I didn’t really look into Potsdam before transferring here, I just figured since of it’s close proximity to the reservation (Akwesasne), it would be easy to commute every day and go home afterwards.
Imagine the shock that I got when, a week after my transfer was complete, I started getting emails about the racist threatening letters towards faculty in my new school inbox. My first thought was “oh shit! What did I get myself into!?!” A couple weeks later, there was another letter threatening the lives of “colored” students.
My third week in, I had a professor start making me the Token Indian for everything, which isn’t exactly racism, but it’s sure as hell not letting me fade into the mix with other students. I was the point person for everything Native American, like the time I was assumed to know about the genetic testing of the Navajo (I am Mohawk).
Over the winter I dealt with some guy in a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat holding a sign by the Minerva statue yell racial slurs at me. He’s a character that one. He’s told a friend of mine that Native Americans deserved what happened to them. He even recently wrote a letter addressing our annual “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume” flyer campaign that was asinine and left it in the Commuter Lounge on campus.
There’s a guy on campus who drives an old pickup with a large Confederate flag waving around in the back. When you’re actually from the North Country, you’re not flying that flag because of your “Southern Pride”, you’re flying that flag as a “Fuck you” to anyone of color, because you know exactly how the flag makes us brown people feel uncomfortable.
The financial aid office is not that great either. I went in one day, super nice to the front desk ladies, and they were mean. They kept harassing me about my parents’ conditions in their sassy tones, and why they could not sign my FAFSA forms (my mother died when I was in highschool and my father is in a coma). They had me sit down, and I thought “okay, you know, maybe they’re having a bad day.” Three other people of color came in and they were rude as all hell and sometimes just outright mean to them. Two white girls came in and they went from cranky and rude to super jolly in a matter of seconds. Don’t tell me that ain’t some shit.
I hear stories all the time from students from all different ethnic backgrounds, talking about the crazy things that happen on this campus and in the town of Potsdam.
"I came from a school where people thought Native Americans were dead; that we all disappeared once the Revolutionary War was over. Honestly, that might have just been better."
I came from a school where people thought Native Americans were dead; that we all disappeared once the Revolutionary War was over. Honestly, that might have just been better. I’d rather that than be consistently scared to be myself. I’m not talking about the rugby-playing tire-flipping badass “me”, the “me” that is my personality. That, I am not scared of being. I am scared that I might just be a few shades too dark to blend in. I am scared that every time I walk around campus with a big bookbag, the cops aren’t just going to stare at me, they’re actually going to go and pull over. I’m scared that another crazy racist white guy is going to shoot up the school. I am scared that one day, I’ll piss off the wrong person, not even throw a punch and be the one arrested. It sounds like an irrational fear, but those irrational situations happen all the time. I really wish I didn’t have to see the things I’ve seen or the racial bias I have witnessed. I wish this school did a better job of treating people with the respect that they deserve.