No matter what university is taking advantage of you, there’s always a way to take advantage of it back.
By Rona K. Akbari
A month ago I received a bachelor’s degree from the PWI (Predominantly White Institution) of my heart, Florida State University. However, there were many roadblocks along the way including that time when more than $80 million was spent renovating my school’s football stadium instead of changing their racist use of a Native American mascot, and yet my wallet was still dry from the emotional labor I spent teaching people that “Muslim isn’t a language, it’s a religion.”
But this piece is about how adopting the entitlement of a cishet white dude got me – a Muslim-born woman of color – to places I never knew I could go.
My school didn’t have a spot for me, so I made one myself.
The university waitlisted, accepted and then revoked me. A combination of rigorous classes, non-stop testing and poor mental health led me to getting bad grades during my last semester of high school, resulting in my position being rescinded.
I gathered my courage and went to go speak to the director of admissions. I gave her a list of reasons why she should let me back in and miraculously, she offered me a deal – If I got A’s and B’s during the upcoming fall at a different college, I could transfer to this one in the spring. I thought I was a special case, but I have since learned that this kind of grace is given all the time to white dudes with bad GPAs and rich daddies.
Moral of the story: there is always room for you.
Scamming the athletics institution.
Most of my classes were at my school’s stadium, the home and shrine to our athletics program. I’d be lying if I said I never made myself a cup of coffee from the Keurig by the football coach’s office while no one was looking. The only reason I know about NFL Pro Day is because I went hard at an unattended banquet room full of half-eaten catering that was presumably for recruiters. I even scammed my way into a football game – I won’t tell you the details, but if you dress nice and exude importance (we’re talking sunglasses indoors, people), it is possible.
Scamming your PWI’s money
It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I really pushed myself to receive actual money from my PWI. My academic clock was ticking. I’m not going to assume everyone goes to school where there is literal valet parking on campus, but if you do there is definitely money out there with your name on it.
Also keep your eyes peeled at all times for scholarship opportunities, especially in your emails. That’s how I found a $1,000 scholarship for my major that none of my teachers or classmates told me about but I ended up receiving. My application boasted the confidence I didn’t necessarily have, but what I did do was explain how important it was for them to support marginalized voices in media like mine. Institutions love that shit!
Last fall, I really wanted to go to the women/non-binary writers conference BinderCon. I walked inside offices of college professors and administrators I had never met before to ask if they knew how I could attend. I was about to give up until I met a fellow WOC goddess who told me to email her why I wanted to go and she would see what she could do. So I made my case and received a travel grant to help me go to New York for BinderCon. I did the same when I wanted to go to Harvard for an arts program later that year.
When in doubt, ask around and don’t be afraid to put it frankly: “Money, please!”
Despite making fun of our school president at the satire publication I wrote for, I somehow served on his Diversity and Inclusion Council.
During my time as co-editor at college satire publication, The Eggplant FSU, we published many pieces about our former-GOP-senator-turned-school-president John Thrasher. One time we said he was giving out free pizza in his office, which people actually went to. Another headline read, “President Thrasher Sends Entire Student Body Email Asking Where to Find Weed.”
Despite this, I was somehow still asked to serve on the president’s Student Diversity and Inclusion Council. I thought about the possible conflict of interest but then remembered how Joan Rivers said to never turn down an opportunity.
In retrospect, Joan Rivers also spewed a lot of racist, homophobic and problematic rhetoric, so maybe it wasn’t the best idea to use her as the inspiration for serving on a board dedicated to inclusion, but I did it anyway and learned that our president was actually pretty cool sometimes and did real shit like condemning the Muslim Ban and supporting the movement to make our campus a sanctuary.
“Rona, this isn’t scamming, this is just minority excellence.”
Okay, you’re not wrong. I’d also like to end by saying that yes, I am a minority woman with working class parents, but I also grew up comfortably and went to great public schools – I acknowledge none of this “scamming” exists in a vacuum.
Everyone’s lived experiences are so different so I just hope that my message can inspire you in whatever situation you are in. Always remember: no matter what university is taking advantage of you, there’s always a way to take advantage of it back.
Author Bio: Rona K. Akbari is an Afghan-American writer, comedian and filmmaker. She is currently very available for hire and still processing that time she hugged Solange at the Guggenheim May 2017. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, if you know what’s good for you.
Featured Image: Jackson Myers, Creative Commons.