Chris Francois is a senior this fall at Manchester University, with a focus in peace studies and French.
“This is your last year. You can do this!”
Those were the words my aunt whispered to me softly, holding me in her embrace as I cried. I was getting ready to board my flight from LaGuardia International Airport, thereby leaving the comfort of New York, a city which made me feel closer to the Caribbean during the summer months.
My reason for crying? The crippling realization that I had to return to Indiana for another year.
This sentiment is not new. For the past two years, each return flight I have boarded has been an exercise in severe anxiety management, as I dreaded returning to a state that seemed overtly hostile toward people who look like me.
There have been a few positives from my experience living in Indiana: I've made lifelong friends, found my passion for social justice and enriched my soul with academic experiences I probably would not have gotten anywhere else. At the same time, returning to Indiana is always dreadful because of a single thought: “What ignorant comment will I have to deal with this time?”
I came to understand quickly that living in this state meant being asked questions such as: “Do airplanes land on trees in Haiti?” Remarks like this are a glaring reminder that, in many people's eyes, I don't belong in this community. These comments have also been made personal. On one occasion, as I spoke to my mother on the phone, our conversation was tainted by a stranger yelling at me to speak in English, because this is “America.” Being thousands of miles away from the Caribbean, the last thing I want to tell my parents is that I am depressed because I'm being mistreated by my peers.
I did not leave my country so I could be subjected to harassment, physical and verbal threats, property vandalism and assault. Such inquiries and comments, while they may not appear harmful to some on the outside, can be detrimental to someone's career and personal life.
People have been judged on the basis of their name, skin color, hair texture, accent, national origin, ethnicity and culture – all characteristics we cannot choose for ourselves.
Unfortunately, I am not the only person suffering the consequences of overt racism and xenophobia while living in Indiana. I had the opportunity to speak to alums of color from various Hoosier institutions over the summer, and almost all of their stories echoed mine: Our mental health was severely affected by our experiences navigating racism and other forms of discrimination while in college.
To other immigrants and people of color: You are worth it.
To those community members who interact with us: One small act of kindness will brighten our day.
I am now a senior in college and, sadly, I am contemplating never returning to Indiana after graduation.
Diversity is not a threat; it's what makes our communities stronger. As more people not feeling welcomed leave the state, I urge Hoosiers to be hospitable to every person they encounter. I will always cherish some of the experiences I've had in Indiana; however, as I embark on my last year of college, I've become doubtful that those experiences were worth the trauma I and many others have inflicted on us during our time in Hoosier communities.