As part of the Division of Student Affairs’ initiative for Diversity and Inclusion, we at I Am Rutgers have started the #RUIDProject to highlight the many diverse identities, experiences, and reflections of the Rutgers student body. Students featured in this project share how they choose to identify themselves and how Rutgers either helps them express their identity or has helped shape their identity. If you would like to be featured in this project, share a picture of yourself and how you choose to identify using the hashtag #RUIDProject on Instagram or contact us via email.
Photography by Pat Nadolski
I grew up in a cookie-cutter suburb 30 miles North of West Los Angeles, an area of Southern California of various incomes and ethnicities. I was not aware of my family’s financial status. I had what I needed. And looking at it now, I got and usually still get things that I want and maybe didn’t or don’t necessarily need.
I may not have been aware of my parents’ finances, but I knew my grandparents liked to treat all of us to nice things. We would go away to resorts for Thanksgiving, nicer restaurants for Mother’s Day and other holidays. I always found it strange that when people asked my dad where he grew up he hesitated, like he was ashamed to say where his parents lived. He would always say West Los Angeles and leave it at that, but I didn’t understand. Why was he embarrassed to admit that his parents live in a well-off community in Bel Air? Why would that make a difference what people thought of him? He’s still my dad, who built his own business and works really hard to provide my family a good life. I was so confused by why this bothered him so much, until now, and until I came to Rutgers.
Coming to Rutgers I knew what New Jersey was like, my mom is from New Jersey and her entire family still lives throughout Central Jersey. I have been flying between California and New jersey since I was six months old. I knew when making my decision to go to Rutgers it would be a different, not better or worse but slower pace of life and less commercial than California. I was ready for the change and so excited to get to know my family that I only got to see on vacations. I was ready for the change of pace, the experience of seasons and a new journey ahead.
What I wasn’t ready for was peopling judging me on what I wore, where I shopped or people making assumptions about my family’s financial status by the way I looked or where I was from. It’s hard to be thrown into living with new people you just met, who don’t really know you and feel like they are already judging you. People didn’t introduce me by my name most of the time, they would say, “Did you know she’s from California?” followed by the “Why are you even here?” This was really difficult, I wanted so badly to connect with others and be known as more than coming from California, but few were willing to give me an opportunity because I was already labeled.
Being 3,000 miles away from my family is difficult, going to school across the country from home is hard. Out of state tuition has brought a whole new stress to my parents’ finances, even though they planned ahead. Knowing no one and having to start all over again making friends has been hard. Having to live with someone when you have never shared a room in your life is hard. I can handle all these things, but it’s hard to handle being judged on what people assume about me. Just like my dad, I didn’t want to share something simple as where I bought my shirt, what my family did for fun, or complain about any lack of quality in living on campus for fear of being judged.
Getting involved on campus has become the best distraction. Whether it is focusing on my photo projects or photographing an event for Student Affairs Marketing, finding new places on-campus and new things to do keeps me busy, productive, and happy to be a Scarlet Knight. I no longer worry about what others think of me but choose to focus on what I came here to do: learn, create, & having fun while doing so.