To date, all my pieces for the Civic Nebraska Writers’ Group have been non-fiction essays with anecdotes plucked fresh from the current here and now. I feel less adept writing so journalistically about the past. I find it hard to revisit moments of trauma or growth without beating the reader over the head, leaving them with an overwhelming sense of Woe Is She.
For these reasons, I wrote a fictional short story based on an intense experience from long ago – a minority scholarship program for incoming college freshmen. Although the setting and references date back to the mid-aughts, they may hold new relevance now. I invite you to read this story and consider the reflection questions that follow.
– Astrid Munn
“I imagine you’re tired of people talking at you and I bet you’re still shy,” the bony man in the sun hat began. “So I’d like to get us moving this morning with a game called Tusker Monster.”
Beatriz examined the pale man as he spoke. She was but one honey-colored face in an audience of two dozen brown-, black-, and olive-skinned freshmen. She clocked him in at six-four, maybe six-five. She scanned the day’s agenda for a name. Lundquist. Maybe his family knew her father’s, back in olden times.
“So this pool noodle here is the ‘tusk,’ see, and whoever gets hit by the tusk has to latch onto whoever is holding it. You can hold hands, lock arms, or hold onto the pool noodle if you can reach it.”
No one said anything.
“And, well, what will happen is that a Tusker Monster will form. From all the people who latch on after getting hit.”
“The key is to remain a part of the Tusker Monster, even as it gets bigger and the chain of people starts to whip around the field.”
The African-American girls – all business majors – exchanged looks and tsked. Beatriz noticed Brock, a Filipino nursing major, nodding and smiling as though maybe he, too, wore floppy sun hats and facilitated icebreakers on the regular. His lone enthusiasm caught Sun Hat Man’s attention.
“OK, this guy’s with me! Here big guy, why don’t you take the ‘tusk’ first?”
And like that, the 2005 Diversity Tomorrow Scholars dispersed across an artificial turf. As they ran, steamy June air filled their lungs with pollen and exhaust. Beatriz, having arrived only two days before from the more arid West, felt as though she were walking through some invisible velvet; its viscosity muffling the group’s initial shrieks and hollers. In wiping away the sweat of just standing there, Beatriz stared at the day’s eyeshadow, now streaked across the back of her hand. It used to be periwinkle.
“GOTCHA!” someone cried. Beatriz felt a hard smack on her rear.
“Who do I hold onto? Is there room on the noodle?”
“Here,” a Korean fashion major offered, tightly interlacing his skinny fingers into her hand, which was stubby and childlike by comparison. “Hold on.”
Had she known there would be running, Beatriz would not have worn her Doc Marten sandals and head shop peasant skirt. Still, she was faring better than the Vietnamese girls – all pre-pharmacy majors – many of whom had worn stiletto heels for this, their first day of college. As Diversity Tomorrow Scholars, the group got to start college in the summer, before all the white freshmen arrived. So as to give them a head start on how college worked.
“We’re coming for you!” Brock yelled at Davíd, a Chicano theater major. Davíd jogged a few yards in his worn Chucks, feigning horror as the now-bloated Tusker Monster plodded toward him.
With a dozen students latched onto the noodle and each other, Brock struggled to maneuver the Tusker Monster in any one direction – or quickly – without 80-pound Vietnamese girls snapping off the Monster’s edges every time their Steve Maddens sank too far into the fake grass surface. It all reminded Beatriz of the powderpuff football game she played senior year – the one where Millicent Alonso’s butt famously popped out of her jeans – but even sadder and more dangerous.
“And hey, instead of chasing me, why aren’t you going after them?” Davíd asked. “They haven’t been hit once!”
The Tusker Monster paused and quieted to follow Davíd’s gaze. On the sideline near the goal were all of the African-American girls. Some watched the game with arms crossed; others played with their phones. Not far from them hovered Sun Hat Man, his figure akimbo and straining to discern the Monster’s next move.
Brock looked over his shoulder to address the glistening mass of swarthy arms and shining black hair behind him. “Okay gang. Let’s head over!”
