never underestimate the importance of community.
i just came back from a fabulous talk by my professor George Lewis (it was Columbia University’s University Lecture, which one professor gives every year) and it was great but what was even more of a highlight for me was meeting people that i had yet to meet before. a whole community of african-american colleagues was right there, waiting to be found. they were all incredibly nice, interesting and welcoming. but the thing that struck me the most was the lack of feeling within myself that this community was forced. for the first time in, possibly, my entire life (most assuredly my scholarly one) i don’t feel alone. but i didn’t feel alone when i arrived. Columbia felt like the perfect environment for me, one in which i was not constantly reminded of my otherness (a feeling that was magnified by my time at Peabody).
when i talk to people about what i do, i brace myself for the looks that accompany “you study opera/British music/etc.?” as if i should be doing something else, as if they expect me to do something else. that is not encouraging but it’s nothing new. tonight, i spoke about my interests with a little more confidence, as if i had no fear of being judged. when i was home this weekend, i had a talk with my young cousin who is a freshman at the University of Virginia. she expressed to me all of these feelings, feelings i’ve known for years. it was hard to see what i’ve gone through happening to her, that feeling of loneliness and sadness at the fact she had no one with whom to relate. i hope that i was able to reassure her that she, too, has a community. a family filled with strong, intelligent, black women who are there to help her when it gets rough.
as President Bollinger said tonight, the academic life is a lonely one. and more so, it’s a life that is difficult to describe to those who are not a party to it. couple that with the very plain fact that it is not the most diverse and that this brings about its own sets of challenges makes it even more difficult for several of us. and that is why, in the end, what matters most is community.