I’m about four weeks out from graduating, but I want to share with you all my story of applying for graduate school that carries a lot of importance for me as I wrap up my undergraduate career here at San Jose State University. I remember the feeling when I finished my application for graduate school. I decided last minute to apply to the University of San Francisco (USF) for the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) Master’s program for the upcoming Fall semester. I scrambled around for about two to three weeks as I tried to get together my resume, letters of recommendation, and my personal statement. I asked both previous and current supervisors huge favors to support me in the process and when I finally got everything together, I turned it in with only two hours left until the deadline. I felt so relieved that it was no longer in my hands. I did what I could to represent myself in the best way possible.
Fast forward about three weeks later, it’s Spring staff training for Residence Life and I just ran 5k Friday. I was pretty damn tired after running it; my feet had not felt the concrete pounding against it for a long time. After I had gotten my lunch, I decided to check my e-mail. I saw that there was an e-mail from someone whose name I didn’t recognize. I opened it up and it said the following:
I hope this email finds you well. Attached you will find a copy of the faculty’s decision. Congratulations! The hard copy should be arriving in the mail next week, we just wanted to let you know as soon as possible.”
When I saw that, I quickly scrolled through the rest of the e-mail to see the digital copy of my acceptance letter from USF to make sure this wasn’t a joke. Sure enough, it was real. When I made it up to my room, I yelled as loud as I could to express my excitement. This was definitely something I had not felt in a long time. A rush of adrenaline came over me as I knew I was going somewhere that I wanted to be. It was as if I had made it and that I was somebody again.
Another few weeks had passed and I was meeting with my advisor for my research on Filipinos and hip hop. I hadn’t seen her for weeks because it was winter break and there was no real need to. I told her when we last met I had applied to USF, but I had not told her yet that I was actually accepted into the HESA program. When I told her, she was really excited for me. That definitely validated me and my feelings of being in the program, but at the end of our meeting I expressed that I feel like I couldn’t accept it. It’s as if I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. It’s like it’s a shameful and bad thing that I’m striving for a Master’s degree. I didn’t really know why or how to even explain it to her. I just felt that I couldn’t. I normally have words to explain things or a very basic level of processing of my feelings, but this was one time where I couldn’t articulate my frustration to her. After several minutes of writhing in my feelings, she told me this:
“As people of color, we are not supposed to be obtaining degrees of higher education, let alone a master’s degree. You need to remember that educational institutions were never built for us. Educating ourselves to pursue passions and knowledge about ourselves and others was something that was never meant for us in the first place. You should be proud that you’ve made it into a master’s program as only so many people have access to it and actually obtain it.”
Hearing this from her had given me a piece of mind and calmed me down. I had totally forgotten that most, if not all institutions of higher learning were never built for me, a person of color, especially a Filipino.
There’s probably someone out there saying that because I’m part of the ambiguous Asian racial category and many Asians are going to college that I shouldn’t be feeling this way. Rhetoric like this is heavily rooted in the Model Minority Myth and is persistent across the country. Just because I am doing well in college, doesn’t mean that I am absolved of having to cross barriers. I am privileged in many different as a heterosexual, middle class, and most of all a male; but I am also oppressed by being Filipino, a young adult, and agnostic. I experience the world in a very unique way. Participating in the supposed meritocracy of higher education as an undergraduate has not been an easy path and won’t be any easier going into a master’s program. For far too long I have been walking silently in an oppressive institution that indoctrinates me to not think critically, question what’s happening around me, or reclaim my ethnic identity. It’s time to make some noise in a stifling institution of higher education not only for myself, but also for those that have neither space nor voice to achieve social justice. I’m changing the world from here and there.
by IAN ZAMORA