Though the Tusker Monster lurched ever closer, the African-American girls stood resolute. The girl named April clutched her purse a little tighter as the Monster approached. It was a Dooney & Bourke styled to resemble a Louis Vuitton. Beatriz wondered what suburb April called home.
“Uh – we aren’t playing,” the girl named Tamara announced flatly.
The Tusker Monster immediately softened. Beatriz felt the fashion major’s fingers loosen from hers, so she unclasped her other hand from that of a Nigerian girl; a forensic science major.
“Why not?” Brock asked, using the newly freed noodle to gesture.
After a beat – a beat where the Tusker Monster’s 24 eyes stared at Tamara expectantly – she spoke again.
“It looks stupid,” she said. “It’s a stupid game. We don’t need this to meet each other.”
“IT’S NOT STUPID IF WE ALL DO IT,” the fashion major cried. “C’MON.”
A couple of whiny “yeahs” escaped the Monster’s mouths. Its arms – some mocha, some seal – beckoned the girls to join it on the field, where everyone else was still waiting for the game to resume.
Once more, the Monster unleashed its puppy-dog eyes. That’s when Sun Hat Man stepped in.
“Aaaaand time!” he announced. “Everybody hop a squat. Let’s debrief what just happened.”
“What ‘happened’?” Beatriz asked.
“As the head of outdoor recreation, I facilitate a LOT of Tusker Monster games in the course of a school year,” Sun Hat Man began. “But in all my time here, I’ve never seen a Tusker Monster do that.”
“Do what?” Brock asked. His previously bright disposition was now pained and confused. Beatriz wondered if he was a plant. She was confused as well, but she wasn’t going to show it.
“The Tusker Monster – that is, you guys – you stopped pursuing the object of the game,” Sun Hat Man explained. “Instead of tagging those who couldn’t escape, The Monster tried to include others.”
Beatriz heard a small “ohhh” escape Brock’s mouth. Sun Hat Man’s eyes scanned the group before gazing ahead.
“This has been a really special day. So thank you. You’re excused.”
So this was how Diversity Tomorrow Scholars worked. In an effort to better integrate students of color into the university’s unironically white fabric, the students were to attend English and math classes in the morning then work a part-time university job in the afternoon. Twice a week, they were required to gather at the Mosaic Center – an old church gutted and refurbished into a dance hall – to work on the diversity part of Diversity Tomorrow. This was Beatriz’s understanding, at least. A journalism major, she had applied, in large part, because her English teacher recommended it and she respected this teacher and the life she led as a small town, low-profile lesbian – a facet Beatriz did not fully discern until senior year, when it occurred to her to finally cross-reference the white pages and confirm that, yes, Ms. Engel and Miss Weaver had separate listings but nevertheless shared the same phone number and street address.
Now that she found herself in the dingy Mosaic Center, sitting in a ring of chairs that made everything feel like the support groups from Fight Club, Beatriz wondered how much Ms. Engle actually knew about Diversity Tomorrow. She twirled the drawstring of her gauchos until a short, stocky woman in a long Lycra dress and flowing black cardigan took the floor.
What is that undulating fish that creeps across the ocean floor, Beatriz asked herself. A ray? A skate? She had seen the ocean only a few times before.
“I am Acquanetta Jenkins,” the woman began. “And I am the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion at this university.” She paused. “I hope that by now – the third week – you have all gotten to know each other and have maybe started to bond a little.”
Beatriz looked up the church rafters and waited for the subject to change. By the third week, she had already hooked up with Davíd out of boredom and had since moved on to Claudio. Like Davíd, he was also a theater major but Puerto Rican; he openly missed his mother and the particular way she made rice. Beatriz had also taken up smoking by virtue of hanging out with Christopher, the fashion major who had gripped her hand so tightly during Tusker Monster. She eventually returned her gaze to the other faces. Based on how some of them were gawking at Christopher as he nonchalantly applied a dab of rose salve to his mouth, Beatriz sensed they did not spend their summers in theater, like she had.
“It is vitally important that you stick together once the fall semester begins,” Acquanetta continued. Not a hair of her gleaming high ponytail was out of place. On the contrary, it sooner resembled an LP – it was that stiff and flat. Beatriz wondered how Acquanetta looked at night or on vacation. Did she ever let her hair just be? Beatriz tried to imagine Acquanetta’s look on her own mother, but it was hard to picture Mamí without a wild puff of curls.
