if it’s unpopular or misunderstood.

But let’s be clear. In May I am graduating with a B.A. in American studies, not a Ph.D. in the psychology of higher education (that is a thing), but my experiences and thoughts are still here, so that is that.

Over the years I’ve undulated between social groups, levels of activism and levels of academic engagement, but everything always comes back to that insipid Stephen Schwartz lyric from the musical “Wicked:” “There are bridges you cross you didn’t know you crossed until you crossed.” Therefore, that’s part of what this column is. It’s me looking at the bridges I’ve crossed in retrospect, bridges you’re probably coming up to on your walk through Tufts, and ones you’re dancing (or being dragged) across now. We’ll look at overcommitting, dreams deferred, G1 student life, liberal arts anxiety (I’m suffering from it now!), finding your genuine interests, activism, impact, the types of people you meet at Tufts and exactly what to do when nobody is answering your calls on a Thursday night. Because, let us face it, we have all been there. Right? Oh? Just me? Ok. I have invested myself, my heart, my joy and energy into this university, and now that I have a moment to reflect on it I want to share my musings with any lovely reader with five to 10 minutes to spare looking for a quick and interesting read. If at any point you have qualms, you know what to do — send an email or find me on campus. I’m five feet tall, so finding me shouldn’t be too hard. Challenge accepted? Ok, let’s go.