My Appearance Places Me In A Wildly Inaccurate Box

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Courtesy of The Odyssey Online

My college counselor once told me “you are in the worst demographic possible.”  She looked at me as if I already knew. Blonde, white, upper-middle class and from the East Coast, I have been lucky to live a privileged life. I haven’t faced obstacles with safety or discrimination, and to be told that I, of all people was in the worst demographic possible, did not make sense.

I recognized others did not see me as I did when I placed at the top of my form’s “High Honor Roll.”  Classes had finished for the day, and hundreds of students bustled through the commons gawking at their cell phone screens for the anticipated Honor Roll e-mail. I ducked under a doorway and scrolled through names until IV Form appeared on the screen. My name sat under a bolded High Honor Roll and on top of two other peers. I had achieved the highest grade point average in my form.  As the commotion of who had and hadn’t made “the list” filled the quad, several students shouted across the grass “Alexis, I didn’t realize you were so smart!” or “I would have never guessed!” Dumbstruck, I did not know how to respond. Instead of returning a grateful “thank you,” I simply asked “why?”  “Well,” was a student’s response, “you just don’t look it.” I did not realize how much my various tangible characteristics would hinder strangers’ ability to see my intangible ones.  People saw me and thought dumb blonde. 

My school’s environment is one where many consider themselves infamously “too cool for school.”  At fifteen years old, I moved from a hyper-stimulating academic environment in the middle of an urban city to a conservative boarding school, where the world consisted of Manhattan and the Hamptons. As an individual who thrives off of challenges, I suddenly found myself in a place where physical appearances were more important than character. As my counselor expressed to me before delving into the complicated college process, it became evident that not just my peers, but the professional world, would see my blond hair and assign me to a box.

The color of my skin and style of my clothing does not tell you that my family fosters children, nor do these traits tell you that my sisters are Chilean and Haitian.  My hazel eyes do not tell you that I curl up with books about counterterrorism or the crisis of the American Dream.  My nose does not tell you that I lived abroad and earned a diploma in a foreign language in nine months.  My posture does not tell you that I worked as a zoo curator or that I served as a Disciplinary Committee member. My physical being does not tell you that I am ethically driven to succeed in all that I do, and I refuse to be put into a box.

-Alexis Sher