Safe Views: Alexa Valarezo on microaggressions

Photo courtesy of Alexa Valarezo

This guest column is a part of our Safe Views series, where Transy students share their views on how they feel safe, and unsafe, on Transy’s campus. Student writers responded to the question, “Do you feel safe on Transy’s campus?” and they approached that question from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. This guest column is written by sophomore Alexa Valarezo. 

It’s my sophomore year here, and I can’t really tell you that I feel safe here. Maybe I’m in the wrong. Yes, we have a new crosswalk and signs up on how to conquer it, but me not getting hit by a car doesn’t take into account the emotional weight that comes with being at Transy. The world around us is full of violence and hatred and we may be in the Transy bubble, but this bubble is full of pain. I want to be very clear, however, that there is a lot of good here and a lot of bad that isn’t malicious.

I am a Latina woman. The way in which I interact on Transy’s campus is through my identity, and before Transy I never realized how alone I felt. Yesterday, while I was at a diversity and inclusion training focused around microaggressions, I thought of all the things I’d experienced in life that weren’t meant to be aggressive and damaging, but were. A lot of those things happened before life at Transy, but one of the worst happened here. One that was detrimental to the enjoyment of my first year here, one that changed my comfort on campus, one that I won’t ever forget.

It was during Taste of Lexington my freshman year and there was a taco truck outside the campus center, and, as most people are, I was on the hunt for the best tacos in Lexington. The man taking my order had been speaking Spanish to the cook behind him, so I decided to speak to him in Spanish. I rarely get the opportunity to speak in Spanish, because I live away from my family. The second I turned around to get some beignets from the doodles truck another member of my graduating class who I was friends with spoke at me, “Gosh, speak some English would ya.” I’d be lying if I said that I felt hurt at the time, because I didn’t. I was furious, and yet I said nothing and brushed it off. I didn’t officially report. It did end up turning into a disciplinary case because of mandatory reporting, but I sat through the whole case hearing my own character get slaughtered for what felt like eternity. The consequences for the perpetrator was attending some type of specific class/training, and I was to receive no contact.

I’m not really sure what kind of consequences this person deserved, but I know that nothing would have felt like enough. It changed my habits on campus. Even now, I still feel slightly uncomfortable speaking in Spanish around campus. The dust has settled, but I definitely haven’t fully healed. I don’t really know if I ever will. Because of that experience I can’t say I feel safe on campus, because the feelings I have towards it now are just pain because in trying to express myself I was demeaned. Safety, is the privilege to be yourself. I don’t feel like I’ve been able to do that here.

I hope that with the many efforts around campus to improve diversity and inclusion that these feelings will have gone away. To some extent they have. What people need to realize is that it isn’t just what is said to your face that creates these feelings of marginalization, but it’s the seemingly positive comments, the microaggressions, the looks or stares, and even the ‘innocent’ questions. It’s the resentment and pain of not having agency to speak up or feeling like no one is listening to your experience that contributes to not feeling safe here.