The Dickinsonian

Tune In to Rise Up

Justine Hayward ’18, Guest Writer

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“You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.” 

From Still I rise by Maya Angelou.

Once an acquaintance told me that if I had a starter pack it would be athleisure and earbuds in my ears sitting in the Underground. I am constantly listening to music for a multitude of reasons. Whether it’s to craft my radio show for the week or celebrate a beautiful afternoon or just to get through the day, music has been essential to how I have experienced and informs how I will reflect on my four years at Dickinson.

Like there has been celebratory moments in my Dickinson experience, there have also been substantial struggles I have endured as a woman of color navigating this unwelcoming and sometimes unsafe primarily white institution.  These sorrow songs are part of my Dickinson experience as much as the celebratory ones. After I was sexually assaulted, I played Nina Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on repeat to get through the night. And as I went through the subsequent retraumatizing Title IX investigation process, this song was essential to my healing. This is a major part of the playlist that is my Dickinson experience. As one of few people of color studying in an academic department with all-white professors, I often must create my own spaces in my two ears by playing music that embraces my blackness such as that of the Black Panther Soundtrack in between classes. The soundtrack from this film lives in stark contrast to my daily life as it includes a role model scientist of color and embraces multi-faceted aspects of intersections of black and female identities. Music gives me the power reaffirm that I am deserving of time and space in academic spaces where I am not welcomed.

Despite these moments that induced sorrow songs, there has been music that has been used to revel in the beauty of my experience here. When I worked on the final weeks of my research, I often left lab listening to songs of triumph as I was gathering data and supported by a research advisor who had steadfastly believed in my capacity as a future scientist. I would listen to the victorious lyrics to inspire me to spend those extra few minutes to improve the quality of my research. Socially, on campus through my radio show I have been able to find a way to express and take care of myself. The radio station and the community that it has provided me has given me a safe space where I can share my love of a diverse range musical genres and artists. I will miss the support I had from these areas of campus.

It may seem that since I intentionally keep my earbuds in my ears that I am not actively invested in my experience, but this is a protective mechanism. I listen to these songs to rebuild and strengthen myself as I live in the intersections of systemic sexism and racism every day. I have intentionally amassed a group of mentors that have inspired me, and these musicians have filled in where I have not had support from an institution that was not built for me and built on the backs of my ancestors.

I often think about my Dickinson experience as a soundtrack of artists that have helped be cope, rejoice, and grow. I have had a complex four years at Dickinson where I have been consistently oppressed yet four years later I have risen to the occasion to graduate. Music, like poetry, has helped me heal from the traumas I have endured and helped me gain an appreciation for the spaces and people who have supported me. There are only a few weeks left and I anticipate the mixture of struggle and successes I have become accustomed to, yet like my fellow marginalized Dickinsonians, I rise and plan to continue.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Tune In to Rise Up”

  1. Aleks on April 26th, 2018 11:25 am

    What a powerful piece! The author’s bravery and resilience shines through most of all. I find inspiration and maturity in the way she talks about her experiences and the great amount of care she has taken to build herself up. Reading a piece like this helps to build the understandings of how different identities on this campus have to navigate their time and the spaces interact with. Thank you for pushing readers to be empathetic and aware. You shall rise again and again! Keep on grooving and doing your thing!

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Tune In to Rise Up