“It is quiet on campus now, but this fall it is going to get CROWDED,” Acquanetta explained. “Thousands of new students – white students – are going to descend onto campus, and many of them will be coming from very rural areas WHERE THERE ARE NO PEOPLE OF COLOR.”
Beatriz wondered where those places could be. Her arid West had many brown faces, but maybe it was different elsewhere. Maybe those places did not have Latino sheriffs and Japanese pharmacists. Perhaps the Indians in those towns kept their great-aunties on a mantle and not a bed down the hall. Could there be cow towns where life was not some tiny Brazil; where people’s complexions sooner matched their names and the white girls never got pregnant. This very rural area Acquanetta described – maybe it was a Lake Wobegone-y place where danger was a lobster on the loose or a football to the nose.
“But it can’t be Lake Wobegone,” she told herself. “Lake Wobegone’s not real, Beatriz.” A wry smile crept across her face.
Acquanetta cocked her head to catch Beatriz’s attention. Beatriz softened her face into a look of engagement and understanding.
“A LOT OF THEM WILL STARE AT YOU,” Acquanetta continued. “Some of them may try to touch your skin or your hair, MAYBE WITHOUT ASKING.”
Brock and Christopher both perked up and gasped, but Beatriz was unmoved. This is because she had the slightest puff to her hair and the slightest width to her freckled nose and lips. Slight, daily reminders that some of her ancestors arrived not as conquistadors but as slaves. Reminders that only Black people seemed to pick up on and ask about. Everyone else just regarded Beatriz as some delightful oddity to be poked and prodded. Growing up, Beatriz was accustomed to strangers grazing their hands over her hair and white boys turning the knife of teenage heartbreak a few degrees more with her than they had with Shannon Miller or Heather Kelly. Looking around the circle, it seemed everyone darker than a paper bag was similarly unmoved by Acquanetta’s words. Perhaps they, too, were presumed impermeable.
“SO WITH ALL THAT BEING SAID, we’re going to do a little exercise to help you practice CONNECTING and SUPPORTING each other,” Acquanetta explained. “I NEED ALL OF YOU to stand up, but STAY in your circle.”
Acquanetta introduced a ball into the circle. When they got the ball, each Diversity Tomorrow Scholar had to look around, identify whom they wanted to catch the ball and say that student’s name aloud while making eye contact. Only then could the ball be tossed across the circle. After a brief interval, Acquanetta would introduce another ball to the circle until there were a half-dozen balls making gentle arcs across the circle. Christopher, having never bothered to learn the names of either the Vietnamese or African-American girls, kept tossing the ball to Philippa, Davíd, and Claudio. After a few minutes of this, the Deputy Vice Dean of Diversity and Inclusion stuffed the balls into her tote bag and excused the students to dinner. As everyone made their way toward the dining hall, Beatriz, Christopher, Claudio, and Davíd naturally gravitated toward each other.
“How was that supposed to help?” Beatriz asked. “Do you guys feel any more connected or supported?”
“Ugh. She didn’t even do it right,” Claudio said.
“There’s a right way?” Davíd asked.
“It’s Improv 101 – I can’t believe she managed to mess it up!” Claudio explained. “My improv instructor back home would have me teach it to all the newbs.”
Davíd nodded at Claudio to continue.
“Well for starters, you’re not supposed to use ACTUAL balls.”
“Oh! Because it’s improv!” Christopher chimed in. “Everything is imagined!”
“Exactly. The first player begins with tossing, say, an imaginary volleyball. And instead of focusing on the catcher’s name, you focus on grabbing the catcher’s eyes. Then you say ‘volleyball’ or whatever, and then you both make sure the object moves believably.”
“Believable makebelieve,” Beatriz said.
“That does sound harder,” Davíd concluded.
“I don’t know why they’re so obsessed with us sticking together,” Christopher said, flinging open the dining hall door. “I mean, aren’t we already doing that on our own? Like, organically?”
“Yeah,” Beatriz said, “but in a prison kind of way.”
