I attend an elite private school. It’s like a tiny utopia, within the already liberal bubble of the Bay Area. But recently, my perception of my school community as an accepting, tolerant place, was shaken dramatically.
It started when my best friend and I got selected as advice columnists for our school newspaper. We sent out an online form to the entire campus, soliciting questions for our column. We were asking people to bare their souls, anonymously of course, revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings.
But those unspoken sentiments… well, they weren’t exactly what we expected.
“Why is your nose so big?” “When are you two getting married?” “Why are you perpetually single?”
My best friend and I are both Indian in a student body that’s majority white. So it’s hard not to read some of these statements as racially charged. At the very least, they were cruel. They didn’t have playful or joking connotations – they were incredibly personal.
Once my classmates had the opportunity to speak anonymously, it was like an entirely new side of them came out, one of fervent hatred and unashamed criticism. They went after my physical appearance, quirks and characteristics, relationship status, while at the same time smiling at me in the hallways.
Knowing the disparaging things that my peers are thinking about me, it affects me on a daily basis. I have no idea who submitted these statements, no way of tracking them down. I unconsciously view classmates with inherent suspicion, unsure if the persona they’re projecting outwards is just a cover for their internal hatred.
It may be naive, but before seeing those survey results, I felt protected from this kind of bullying. My school, especially, has preached the virtues of embracing each other’s differences, of standing strong together as members of a tight-knit community.
I’m still mourning the sense of safety I lost, but deep down I knew it couldn’t last forever. I’ll have to confront these prejudices everyday anyways, might as well start training early.