Upon arriving in New Haven seven weeks ago, one of the only things of which I felt certain was the degree to which I was unsure about what my life in this new city would be. That Saturday morning, I awoke in the East Harlem apartment in which I had resided for the last decade. That evening, I lay down to sleep in a downtown New Haven apartment that I share with a woman I had only just met.
Uncertainty often engenders a certain defensiveness within me.
Consequently, when I first met the members of my class, I commenced a rather pessimistic internal monologue that revolved around my perception of my differences – my Blackness, my femaleness, my “nontraditional” professional background – and how they would impede my ability to trust the members of my class. Yet within very short order, I acquired a more nuanced appreciation for our differences and grew to trust my classmates in ways that I, until recently, had thought improbable.
Before arriving at this level of familiarity, my classmates and I first met one another with directions to prepare – in small groups – a presentation on the intersection of technology and social good. As soon as I entered my assigned study room, I experienced a moment of acute anxiety upon realizing I was the only Black person in the room. My reaction was not due to my teammates having made me feel less than. Instead, my reaction resulted from a lifetime of personal and vicarious experiences of how Black femininity is often perceived in professional milieus.
As we delved into the topic, I began to notice that some people seemed more inclined to silence while others appeared more given to interjection. Ideas were exchanged amicably; albeit rather tensely. We eventually settled on a topic and built a presentation around it — although I feel our creativity might have been hindered due to the prevailing of certain voices throughout the process.
During that same week, while attending an obstacle course with my entire class I was able to interact with my classmates in a less structured environment. Being able to observe them momentarily eschew formality as they struggled to climb net ropes or tumbled off balancing platforms encouraged me to become more cognizant of which aspects of myself I render public. While I was still not yet ready to engage as my genuine self with my classmates, I did begin to make room for the possibility that we could work together effectively as a team.
Much to my surprise, throughout the course of our first seven weeks at the School of Management, my classmates and I have frequently opted to have candid conversations regarding privilege and imbalanced power dynamics. These conversations have led to not only a greater understanding of what needs to improve but also, most importantly, how we can use our respective strengths to beget this change.
It can be daunting being the only person in the room that looks like you, but at Yale I have found a community of people among whom I can celebrate – rather than be fearful of – the ways in which I am different.
This blog post was written by Point Scholar Kylie Aquino Waddy
Kylie Aquino Waddy was born and grew up on the Southside of Chicago, but spent most summers of her childhood among the hills of Buckingham, Virginia. In 2001, she enrolled at Whitney Young Magnet High School; one of Chicago’s premier public secondary institutions. Kylie pursued studies in linguistics and pre-law at New York University and earned her B.A. in 2009. Three years later, Kylie earned her M.S.W. from the same institution.