The "Non-Traditional" Student

By Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez @priscadorcas

Post-Trump has me thinking a lot about why this particular election feels violent and why I feel so confused about my identity, my place in this world, and my voice. Trump’s presidency ran on an agenda that made white privilege into “white oppression,” meaning that instead of accepting that whiteness allows a certain amount of privilege Trump has given white people permission to feel oppressed. And despite the irony of that statement, it still managed to work. So lemme remind you that white privilege is real, and this applies to anyone who feels confused about the results of this election and who has imagined white oppression and felt validated by Trump’s win.

White privilege means thinking that their reality is the default of society. White privilege allows YTS to feel entitled to have an opinion about brown bodies and brown lives. White privilege means that because of the color of their skin, they are allowed to make assumptions about how people should live their lives according to their narrow view of the world.

I was a non-traditional student.

Graduate school was the first time I experienced someone thinking that being older than the “expected” age was shameful. I remember that feeling of someone else wanting me to feel shame.  Her name was Allyson, and on a regular ol’ day, someone asked me what I was planning to do once I graduated. I was 28 years old and about to finish my graduate degree, so before I could answer, she turned to me while laughing and said, “You’re so old, what are you still doing here?”

I am usually quick with the clapback because I am used to people thinking less of me. When you’re a woman, immigrant, and brown from a working poor context and Latina you get accustomed to defending yourself. I don’t hesitate to go head first into a confrontation and I am never one to back down from a fight – but she caught me during an off day. On that day, I was a shell of myself and Allyson came for my head, my heart, my knees, and my soul.  

I don’t remember saying anything, but stayed thinking; why should I be ashamed of my age and not proud of my accomplishments? Why should I worry about that detail when I am an immigrant getting a graduate degree from a prestigious institution? And then I remembered, white privilege.   

There are complicated realities in many of our lives that have led many of us led to the various places of non-default realities:

When I migrated to the U.S.A. with my family, I had just finished first grade. I was seven years old. I was supposed to start second grade and I thought that would be the case when I was matriculated in school in the U.S.A. I had attended public school in Nicaragua, which if you know anything about public school in many of our motherlands, they are not the hub of learning. The teachers are underpaid, and the students come from the streets and stumble into classrooms hungry and unable to learn and absorb material because they are coming from environments that are not worried about learning but about surviving.  

I went to school with kids I would later see begging in the streets. I went to school with kids who sniffed glue to curb their hunger pangs. I went to school. But what they should have called it was buildings of shame because to know children in your country are starving and to do nothing about it is shameful.   

So when I arrived in the U.S.A and started class in January, I was placed in first-grade class because I would be too far behind for second grade. I don’t remember being taught anything and it figures, I was a new immigrant who had started school in the middle of the year. The teachers knew what was coming; I was going to have to repeat the first grade.  

In the summer I turned 8 and I started first grade again in August 1993. I was behind the first-grade reading level, who were 6 maybe 7 years old. I had to stay after school every day and take specialized reading classes. I loved learning to read and it took me a while, but I did it at 8 years old.  So by the 5th grade, I was 12 years old. And by 8th grade, I was 15 years old. And by the time I graduated high school I was 19 years old.  

Going to college was no easy task when you do not know what FAFSA is and college applications feel like reading a foreign language. You take a bit to get your college package together and for your parents to give you the correct information for you to be admitted to college. By the time I graduated, on August of 2010, I was 25 years old. Then, feeling intimidated about the expense of taking the GRE, the expense of paying for an application, and the expense of moving to a new city: it took me a year to apply to graduate school. I had to save. But I got into a program, and I was 26 when I started my graduate degree, which is a 3.5-year program that I finished in four. When I graduated I was 28 turning 29 that summer.  

I say all this because graduating at 28 was a feat. Graduating at all was a feat. Getting into a grad program, into college, and finishing high school were all feats. White privilege & class privilege create and arbitrary age range for when we are “supposed” to complete high school, enter college, and become adults.   

Somewhere along the way, I became a non-traditional student, because I am a product of a racist world. We need to continue to critique the systems in place, instead of [pause to insert relevant connecting point] opting to shame the students who get caught in the life-sucking real, lived experiences of many students of color, maybe we are doing the right thing.

And so since Tuesday I keep thinking about the U.S.A’s president-elect and writing this all feels more pertinent and more important than before. His team has tried to normalize what he has said, but we must not swallow their lies. We know that white privilege means thinking that your reality is the default of society. We know that white privilege allows YTS to feel entitled to have an opinion about brown bodies and brown lives. We know that white privilege means that because the color of their skin society has allowed them to make assumptions about how people should live their lives according to their narrow view of the world.  


Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is a chonga Mujerista from Managua, Nicaragua currently living in Miami, FL. She recently graduated with her Masters from Vanderbilt University and is looking to take some much needed time off to refresh. She is also the founder of Latina Rebels, a blogger for HuffPo Latino Voices, and a columnist/editor at Chica Magazine. Her interests are within biopolitics as it relates to Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh around narratives of naturalization for women of color. Thus her work is around reclaiming and upholding embodied resistance, particularly within chonga and chola subcultures. Que viva la mujer!


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