I came to the university where I am studying because I had scholarships and a staff discount because of my mom's job. I never loved it. At first, I was more optimistic and excited. But I don’t love it. Some days I wish I would have gone somewhere else. Other days, I know that someday I will be grateful. For anyone who doesn’t know, I go to a small, Christian, liberal arts university in the heart of Kentucky. I've been here for two years now. I'm graduating early, so this third year will be my last. When I started two years ago, I was timid, but full of opinions. I was used to being in a community where my ideas and thought and beliefs were at least acknowledged and listened to. But that first year of college, I felt more alone and ignored than I had ever felt before. I didn't agree with most of the staff, faculty, and students on politics or even theology. I still don't and it's lonely most of the time. At first, I thought that I could have opinions and be respected as a person, but it didn't really work how I thought it would. I ended up feeling alone and hurt all the time. I still feel alone in my thoughts sometimes, but I've learned that I have a voice and that my voice deserves to be heard even if no one cares to listen.
I should also explain that all these stories you’re about to read are from the past two years. But, there was a lot that hurt me in similar ways before I started college too. My family was extremely hurt by our church and I had a lot of teachers in high school who didn’t care to listen to my opinions and constantly told me that I was wrong. These stories below focus on the past two years of hurt, and it has been pretty bad in a lot of ways, but there is a lot more that has turned me into the person I am today.
I remember one time when I was studying with people and we started talking about theology. I started explaining some of my beliefs and someone called me a heretic. He said I shouldn't feel bad because the Pharisees called Jesus a heretic too. But at the time, it just hurt.
Another time, I was sitting in the campus coffee shop and a guy who didn't even go to the school, a sibling of a classmate, started arguing with me about something that I had said in a conversation with one of my friends. Besides the fact that he was entirely uninvolved in the conversation, he treated me like I knew absolutely nothing. I remember every part of that experience and how insignificant he made me feel. But, he didn't stop there. He asked my name and the next day, I got a Facebook message from him. He continued to argue with me in his message, tearing me down, and ultimately telling me that he would be praying for me that I would come to see the light (or some bullshit like that).
And another time, a student informed me that I would be going to hell for who I chose to vote for in the 2016 Presidential election. In case you can't guess, I voted for Hillary.
Still another time, I waited until after my Bible class was over to talk with the professor. I hate questioning professors in front of the class, so by waiting, I was attempting to be respectful. I had even brought in a book to back up my opinion and question. But, when I asked, the only reply I received was "No, that's wrong". That was the first time that I went out of my way to ask a question to a professor, and I haven't done it much since.
And still, another time, I stated some of my beliefs to a person I was trying to be friends with. He wouldn’t let me explain my beliefs and instead chose to make fun of me in the moment. The next day, he chose to ignore me entirely. He has yet to acknowledge my presence as a human being to this day. It’s been over a year now and I see him almost every single day.
I've been told countless times that I don't even know or understand what I believe, that I only believe what I believe because that's my dad believes, and that if I can't explain it perfectly, then I shouldn't be talking. These are not things people say to empower young people. These sentences and actions that I've heard and dealt with first-hand only tear people down. I spent the first two years of my college career being torn down for being myself and speaking my mind. It took two years for me to realize that I don't have to let people tear me down. It took two years to learn that I have a voice and it's louder than I thought. Because of all those experiences, I became voiceless and angry. I hid everything I believed and thought and just tried to fit in. But the thing is, I eventually learned that I wasn’t made to fit in. I learned that I had a voice and that I could use it without letting the things that people said to me or the way they treated me stop me. That doesn’t mean that sometimes I still want to hide. I still get angry and I still get hurt, but I also have a sense of peace in knowing that what I think matters.
We should be starting conversations. We should be letting people explore what they believe and not constraining them to one path. Now that I know I have a voice that matters, I can’t not use it. When people treat me like I don’t matter, I am not going to be quiet. Since I am here for this year, I want to be a person who helps younger students find their voice and realize that they deserve to be heard. Even if their opinion or belief seems as though it’s different from everyone else, they don’t have to shut up and hide. They can be bold and talk about what they believe.
To all the people who shut me down and made me feel like I didn’t have a voice, I forgive you. I honestly feel bad for you. We go to a school where we are taught to show Christ’s love. The fact that you treated me in such an un-Christ like manner makes me pity you. I want you to be able to have conversations and hear people’s opinions. I mentioned it in my last blog post; as humans, we desperately need community to grow. By shutting me down, you shut yourselves off to learning and growing from your community. I hope that you have changed. I hope that the next time a fellow classmate or student tries to share their thoughts with you, you listen. You made me feel worthless and no one ever should be made to feel that way.
To the students still at this school, specifically, I hope you know that I will always listen. Even if I don’t agree with you, I will listen. I will never mock you. I will never shut you down with such hate. I hope that you are never treated like I was. You are not voiceless. You have a voice. You deserve to be heard.