The other Scholars were already seated and eating. On their way to the salad bar, the four passed a table of Vietnamese girls with a lone Bosnian girl on one end, a table of African-American girls with a lone Korean girl on one end, and a table of African-American boys with two Vietnamese boys on one end. Beatriz studied the three boys standing in line with her. Unlike the other tables, she, Davíd, Claudio, and Christopher did not boil down as tidily as the others. Really, if there were any single criterion that defined their self-segregation, it was their unquestioning acceptance of Christopher.
After serving themselves, they sat down next to Philippa, the Nigerian forensic science major. She was sitting alone and steeping a cup of peppermint tea. She made the sign of the cross before finally touching her fish filet and steamed vegetables, which Beatriz suspected had grown cold by now.
“I heard you speaking Spanish on the phone today,” Philippa mentioned during the meal. “Where are you from?”
“Oh, my mom’s from Guatemala, but I was born here,” Beatriz explained.
“Have you met Olga?”
“The RA on our floor. I think she’s Guatemalan, too.”
“Oh that chick,” Beatriz sighed.
“What happened?” Davíd asked.
“She probably thought the Virgin Mary statuette in Beatriz’s room was santeria,” Claudio joked.
“No, no. I don’t need to know,” Philippa said, looking down at her food and shaking her head. “I don’t like gossip.”
“Well, it’s just that I don’t think she’s my kind of Guatemalan,” Beatriz explained.
“Oh?” Davíd asked. “And what kind is that?”
“You know, like my mom. The kind that drinks Coca-Cola and watches Star Wars. The kind that parties with Americans.”
“You don’t think Olga might like those things, too?” Philippa asked. “I mean, I like some of those things.”
“Yeah, well, her long braid and long denim skirts tell me Olga wouldn’t,” Beatriz replied. “Not like my mom, at least.”
After dinner and two hours of study hall, Beatriz followed the boys to their dorm. She passed their showers and for a fleeting moment saw the back of Thahn’s head. She was surprised to find that the Vietnamese boys – like the Vietnamese girls in her dorm – also showered at night instead of in the morning with everyone else. Was it a strategy for getting ahead? Beatriz – her body still acclimating to a world without cacti and yucca – awoke each morning sticky from the nighttime humidity; it was as though it never grew cold here, not even at night. She absolutely had to shower in the morning, even if it meant racing the other girls and then running late for English.
But before reaching Christopher’s room where Claudio and Davíd already were, Beatriz paused near the African-American boys, some of whom were leaned up against the jambs of their dorm room doors. They all seemed to be looking in her direction.
“What are you guys looking at?” Beatriz asked. “Is my panty line visible again?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Percy, a light-skinned pre-med major. “Besides, we don’t care about your panties anymore. You’re old news.”
“Is this because I farted in calculus?” Beatriz asked, feigning indignation.
“We all heard you during the test,” Percy continued.
“That was totally involuntary and part of a sneeze!” Beatriz cried. “This town has way too much pollen!”
“So you’re saying pollen makes you fart,” Thaddeus concluded. He was also a pre-med major, but darker and shorter than Percy.
The boys broke out in laughter. Beatriz realized she was a novelty because she was a lone, pretty girl discussing her gastrointestinal goings-on in a hall full of boys. Her ears started to feel hot, but rushing away was not the solution. She shook off whatever patron saint of shame had perched itself on her shoulder and kept smiling.
“Beatriz,” Percy began, looking at her over his glasses, “have you heard of Clayton Bigsby?”
“Clayton Bigsby. Clayton Bigsby. That name sounds so familiar,” Beatriz pondered. “Is he that mortgage guy we’re supposed to meet?”
The boys contained their glee while Beatriz genuinely tried to match the name to a face. Finally, in a voice that was both twangy and nasal, Thaddeus interrupted her train of thought.
“WHITE POWER!” he blurted, shaking an imaginary cane.
“Oh!” Beatriz beamed when it dawned on her. “From Chappelle’s Show! Yes, I remember Clayton Bigsby – the blind white supremacist who didn’t know he was Black!”
The group chuckled at how long it took Beatriz to connect those dots. Percy used this distraction to nod to Thaddeus.
