The first day is always the worst.
Actually, the first everything is the worst--the first foot in the door, first glance, awful realization that there's no turning back.
It was my choice. I did this to myself because I put myself in this situation.
But still, every single time, shock and discomfort slam into me full force upon the first meeting.
You know that moment when you see your crush and you're suddenly hyperaware of everything? From the moment I walk in, an exclamation point hovers above my head as I tiptoe straight toward the back of the class, not wanting to disturb anyone. I can see the same shock and discomfort in my classmates' eyes as they regard me with curiosity...no, concern. Somehow, I am intimidated before I even know my classmates' names.
Sometimes it takes days before my exclamation point fades. Sometimes it never does. The more attention I draw to myself, the more words my classmates get to place in front of the punctuation above my head. When I answer a question correctly, are they as outraged as I imagine them to be in my head? I feel as if I need special permission to speak out in class--but how can that be? I am supposed to be here.
It was my choice.
I assume that no one wants to sit near me, so I sit as far away as possible until someone makes the decision themselves to sit next to me. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't.
I think I make roll call easy for my professor. Does he learn my name by association? He has it down by the first day...that would never happen unless...
Do circumstances like these make me cower in my shell? Initially, yes. I can't get past it, even though I would love to be able to. It takes time to get used to being in the center of a minefield.
It's a definite fight that happens often, and when it does I think about how easy it would be if I had listened to the pressuring opinions of my comfortable peers, who sit amongst nothing but our own at their historically black colleges and universities. If I had listened, I wouldn't have been trying as hard to prove myself as I do right now, fighting every single day to walk into this classroom.
But then again, why do we challenge this society? What is this fight for?
It's for me, but it's also for anyone who carries the exclamation point above their heads at any predominantly white institution. I am a living, breathing representation of success that came from overcoming a bigger, racial struggle, and if I take the easy way out...I'm letting that success fade and making things harder for those behind me.
And it's not as if I don't have a community here. I always tell myself that "people who look like me may be hard to find, but they're around here somewhere. I just have to find them."
So, yeah the first day in a new class at my PWI is the hardest, but every single day I keep crossing the threshold into this classroom, things get easier.
In the end, I'll be able to tell people that it was my choice.