It is my final day of freshman orientation here at Villanova University, and in these past 4 days I've learned a few things. First of all, I've learned at least 3 new ice breakers and I know the names of at least some buildings, but I've also learned two big lessons. I learned that we should lean towards discomfort, no matter how sad and horrible it may be, and that I should also lean towards the awkwardness I can only assume most (or at least some) freshman are feeling right now.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to witness a diversity skit in the Villanova Theater, and I can say it was a powerful experience that everyone should see at least once here in campus. For those of you who didn't get to see it, let me break down the main point of it all. A theatrical presentation was put on by ACT (Villanova Association for Change and Transformation) in which they showed several different scenarios of bigotry and hate among students in campus. The idea was to let people in to the reality that some students at Villanova are living. It may not be your friend, or your roommate, or that kid you've never talked to in your morning class, but it's happening to someone.
One specific scenario stood out to me a little more than the others, because frankly they all impacted me, but this one in particular was of a guy with Latin American parents who was talking with his mom in the phone. He was speaking Spanish. My first language is Spanish. A girl starts going off on him for speaking his mother's language (to his mother) and says a list of horrible and despicable things while assuming multiple things about this guy she doesn't even know. I have never experienced this, and I am thankful for that, but I'm not going to lie here and say I didn't know it was a possibility.
Coming to Villanova I was, and still am, excited about my education and my future here. The community and the love you can feel overall around campus drew me here, but I was never oblivious to the faults of the community and the hate hidden in some corners. On my first day I was happy, but afraid. What if people judged me for being from Panama? What if someone heard me speaking Spanish and gave me a dirty look, or even worse spat out some ignorant word? Thankfully none of that has happened. But just because it hasn't happened to me that doesn't mean it hasn't happened to someone else; it doesn't mean it won't happen to other people in other ways. So, I'm glad there is a movement in Villanova that is pushing people towards discomfort and holding up a mirror to the community in order for it to see its imperfections and "ugliness" and do something about it.
The other lesson I learned was a less serious, yet crucial one. Lean towards the awkwardness. Once again, I'm not going to lie here. I'm awkward, or at least I feel that way, and that's the root of the problem. I feel awkward, I convince myself I'm awkward, therefore I am awkward. Coming into orientation I was sure it was going to be awkward, but for once in my life I decided to rely on that and to truly, to put it in sensible terms, not give a shit.
So what if it's awkward? So what if I say a few jokes to try and defuse the tense silence around a table of complete strangers or if I dance like an idiot for an icebreaker? That's what it's all about. Just like with the discomfort, I can't ignore the awkwardness; the only thing I can do is lean towards it and embrace it. This week I have put myself out there in ways that I didn't think I could, and part of me is terrified. I'm scared I talked too much, I'm scared I said the wrong thing, I'm anxious about making friends, but fuck it. Lean towards that awkwardness and use it, not as a shield or an excuse to be quiet, but as a strength you can rely on to make the transition to college swifter and much more enjoyable.
In the end, I think I learned one big lesson. College is not the time to run away from problems, it's not the time to hide in a little bubble in an alternate reality, and it is not the time to look the other way. As we start our journey to become actual adults (apparently we are fake adults at the moment), we have to learn how to deal with the good and the bad. Let's lean into what makes us uncomfortable, be it something on a large scale that affects millions, like racism or homophobia, or something that affects us personally, like feeling like we don't fit in. This is the time to stand, face the ugliness and the uncomfortableness, look it in the eye, and make a choice of how we are going to change. So start leaning, I promise it will make all the difference.