The Oberlin Stories Project

On finding a personal space

Arianna Gil ’16

“Establishing meaningful relationships with supportive professors through hard work and dedication is the most important thing you can do as a new student.”

Arianna playing electric bass on stage

There is so much to say about Oberlin and my experience as a first year. During my first month of school, I dedicated myself to establishing a group of friends and having fun at every given possible moment. It was a very romantic time for me because all of the growing pains Oberlin and its community will challenge you with were yet to hit me. Coming from a multicultural but predominantly Latino neighborhood in New York, I knew that Oberlin was going to be different than “home,” and that difference felt OK for a while.

As I began to settle in however, the absence of cultural familiarity and family began to affect me. I was eating and living in Tank. As the only person there of Latino heritage, it began to feel uncomfortable in small ways, and then larger ways when I began to vocalize my discomfort. I found my way into the jazz community as a way to find solace from the white cultural hegemony of my co-op and living situation. Though I was not a conservatory student, I spent all of my waking hours in the conservatory, engaging in what seemed to be a strong community dedicated to art, diversity, and community. I thrived in that space and was supported by all the students in developing my skills as a double bassist. I eventually was given the opportunity to join the jazz double bass studio my second semester, and became virtually absorbed in the life of a “Jazzer.”

Simultaneous with joining the studio, I was urged to take Gina Perez’s class Latin@s in Comparative Perspective, in the Comparative American Studies (CAST) Program. In this class I developed an academic identity that was both dedicated to anti-capitalist politics and relevant to my positionality as an urban, mixed, Latina. I cried in Gina’s class and read each and every reading that was assigned (it is really possible!). I was thankful to have experienced a class so early on that engaged me in so many dimensions and helped inform what path I would choose at Oberlin. Though I originally thought I would study politics here, I am now double degree. The CAST and jazz departments’ support of my passion and identity worked strongly together to make Oberlin a learning experience that I wanted.

However, making space for oneself as a Latina is a never-ending process, and I continued to feel pushed out of spaces. The two professors who brought me into the world I live in at Oberlin (jazz and CAST) however, were the same people who during these moments of insecurity and crises stood by me and encouraged me. I speak from personal experience when I say that establishing meaningful relationships with supportive professors through hard work and dedication is the most important thing you can do as a new student. If you can manage that while also establishing a community of peers, you will be able to survive and grow here. I grew; I felt pain; I felt inadequate and sometimes unwelcomed. But when I found the resources and people who are dedicated to students, such as the Multicultural Resource Center, the Edmonia Lewis Center, and Third World Co-op, I knew that I was going to be able to do my thing here.