Once upon a freshman year there was a pair of roommates. Opposites, if you want to be so cliché — one black, one white, one open, one closed, one dedicated, one lost, one weary, one enthusiastic, both naïve. Their differences are irrelevant; this is a story about their similarities, and their strange and unexpected mutual growth in the wake of the Mizzou tragedy.
When we met on September 16th, the first day of freshman year, all I could see was her blackness. Growing up in the little big bubble of Honolulu Hawaii, race is rarely spoken about. While culture dominates identity and conversation, I had no education or desire to be educated about the frightening realities of 2015 racism. I was content to live my life walking quietly between Goodwill and the art museum; things were considerably less scary that way. But then I came to Stanford, and I suddenly couldn’t ignore issues I never knew existed, problems I thought had been solved decades ago.
My roommate, on the other hand, grew up in a very diverse neighborhood in Georgia, and so never felt separated from the majority, but rather a part of one of many minorities that made up the majority. She hadn’t been involved in activism in any form (other than hashtagging), afraid of aligning herself with a potentially polarizing ideology and choosing instead to fully focus on her academics, planning to major in Chemical Engineering. Then Mizzou happened. My roommate and I were forced out of the comfortably blind coexistence we had created and thrust into a world of deep complexity and truth.
I first encountered Mizzou while brushing my teeth and skimming over New York Times headlines. This manifestation of the undercurrents of race-based hatred prompted me to spit out my toothpaste, close my door and journal furiously. I began to research the police brutality of the last few years, forcing myself into a conversation I didn’t realize was taking place. I found myself wondering about how we seem to live in the most physically, emotionally and mentally connected time in human history, and yet generalized hatred still exists. Aren’t we only a Google search away from textually understanding every element in our lives? Hasn’t one of the difficulties of human acceptance been that we couldn’t access the opinions of others, couldn’t educate ourselves fully about issues and couldn’t form our own opinions based on this education? Shouldn’t our acceptance of diversity then be refined and educated, formed by these technological means of connectivity?
When she came home from the Speak Out event at Ujamaa on Thursday night, cheeks flushed, talking a mile a minute, I saw another side of my roommate. She was wicked articulate, referencing university policy and lamenting the lack of black professors at Stanford. In our heavily postered room she spoke about the personal experiences of black Stanford students whose siblings had been harassed and arrested by the police for things as innocuous as running with a box of pizza. I couldn’t even picture these experiences — they were so far from the reality I had grown up in, and the way I thought the world was structured.
Apart from her observations that “chemistry is all around us,” I had never seen my roommate so passionate about anything. It felt like the both of us were seeing new possibilities for ourselves. Mizzou convinced my roommate to pursue a different sort of activism, not just through personal success in her field, but also by maintaining awareness in herself and others. Mizzou enabled me to understand that problems of race haven’t been resolved, and that by participating in dialogues and debates trying to understand why things are the way they are, I can be the most engaged Hannah possible. Over the course of eight weeks both of us have cried, and laughed, and succeeded, and failed. We have begun the process of change that is as much a part of college as the degree. The events at The University of Missouri pushed both my roommate and I to question to we were before coming to Stanford, and to reevaluate how we want to be not only while in this community, but also beyond it.
Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.