Worried about not fitting in at Soka? by Wula Dawson '05

This selection is from one of the earliest editions of The Pearl in Spring of 2002, a welcome letter to the second class. I didn’t want them to set foot on campus without knowing how eager we were to meet them. New countries would be represented, siblings would be added and we’d be growing. More people would be carrying the weight of what was expected of us. Looking at it now, I can say it truly is a welcome letter to all future SUA students and future young founders.

Link to original piece: Worried about not fitting in at Soka?

If you are worried that your passion for modern dance will make you stand out here at Soka , try again-we’ll introduce you to Emily. Have you felt your whole life that you were a black person in a Japanese person’s body? Well, meet the other Emily, your soul sister. Girl, she feels the same way! Think that your dread-locking hair will uniquely encompass your pioneering spirit? Sorry- that is so class of 2005. Many students are the sole representative of their nation, but you won’t be alone if you are from one of their nation, but you won’t be able if you are from one of those nations. Do you think you might enjoy drinking in your dorm room even though you are underage? Don’t worry. There will me many other students grumbling about the alcohol policy along with you. Although being twins is always fascinating – we already have some. Afraid you’ll have to leave campus to find another Mormon? Have no fear, Sam is here, and she’s really easy to talk to. Concerned that your political views will make you outcast? Meet Grace and Tim- they go about as far Left and Right as possible (I’ll let you figure out which one is which). Regardless of your strange interests, class background, physical ability, or your identity before you came to Soka, you will undoubtedly feel lonely at some point.

My biggest worries when I came here were that I was going to be the only openly gay student and that I was going to be older than everyone else. I had braced myself for being one of only two or three African American students. I thought it was just going to be me and the brown-skinned girl featured in all the materials we received.

Shortly after I arrived at SUA, one by one all my fears were checked off my list. First was the age thing. As I left LAX, the driver got a call to pick up another passenger heading to SUA. He pulled over and picked her up. She silently sat in the seat in the seat in front of me. I was giddy about meeting my first fellow student but, finally my excitement overcame my shyness and I said, “I am going to Soka too”. As the darkly lit van sped away we shared as much as we could as fast as we could. We quickly found that we were about same age. We were both leaving established and comfortable lives behind and we were open to the Soka experience. We were full of anticipation as the campus came into sight. Up on the hill, bright and lit up, it seemed like a fortress. After paying and tipping the driver we went to our separate dorms.

When I made it up to my room, my roommate was already there. I was exhausted. The event of my departure was full of tears and photos and unspoken feelings and it all caught up with me once I was alone with my thoughts. I realized that more than anything I wanted to rinse the residue of travelling from my skin, soak in a hot bath and crawl under my blankets. It was that I came to the disturbing realization that I didn’t have a towel, and even worse than that-I had no blankets or sheets! I was in a panic, fumbling around try to find substitutes. The idea of having to sleep on the bare plastic covering of my new mattress almost made me cry. My roommate was busy unpacking when I shared my dilemma with her. She reassured me that the Residential Life staff had sheets and blankets on loan downstairs. I made it through day one.

As I started moving around campus, I saw some black faces-more than I had imagined or hoped for. We didn’t all became instant friends, but Stacey who was closest to my age, connected with me right away. On the stairs near the cafeteria, with smiles beaming as bright as the sun above us, we introduced ourselves and showed each other out tattoos.

The gay thing took a couple weeks and was a little more complicated. One student wanted to meet other gay students. I had been clear about my sexuality on my application and was referred to him. A few of us- gay, straight, and bi (no out trans students yet) – nervously gathered for lunch. We were relieved to find each other- we all had the same question on our minds: how do I come out to my roommate? I told her the next day and she was wonderful. I was relieved that she was so calm and matter of fact about my love for both boys and girls. I made it over another hurdle and was feeling more myself.

Those were the superficial things that I thought would surely make me feel at home at SUA once checked off my list. Yet, there were numerous moments when, despite these connections, I still felt alone.

If you are worried that you are the only one, then your worst nightmare is true -you are. You are the only one at SUA with your personality, your unique gifts, and your specific history and origin. What is most important about you is nothing superficial, and perhaps even yet to be discovered. It is your job to cultivate your unique gifts and share with rest of us your vision. It is going to be difficult, perhaps harder than anything you have done before, but just don’t give up. And when you feel lonely, remember that you are not alone.