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Apologies to my Father, Friends, and Alumni: Where I’m From

Dear Diary,
In the place where I grew up, they’ve been hanging the flags at half-mast since 2001. Differing in location, but never in height, the stars and stripes pepper the flat landscape that surrounds my town. Some flags stand in front yards, others benchmark businesses or baseball fields, but no matter where the colors are flown, they remain resolutely below both summit and sky. It is this that I miss when I am away from home. This that I can’t help but think of when the news stations call off names in silence. Because to me, there is no silence. There is only the metal ticking of those flags as they beat out a rhythm in the wind–a constant ringing in the ears, that reminds me always, of decay.

When I tell my friends of this experience, or really any other experience that I have had in the flat lands of America, their focus goes, not to the potent experience that I am trying to explain, but rather to the overall place that I have described–small town, USA. Though I took diversity into account when selecting Amherst, I never realized that I would be amongst the grab bag of different peoples who coexist on campus. Before arriving here, I never thought that I would ever be considered a novelty. Socially, this has been trying for me. I am the friend with a “rustic” upbringing. I am the token Republican, even though I am not, in ANY way, a Republican. The number of times I have been asked if I have animals is slightly alarming. As a freshman, I thought I was being questioned about my hygiene, thinking that such inquiries referred to lice, or parasites, or something disgusting like that. Turns out they meant horses or cows or pigs or chickens or some other animal that Old MacDonald had on his drastically overpopulated farm.
If a country song makes it mainstream, I’m the one on speed dial. If someone sees hay, even in passing, I need to be informed. In fact, much of my time at Amherst has revolved around the exhausting process of explaining to people that even though I grew up in a farming community, I am probably more disinterested in Nascar than they are. I am not a hillbilly and I’m not a cowgirl, but I do believe in showing appreciation more often than once a year when Veterans’ Day rolls around. The flags in my hometown have taught me much about the importance of gratitude as a lived action. Where I come from, saying “thank you” lasts longer than the time it takes the words to spill out of your mouth. True gratitude is a daily decision to respect the sacrifices and people who have made your life easier.

When I look around at my fellow students, I do not see a culture impacted by this type of living. That is not to say that I do not know thankful people, but rather that this thankfulness does not impact the way they live their lives. Instead, they float about as if they have never known or needed help. With their heads down as they pass me by, they have forgotten the men and women who have walked these paths before us. They have forgotten that they share these paths with great men and women to come. And though I see fault on both sides of the gender divide, it terrifies me that the women here have so quickly forgotten the ones who came before.

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Less than thirty years after women first stepped on this campus, we are already forgetting the strength they needed to be here. They were brave, courageous, Gryffindor type ladies who set a precedent for us all, and we shame them every day. They stood together to make Amherst the prestigious coeducational college that it is today. We owe them a thank you for their strength: one that isn’t merely noted in alumni pamphlets.

Even decades later, being a woman at Amherst feels to me as If I am a member of an all-male fraternity that I did not sign up for; yet this is often far more because of the attitudes of the women than of the men. Somehow, in the blundering college consortium of binge drinking and parties, girls have forgotten their sisters and refuse to listen to them when they ask for help. My own friends have referred to the staggering instances of sexual assault on this campus as being nothing more than a ‘hot topic’. My own friends have failed, yet again, to accept the potent experiences that shape a person’s life. They do not understand and they do not try to understand. They go about like mice through a maze of lies, not realizing that the trap could catch them next.

Feminine refusal to become involved in issues that hunt them is not new, but it is most certainly new for Amherst women. I find it hard not to think of the Alumni when I see my own peers deny the existence of a rape culture on campus. The girls who come forward are still the same brilliant women who were accepted into this school. They once doubted the dangers of a small New England campus just as so many Amherst women do. But then something happened to them, something horrible and cruel. They fell through the glass floor we are all walking on, to become a member of the prey. Sick as this may be, what happened to them after was far more demeaning because there is no union between those who have been attacked and those who haven’t been. There is no call towards justice. There is no understanding.
It is with hypocrisy that we bandage up the open wounds of our friends as they fade away from us slowly. We forget that they were disillusioned kids just like us. They wanted nothing but to live in this place, to belong here, and to be amongst those special people who have gotten to call Amherst home. And for a while, they felt grateful to go to be here. For a while they felt lucky. And then, Dear Diary, they were forced to understand.
 

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