“OK, now,” Percy commanded. Thaddeus made a beeline to the showers.
“Now what?” Beatriz asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Percy said, pushing his glasses back in place. “Besides, aren’t your thee-ay-turr friends waiting for you?”
“Yeah, but they’re just watching a DVD of just Kylie Minogue videos,” Beatriz explained. “I don’t think I’ve missed anything.”
“You better go check on them,” Percy advised with the tone of a concerned mother. “Before they do the Loco-motion.”
“ON EACH OTHER,” another boy added. He looked around for approval and got nothing.
Beatriz, still unsure as to why those boys wanted her to leave so suddenly, continued on to Christopher’s room. When she opened the heavy oak door, she found him on the bed, his smooth legs bicycling in the air to the beats of Gorillaz blasting from tinny MacBook speakers. It was unclear who the intended audience was because sitting on the other bed was Claudio, texting someone that was probably his mother; and Davíd, his nose in a CD booklet.
“Did you guys already burn through all those Kylie Minogue videos?” Beatriz asked.
“No,” Davíd answered softly. “We were waiting for you.”
“You guys! I don’t even like Kylie Minogue that much! She’s your guys’ thing, not mine!”
“Oh that’s right,” Claudio began. “Your thing is Czech guys with track jackets.”
“What? Have you been spying on me at lunch?” Beatriz cried, again feigning indignancy. “Stalker. Just play the DVD already.”
The following afternoon, the Diversity Tomorrow Scholars piled onto a campus bus and went to a pristinely manicured business park on the far eastern edge of town where all the newer-looking hospitals seemed to be. They were dropped off at one of the many gleaming glass buildings and guided toward one of its suites. On the door, it read “Arthur Davens, Inc.” Inside, the most handsome man beckoned the disoriented students to come take a seat in a commons area overlooking a small pond with a fountain in the middle.
“Oh, good. They’re aerating the pond,” Beatriz pointed out to Christopher. “For the fish.”
“Look at you, Ms. Future Farmers of America!” Christopher retorted. As they settled into their seats, a stout blonde in a burgundy suit approached them from seemingly nowhere and leaned in.
“Nice guess, but there’s no fish!” she chortled. Her suit jiggled as she spoke. “Just a lot of duck poop!”
Beatriz, alarmed that someone had paid attention to their patter, just looked at the woman and raised her eyebrows without smiling.
“It’s like she was WAITING for someone to ask about the pond,” Christopher whispered after the woman walked away.
“Professor Cruz did say white people here would get a lot of mileage out of correcting us,” Beatriz said.
“IN THE CLASSROOM, BEATRIZ! NOT DURING SOME PSEUDO TIMESHARE PRESENTATION OR WHATEVER THIS IS!”
The most handsome man looked over but said nothing. He was still welcoming everyone. Philippa shushed them.
“This is very important,” Philippa began. “To some people. I’m sure.” She strained to suppress a grin. “Be polite.”
Christopher and Beatriz straightened themselves and the most handsome man took the floor. He was so tall yet well proportioned, Beatriz assumed he had played basketball for the university or something.
“I’m Galton Painter, and I’m a mortgage loan officer here at Arthur Davens Inc.,” he began. “But before I made it here, I was a student of color at the university just like you.”
Beatriz started to zone out as he rattled off his credentials. The late night of Kiley Minogue videos – paired with the whole Gestalt of Galton – eventually caused her eyes to droop. With each microsleep, Beatriz awoke to a new topic.
At first, her takeaways started with “the financial industry offers many opportunities for advancement,” but eventually the snippets she captured were just Galton’s animated asides. Between syrupy dreams of calculus functions and Robbie Williams, Beatriz caught the better part of “you DEFINITELY need dress socks … on Sundays, I wear my doo-rag, too, JUST NOT OUTSIDE … I can FEEL my neighbors watching me … my BAND … the BASS.”
Christopher walked his fingers down her thigh like a spider.
“C’mon. It’s over.”
“Oh my God that was the most refreshing nap,” Beatriz whispered. “I feel so guilty now. Did anyone see me?”
“I don’t think you were the only one,” Christopher whispered back. Everyone stretched and yawned as they got out of their chairs and back onto the bus.
