I am a low-income minority student, a label of which I am neither proud nor ashamed. At least, that’s what I want to believe, but it’s understandable that it’s more complicated than that.
Before coming to Duke, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of the label since I had gone to a majority minority high school where being like me was the norm. Since everyone shared the same income bracket, there was no shame in having a free lunch. There was no sense of alienation due to class or income. So to tell the truth, I was unprepared for how this label would affect me at Duke.
Then the day of the move arrived and I was struck by my first realization: that I am now surrounded by white people. Throughout my life in the United States, I have been surrounded by people of color with sometimes a white person or two. But the moment I walked onto the Duke campus, I stepped into a new reality: one where I was truly the minority. Coming into this new reality, I was intimidated because I didn’t know exactly how to interact with white people. So I just didn’t interact with them; instead, I interacted with people who I thought looked like me or had had a similar experience to me (so much for Duke’s so-called diversity). Eventually, I interacted with white people, which thankfully made me wonder why I was bullied in the first place. I discerned that I associated whiteness with elite and authority. A trend, probably stemming from the media representation of white people associated with internalized racism.
Eventually I got over my first realization, but the first day of class rolled around and I was struck by another realization, which dawned on me because of a detail so insignificant that most people don’t. wouldn’t even think about it. During my Stats 199 class, as I pulled out my Chromebook, I looked around and all I saw was a sea of Macs. This is where it hit me: I was probably the poorest person in this room of 150 people. This small detail triggered an avalanche of other sightings. These comments centered on the wealth of some Duke students and the wealth I don’t have. Thanks to the observations, it didn’t take me long to figure out what the low income part of that label meant.
Understanding this label did not empower me; instead, he planted two insidious ideas. The first is that I was the ersatz version of a Duke student. I didn’t know how to play an instrument like other Duke students. I didn’t travel to a developing country to volunteer or start a startup like other Duke students. I didn’t even have a LinkedIn like other Duke students. Those thoughts weren’t rational because being a Duke student isn’t defined by any of those things. But knowing that your thoughts and feelings are irrational is much easier than acting on those thoughts and feelings. The second idea this label planted in me is that I worked harder than any of those wealthy Duke students to get here. This idea was born to keep my fragile pride in one piece. But this idea was as harmful as the first, if not more, since it made me disdain the work of many of my friends and classmates. So, where does the one who has both an inferiority and a superiority complex go?
By losing both complexes, hopefully. At least, that’s what I like to think happened to me through my interactions with various Duke students. The inferiority complex quickly dissipated through my interactions with individuals who were different from my distorted view of what a Duke student should be. They were talented and passionate, but more importantly, they were unique. Through my friendship with these people, I realized that there is no single definition of what a Duke student is. Instead, there are a plethora of definitions, and more are being put in the dictionary every day. With this realization, I also come to understand that comparing my efforts to those of others is a lose/lose game. With those two ideas gone, I arrived at a final productive realization.
I am a low income minority student. A label of which I am neither proud nor ashamed, but I understand it to mean that I might need a different kind of help than my peers.
Finally, here are 5 tips for new students of the same label.
1. Duke is by no means perfect, but understand that there are plenty of resources you shouldn’t be ashamed of using.
2. DukeLife is your friend.
3. Go to common rooms if you find yourself without a group of friends after O week. Trust me, you will eventually find someone to vibe with.
4. Take some paper and list some of your prejudices before coming to see Duke. Now try to catch these biases through your actions and thoughts when interacting with someone.
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5. NOBODY UNDERSTOOD HIS LIFE. So don’t worry too much about what other people are doing.
Abdel Shehata is a freshman at Trinity. His column is broadcast every other Thursday.