Seven seniors share stories in annual panel
Appreciative chuckles, awed silence and enthusiastic applause rippled through a packed Alumni Hall audience as seven members of the Class of 2014 discussed issues including identity, mental health and healing from childhood trauma at the annual Women of Dartmouth panel on Monday.

Ma’Ko Quah Jones ’14, Katelyn Walker ’14, Sarah Wang ’14, Celeste Winston ’14, E. E. ’14 and two other members of the Class of 2014 spoke at the event. Some panelists requested various degrees of anonymity in media coverage given the sensitive nature of their stories. Jones, a 32-year-old transfer student with three children, said she grew up in a home with alcoholic parents and a sexually abusive grandfather. Recounting numerous hardships, she stressed the importance of self-advocacy in combating social ills and personal difficulties. “The harshness of it is that nobody is going to advocate for you but you,” she said. “When I was 15 and finally decided to be honest about what I was experiencing with my grandfather, I put my grandfather in prison.” Jones said she had to undergo a long process of court testimony and police interviews that included intimate details of the abuse. She added that many survivors are subjected to “horrific” legal procedures causing them to doubt their own stories’ validity. “It was another way that the system victimizes victims, that they make you recount every detail, questioning you as if you what you’re saying isn’t true,” she said. Society’s expectations, she said, often force women to remain strong in the face of hardships, and she initially struggled with expressing her pain due to this pressure. Jones said she sees value in creating safe spaces that defer to survivors’ views and desires to make the healing process more “bearable.” “We should have a community that accommodates how survivors want to heal, not by someone else’s terms of what we should be feeling,” she said. Walker spoke about the dangers of labeling and judging others based on appearances. She said she hails from a “smart, strong and proud” ancestry of former slaves and that her family considers itself black even though it consists of multiple races and cultures. Walker expressed pride in her background, which she said provided her with an affinity for Southern dishes like chitterlings and music genres like hip-hop, along with an understanding of social norms that often differ from Dartmouth culture. She then cautioned the audience against making flash judgments about individuals according to their skin color and other components of their identities, adding that although neither of her parents graduated from college, her great-grandparents did. Walker said that even in high school, her guidance counselor regarded her acceptance into Dartmouth as a result of “affirmative action” policy, not her personal achievements. Winston discussed her experience with race at Dartmouth and her romantic relationship with another student. Dartmouth, she said, played a “pivotal” role in enhancing her understanding of both race and love. Winston, who grew up attending a historical black church and whose parents belonged to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that during her childhood, she regarded race to be about skin color, identity and culture. Upon her arrival at the College, however, she learned that race is tied to many more issues. Being at Dartmouth, Winston said, made her acutely aware of systems of oppression and instilled in her a strong desire to seek justice both during the “Freedom Budget” protests and in other venues. E. E. spoke about the importance of increasing awareness about the prevalence of mental health issues. She said her shy personality and students’ tendency to form insular groups made it difficult to form friendships and interact with others on campus. Starting from the end of last term, she said, she has suffered from anxiety, which manifests itself in an urgent fear of death. Though her anxiety has prompted her to contemplate suicide, support from family and friends has helped mitigate her symptoms. Recounting her experience of dealing with a friend’s struggle with an eating disorder and depression, she said that many people stigmatize mental health issues as a sign of failure and abnormality. She advocated for heightened awareness and normalization of these issues. One panelist began her story by calling the audience’s attention to the event’s title. She said that the possessive “of” in “Women of Dartmouth” conveys both a sense of belonging and a sense of “home.” As a Dutch citizen of Indian ancestry who attended international school in Singapore, she said she feels suspended among three identities. She never felt at home in Singapore because she always believed her stay there to be temporary, as her family had only moved there because of her father’s job, she said. Even in the Netherlands, however, she said she never felt as if she could lay an unqualified “claim” to the country because of her Indian ethnicity. She said that her experience of attending an American college has made her ponder whether she could call herself American. Hanover is now “the closest thing to home,” with friends and a room she can call her own, she said. Wang requested that her story be excluded from media coverage because she did not want it on the Internet. The seventh student, who declined to include her name or story in media coverage, did not provide an explanation for her choice. Olivia Evans ’14, an event organizer, said that some panelists spoke at the event under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive and personal nature of their stories.
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