“Surely someone got something out of that,” Beatriz said. She leaned over toward Tamara, who was sitting ahead of her, playing Snake on her phone. “Tamara – you’re a business major. What did you make of Galton?”
Tamara looked up from her phone and out the bus window before answering.
“It’s cool that he was on the cheer squad and the student government and modeled while he was in school,” Tamara said. “But his idea of success is not my idea of success.”
“What do you mean?” Christopher asked. Beatriz was secretly surprised that, for once, Christopher seemed genuinely interested in what one of the African-American girls had to say.
“Well, I don’t want to sound too judge-y, but he seems like the kind of guy who cares about having a title and having the right house and the right watch and all that good stuff,” Tamara explained. “And that’s fine. It’s fine to want those things. But I’m more interested in entrepreneurship than in climbing a ladder. It’s not as glamorous and it’s way more risky, but that’s what I’m here for.”
“So he’s a conformist,” Beatriz offered.
“Yeah!” Christopher chimed in.
“Noooo,” Tamara chided. “He might be good to know.”
When the bus neared the dining hall, Beatriz noticed two figures waiting for them. It was Marquis Garfield – one of the directors of Diversity Tomorrow – and Olga, the RA, clutching a clipboard and frowning as usual. With his arms crossed, Marquis waited for the students to disembark, at which point he steered everyone to the TV room in the dining hall basement.
“They seem upset,” Philippa whispered. “What did you do this time, Beatriz?”
“Hey,” Beatriz countered. “I’ve been good, I think. Nothing that would warrant a group meeting at dinnertime.”
With everyone curled onto a sofa or beanbag chair, Marquis and Olga took the floor.
“Guys, if I can get your attention,” Marquis started. “It is my understanding from your RA Olga here that our group may have been the target of a hate crime.”
The scholars, still logy from their hour with Galton Painter, stared back at Marquis with mild confusion.
After a beat, Christopher opened his mouth.
“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”
“Olga tells me that when she was doing rounds this morning, she found a pile of white sheets outside the boys’ dorm rooms with the words ‘WHITE POWER’ written on the dry erase board of one of the doors.”
Another beat passed. Then Beatriz heard sighs of exasperation and a chorus of “oh my God” and “are you serious” behind her. From her cozy spot on a sofa, Beatriz craned her to find the African-American and Vietnamese boys shaking their heads and looking aghast.
“Do you boys know something about this?” Marquis asked.
“That wasn’t a hate crime,” Percy said.
“What was that, son?” Marquis asked, more pointedly now. Beatriz could not tell whether Marquis was mad.
“A hate crime,” Percy repeated, projecting now. “It wasn’t that. We can explain. Thahn?”
“Uh, yeah,” Thahn began, his rarely-heard voice resonating from a wiry frame. Even though his voice was very low, Beatriz had noticed during class discussions that Thahn’s sentences always sounded like questions, which Beatriz found very feminine. Growing up, directors had chided her out of the habit – they called it “upspeak” – and now her ears perked whenever someone did it.
“Last night, when Dinh and I were taking showers? One of the guys took our towels and clothes? Like, as like a prank?” Thanh explained. “So we had to use the shower curtains. So we wouldn’t be naked? Like, going back to our rooms? And then I guess we just left the curtains in the hallway. Sorry?”
“Oh!” Beatriz exclaimed, looking at Thaddeus. “So THAT’S what you guys were doing when I walked by!”
“Shut up, Beatriz!” Thaddeus muttered between clenched teeth.
Marquis and Olga started whispering. Olga’s eyes darted back and forth, at one point locking with Beatriz’s. Beatriz shot her the same look she had given the duck poop lady at Arthur Davens. It caused Olga to look away. One person’s stomach audibly growled as Olga prepared to speak.
“OK, that explains the sheets,” Olga said. “But still, someone came by and wrote ‘white power’ on one of your doors.”
The boys restarted their chorus of “oh my God” and “are you serious.” Tamara rolled her eyes and crawled from her beanbag chair to standing. Beatriz clocked her at five-eight, five-nine. An inch or two taller than herself and at least a head taller than Olga.
