Coming back to my hometown, after four years of being away, has allowed me to dissect the cultural climate in which I grew up with fresh, new eyes.

I recently accompanied a friend to her local community college. It was Day One of Fall semester, and the entire campus was back in busy motion. Bright-eyed students, donned in their best back-to-school attire, bustled about to find the right classrooms. As a guest, I wandered about and reveled in the exuberance that only college campuses are capable of emitting. I eventually found a bench to sit on and began my daily reading ritual. As I began, I briefly took notice of a bespectacled Latino student standing nervously beside a closed classroom door, as if he were waiting for someone to come out. He stood there for over twenty minutes, but I didn’t mind him and continued my reading until he sheepishly shuffled over to me and said, “Hi, do you know if I’ll dropped for not showing up to the first day of a class?” I told him that showing up on the first day of classes is crucial, because instructors often give the spots of absent students to those on the waitlist. He told me that he was registered and really wanted the class, but confessed that he had gotten lost. He had been standing outside because he was late and didn’t know what to do. I urged him to just go in and explain his situation to the teacher. His response was, “But I’m too embarrassed….” I convinced him to go in, but his words kept reverberating in my thoughts: “I’m too embarrassed.

In those words, I heard my own voice — my younger, naive voice. I recalled all the times when I didn’t know how to advocate for myself. I had a skewed conception of professors, seeing them as daunting authority figures, hardened and dismissive of their students’ plight. I felt like it was somehow honorable to put myself down and humbly hide in the periphery. I also believed that I was undeserving of being granted favors, because I didn’t want my teachers to think of me as a mooch. I can’t count all the times I had to swallow an unfair fate because I lacked the savvy to ask for help. Injustice imbues bitterness, and I remember believing with resentment that my last university was “riddled with bureaucracy.” Since then, I have realized that professors are just people, and they tend to be some of the most rational and understanding people out there. Most teachers feel compelled to help their students, but they can be extremely busy. They can’t be aware of every student’s predicament, so if a student doesn’t speak up, her needs can go unnoticed. But for me, that lesson from ‘the hidden curriculum’ had to be slowly and painfully learned.