On Sharing a City with Donald Trump for a Semester
December 13, 2016
El Wilson ’18
I woke up this morning in a complete panic. This is no surprise to people who know me well. I spend all of my waking (and most of my sleeping) hours in a state of either anxiety or excitement. I wouldn't have it any other way. Without my anxiety, I find life to be horrendously boring and meaningless.
However, in recent weeks, these emotions have become more and more pronounced. Next semester, I will be studying "abroad" at Gallaudet University, a Deaf university in Washington, DC. It will be a fully immersive experience. I will be using American Sign Language (ASL) all day long. By the time the semester is over, I will hopefully be a competent (although certainly not balanced) bilingual.
There are a million things I'm excited about. Since many Deaf people have another disability, I'll get to interact with disabled people every day! I know this sounds insignificant, but I'm beyond thrilled. The aspect of Oberlin I find the most challenging is that I'm the only person who uses a wheelchair in the entire town. There's no one here who walks like me, talks like me, or even chews like me. Don't get me wrong. I have many amazing friends and am certainly not lonely, but I'm definitely alone. A few weeks ago, I passed by a man wheeling along beside a student, and I nearly shrieked with joy. My experience at Oberlin has taught me that I do not want to try to have a typical life. I want to spend my days absorbed in one disabled community or another. I'm very ready to start that process at Gallaudet next semester.
Yet, the main reason I decided to attend Gallaudet was not the disabled community but rather the language. I want to be bilingual. I've spent most of my college career learning ASL in one form or another, but I'm not even close to being fluent. Gallaudet will be a fully immersive experience. Most of the students are Deaf and all of my classes will be taught in ASL. I know it will be a huge challenge. The little time I've spent fully immersed in ASL has been mentally exhausting. The amount of brainpower that goes into just understanding someone's name when they fingerspell super quickly is unbelievable. By the end of the day, all I want to do is close my eyes and listen to a children's audiobook.
But it's so worth it. The experience of becoming bilingual has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It has doubled my confidence and made me feel like I've accomplished something tangible over the past two years. Immersion may be exhausting, but it is the best way to continue this process. It's how I've gotten the language engrained in my brain. Plus, meeting so many new people who know ASL will make it all even more worth it. The point of learning any new language is to be able to communicate with more people. After Gallaudet, I will have a whole new community of people to connect with.
Despite all of the many reasons to go to Gallaudet, I'm terrified. I'm terrified that I won't make any friends. I'm worried that my ASL skills are so subpar that I'll fail all of my classes due to language gaps. I have nightmares about spending an entire semester isolated in a dorm room. I fear that I will spend the first months of Trump's presidency three miles from the White House with no one to support me.
It is only after Trump was elected that I realized just how much support I have at Oberlin. As a queer disabled person, Trump terrifies me. He outright mocked a reporter with a disability on TV and has no regard for queer rights, especially trans rights. When the election results were announced, my dad called me. I had to hang up on him because I didn't want him to hear me cry. The day afterwards, Oberlin turned grey. It was as if Krislov had banned joy. Yet I felt loved. I was hugged everywhere I went. Someone brought paper and art supplies to Pyle (my food co-op), and my friend group there became completely solidified. I was able to go to the Multicultural Resource Center when I needed to talk. Even though my country turned against me, my college had not.
Ever since that day, I've been closer to my friends and professors here than I ever have. This is the only semester where I haven't been counting down the hours until I can go home. I will desperately miss the seniors who are graduating. I will miss the community in Pyle that pulled me through this semester even when I was barely dragging my feet. I will miss all of the amazing classes I took and the professors who taught them. For the first time ever, I will miss Oberlin.
But it's time to go. The snow is threatening to trap me once again. Besides, I have a whole language to learn, people to meet, and a new city to explore. Trump or no Trump, the point of being 20 years old is not to stay comfortable.