“IT’S FROM A SHOW,” Tamara declared, finally grabbing Olga’s attention.
“I don’t follow,” Olga stammered.
“Chappelle’s Show? It’s, like, the biggest show on TV. The guys are always quoting it,” Tamara explained. Olga stared intently at Tamara, her dark eyes urging Tamara to keep talking. “There’s a character on it …”
“Clayton Bigsby!” Beatriz exclaimed, excited to contribute.
“Right,” Tamara continued. “Clayton Bigsby. He’s Black but he’s blind and thinks he’s white, and his main line is –”
“WHITE POWER!” Thaddeus interjected, doing the voice. Everyone giggled, except Olga. Marquis pursed his lips to suppress a chuckle.
“Exactly,” Tamara concluded. She curled back into the beanbag chair and waited for the giggles to die down. “Nobody’s coming into our dorms, writing hateful things. It’s just a quote from a show.”
“And some shower curtains,” Thanh added.
Olga stood there, processing it all. Her ears were noticeably pinker now.
“SO CAN WE GO NOW?” Christopher pleaded. “I NEED A SMOKE.”
Marquis nodded solemnly. Everyone was quick to get up and head upstairs; the dining hall was about to close.
On her way toward the stairs, Beatriz muttered “what a square” within earshot of Olga.
“MORE LIKE WHAT A LITTLE BUSYBODY,” Christopher belted. “THIS COULD HAVE BEEN SOLVED THROUGH A TETE-A-TETE, NOT A MASS INTERROGATION. GAWD. AND THAT LITTLE CLIPBOARD. HUGGING IT THE ENTIRE TIME LIKE SOME SECURITY BLANKET. JESUS.”
“Is there even any food left?” Beatriz asked when they reached the dining hall.
“Cereal,” Percy answered, surveying the food counters closing up.
Because most of the tables had been wiped down for the night, the Diversity Tomorrow Scholars were relegated to a lone, long table at the end of the hall. They had never dined together-together until now. Beatriz squeezed in next to Philippa. Christopher, unable to get a seat next to Beatriz, signed and grabbed a seat closer to Claudio and Davíd.
“Well, THAT was interesting,” Beatriz started.
“I thought it was good,” Philippa said.
“Good?!” Beatriz exclaimed. With her spoon, she motioned at the scene around them. Bewildered, exhausted, and starving, with only bowls of Golden Grahams and Corn Chex before them, the students were an unwitting portrait of something that felt simultaneously Rockwellian yet Soviet.
“Yeah. It was like the Tusker Monster or the ball toss game, but real life,” Philippa explained. “We had to stick together and we relied on each other.”
“Okay, yeah, I see what you’re saying,” Beatriz thought aloud. “But those games were to help us defend ourselves against white people, not the Guatemalan RA in charge of our floors.”
Philippa paused before bringing the last spoonful of Apple Jacks to her mouth.
“Perhaps. But still. It was practice.”
The din of vacuum cleaners and dishwashing was making Beatriz anxious, so she got up and bused her tray. On her way out, Beatriz spotted Olga at a booth by herself, spooning the last berries from her Cap’n Crunch. Despite the evening’s kerfuffle, not a strand of Olga’s blue-black hair was out of place. Really, nothing was out of place – not her wristwatch, her Sketchers, or her face. A world apart from Beatriz’s smudged mascara, ever-slipping bra straps, and pants that read “Hollister” across the rear.
As she left the air-conditioned hall, Beatriz caught a glimpse of herself in the pane glass doors. What big eyes and hair she had. Feeling the damp evening warmth envelope her chilled limbs, she wondered if she could ever iron herself into an Acquanetta or a Galton or an Olga. Would the world ever ask her to? Surely not.
1. What do you make of the university’s approach to promoting diversity? In what ways was it potentially harmful?
2. What do the students signal about BIPOC experiences in higher education? In what ways are those experiences similar to or different from the white experience?
3. In what ways do the students ultimately resist the university’s messaging?
4. How does the university’s idea of diversity compare to the way diversity is generally understood in 2021?
5. In what ways do our institutions remain well-intentioned but potentially harmful like the university in this story?