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Senior Column | Collins ’22: Run your own race

Finding the words to adequately reflect on the beauty, triumph and at times difficulty of navigating this university is an exercise that is daunting yet necessary. It is my hope that my own personal narrative and understanding of my Brown experience will guide you, uplift you and empower you. But if I am to leave you with one thing that encapsulates my time at Brown, it would be to run your own race. 

As a first-year, I stepped into Brown unsure of what to expect. Sitting in Sayles during the Third World Transition Program, I had so many questions about how I would choose to spend my time on this campus and who I would be at the end of this four-year journey.

My entry into Brown was unprecedented for my family and coming from a public school where I sat in classes with a range of students — some whose families lived in homeless shelters and others in multimillion-dollar homes — I thought about my place in this world and what attending Brown was supposed to mean for my community back home and for myself. Whose legacy am I building? What is my relation to this community?

Like many students of color at Brown, I struggled with imposter syndrome and accepting the fact that I was meant to be here. Never before had I been around people who were so smart, at an institution with so many resources and in spaces that made me feel so different. Then, there was this larger looming question: What does it mean to be Black at Brown? While I spent my first year in classes that weren’t super exciting to me, but fit the typical mold of other first-years, I soon realized that my time here would never be satisfying if I was fulfilling the expectations and dreams of everyone but myself. 

There is no one way to be Black at Brown, excel at Brown, thrive at Brown.  

Yet I would soon learn that there is one way to find your purpose, find yourself and find a life that crowds out all of the pressure from everyone else around you — and that is to run your own race. 

By this, I mean not caring what others have to say about what you study, how you spend your time outside of the classroom or how you choose to be in community with others. It means disregarding those who question your pursuits. It means holding tight to the things you know you can accomplish and living the life you were destined for. 

It’s been a beautiful thing to watch people across varying communities at Brown pursue studies that differ from their parents' desires, or dress in ways they know they cannot back at home, or lean into the talents that they never knew about. Those are the people that I have seen grow increasingly fulfilled here at Brown; those are the people choosing to run their own race.

As we have come to navigate a world drastically different from when we entered Brown, it is ever more important that the inclination to compare and beat ourselves up for not achieving imaginary baseline goals is erased. 

When I finally came around to prioritizing my passions and genuine goals for myself, I found myself traveling across the deep South studying Black women in the Civil Rights Movement, co-founding an organization called Brown Votes (with Madison Mandell ’22.5) that would be awarded a $5,000 grant from President Christina Paxson P’19 and writing a thesis central to the issue that I want to dedicate my life to remedying — the hyper-criminalization of Black women and girls. 

When I decided to run my own race, things fell into place. I enjoyed my existence at this university because I was choosing the classes, communities and extracurriculars that made me feel whole. Putting this trust in myself made me genuinely love who I was becoming and whom I am destined to be. 

After years of sitting in classrooms and coffee shops next to some of the best performers, writers, coders and leaders I may ever get to know, it became evident to me that we will all lose so much of ourselves if our focus is solely outward instead of inward. While my self-criticism was grounded in real feelings of “otherness” that people of varying identities face, this critique took away from my self-discovery and realization that everything I was searching for was already within myself.  

What I would soon learn was that my truths bring their own assets to any room I enter. That if I would focus on running my own race, I would be unstoppable — and we can all be unstoppable.   

Yet even in moments when I have followed my heart and pursued opportunities that felt genuine and real to me, I did face many difficulties. I’ve had to fight against people who wanted to steal my intellectual labor, fight for my professors to be more cognizant about race in our coursework, fight for people to see the humanity of Black women and just fight for a more equitable Brown. It’s been exhausting, to say the least. But while these were some of the greatest challenges for me to overcome, I was still running in the trajectory of my passions. 

And in my corner have been my amazing parents echoing this same message. My dad repeatedly said to me, “Just be you.” 

This simple but powerful statement is a call to see the value in everything you bring to the spaces you enter, regardless of the circumstances around you. Living in your truth will help make everything clear. It will answer those questions of what legacy you’re building and what your position is in this community and many others. 

So, slowly those initial questions I started Brown with were answered. For me, to be Black at Brown, to be a part of a community built on legacy and love, is to run your own race. 

Brown has given us the tools and experiences to run in the direction of our dreams. Now it is time to trust that they work. So, get to the starting line of your lane, and begin your journey forward: unabashed, unapologetic and uniquely you.  

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Class of 2022, who will you be when you choose to run your own race?



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