I am a straight, white girl.
A straight, white girl who writes a bi-weekly opinion column—an 800-word piece of semi-creative, hopefully insightful writing in which I—a heterosexual, Caucasian female—ask you—X race, Y sexuality and Z anything-else-you-can-identify-with—to take this newspaper, digest my unapologetic and didactic expressions, and value them. Internalize them. For what it’s worth, I am unabashedly preaching to you, my audience of I-don’t-know-who’s. Anybodies. My goal is for you to believe what I say. Buy into it. Accept it. Feel it.
Not just believe it, but enjoy it.
Go ahead. Think about that.
I’m a straight, white girl from New Jersey. I have an average GPA and spend an above-average time placing emphasis on the “athlete” portion of the compound phrase “student-athlete.” I’m not pre-med or pre-law, or pre-anything for that matter. I study cultural anthropology and play sports and sleep in between. I do not bring my own reusable and sustainable grocery bags to Kroger, and I don’t turn off the water when I brush my teeth. I’m a vegan, but I don’t care about animal rights. I don’t drive a hybrid, and I’m not a passionate member of any student groups beyond my varsity athletic team. I am, furthermore, unflinchingly content with all of that.
Somehow, I still have an opinion. Every other week, I’m allowed to ascend up to the frightening peak that is this soapbox, this column, to step back up to my podium and hope you listen. In a culture of continuously escalating sensitivities coupled with frank and furious opinions on topics of cross-campus or trans-Atlantic importance, it’s a difficult endeavor to be a straight, white girl and attempt to get your attention. There’s a fine line between being passionate and being offensive, as we’ve discovered in the racially, politically or sexually charged opinion columns of recent publication. And due to my own sociopolitical status, the people around me have made me afraid to speak.
As a blossoming young writer of amateur and flowery-worded opinion columns, it’s something I think about every single time I sit wide-eyed and caffeinated in front of my glowing laptop. I type something. I backspace. I delete it all. I write again. I open a new document, write half of an editorial, then erase the first 280 words. I am—contrary to what it sometimes might seem—a living, breathing human with a functioning mind and a fervent opinion on matters that matter. I care about the world, and I care about this school. I care about human existence and human rights and the right to privacy and liberty and everything else that you care about. But for the first time in my life, I’m afraid to say it.
There is a constant, redundant cycle every other week of choosing a topic that appropriately incites the attention of the student body, or if I’m lucky, an audience that stretches beyond the dormitories and dining halls on campus. How much excitement and controversy are we willing to incite on the comment section of The Chronicle’s webpage? At any university, especially at our very own, there are an increasing number of intellectually-sound students who identify with various student groups and causes. Maybe they’re racially based or maybe they’re based on sexuality or some other demographic. Maybe you’re in a group whose passion is going green for life, or maybe you’re an animal rights activist. Maybe you’re helping the homeless or maybe you’re a member of a club for business-oriented men or women. Maybe you’re overweight or underweight or an alcoholic or maybe you’re following God. Maybe you’re an atheist. But what if you’re none of these things?
At Duke, community standards take the form of high-leveled social norms and constant pressures to be passionate about something. My peers are passionate and trailblazing 20-somethings. They are devoted to a cause or a community or a lifestyle, and they are unabashedly fervent in demonstrating that passion to the world, or at least to the community in close proximity. They are outspoken controversial, and they are unafraid of conferring with their critics. But in this constant bombardment of race and sex and culture and controversy, I’ve gotten lost. I feel unaware and unqualified.
I feel white and straight and relatively voiceless on matters of heated debate. I fumbled with the idea of whether or not this was something I felt comfortable publishing. This is an opinion column without an opinion, a manifestation of my insecurity in formulating one.
Judge me. Call me uneducated or lacking passion or cultural plurality—but I’m not going to fabricate socio-cultural zeal. I have passions, but campus culture chooses the ones it feels are most fervent—and those aren’t mine.
Call me unqualified or ignorant or naïve. Call me afraid. Maybe I am, but maybe you made me that way.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Friday. You can follow Ashley on Twitter @camano4chron.