HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Talitha” is a pseudonym.
I came to Patrick Henry College as a girl with big dreams and a go-getter attitude. Maybe my dreams were too big, but I was prepared to work hard to get where I wanted to be. After surviving a life of poverty, I realized that nothing comes free in life. During my high school years, I never knew if I was going to have food on the table the next day. My experiences with being low-income motivated me to do well in life — both for me as well as for the people I loved and left behind to attend school.
It was ironic, then, when I stepped on campus and people automatically labeled me: “Oh… that rich girl.”
At first I was flattered that people thought my thrift-store business casual wardrobe was akin to designer fashion. But I soon realized it wasn’t about my clothes at all. Sure, they judged me by the color of my hair and the fact that I wore high heels. But eventually it became clear it was more about my attitude than anything. I was too assertive. I raised my hand in class when I had something to say. I ran for student senate. I actually talked during senate meetings. I attended all sorts of club meetings. I helped run several clubs, in fact.
I did these things because, for me, this was a second chance at life. I had an opportunity to be a part of something regardless of my financial status. Through good grades and test scores, a crap ton of volunteer hours, and demonstrated dedication to several part-time jobs, I was able to attend PHC alongside the sons and daughters of millionaires. I was thrilled to get the educational opportunity of those in the top bracket. I dove in head first, because I was so grateful to be a part of the campus community. I wanted to make the most of my time there.
But apparently, people (especially boys) didn’t like that.
Be involved in the community, but not too involved, otherwise by default you’ll be smeared by people envious of your success.
Something PHC people don’t realize is that the moment you say something bad about someone behind their back, it’s as if you’ve said it to that person’s face. The gossip travels so quickly that it’s bound to get back to the person you smeared. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “hey, guess what so-and-so said about you?” and “oh, you wouldn’t believe how she talked about you.” “Guess what he said about you during coffee??” I lived with the rumors every day, and I was called atrocious things by people who said they were my friends. They thought I didn’t know, but the echo of the rumor mill ensured that I heard the same things they did.
I was called vain, a flirt, a suck up, a fake, a slut, bulimic, insecure, too ambitious, and disingenuous.
There finally came a point where I couldn’t believe they were “just rumors.” Something about them had to be true, right? Even though sometimes — when I walked into a room — I could see people look at me and start to whisper, I just tried to push on. Success never comes easy.
I couldn’t keep my head up, though. Despite all my efforts. I began living constantly terrified of what people thought of me. Without realizing it, I allowed the rumors to isolate me. People didn’t understand me, because I didn’t let a lot of people in. Although I looked okay, I had a wall up — and instead of getting to know me, people were quick to make accusations and judgments.
The next year wasn’t much better.
Because my professors recognized that I yearned for more responsibility, and gave it to me. I was put in charge of numerous projects and clubs, but with that, a level of authority my peers were unwilling to accept. I had “Christian” classmates calling me a “bitch” because they didn’t want me in a position over them. I had close friends call me “unapproachable”, one going so far as to personally smear me to professors so they could get the position they wanted. It was unbelievable, and I was deeply wounded.
I struggled severely with depression the entire year. But my classmates were too busy resenting my work-ethic that they didn’t notice.
Everything I did, someone questioned my motives, or called me a name. It got to the point that I could barely ask a question in class, without someone rolling their eyes at me or looking at me strangely. Every day, I wanted to crawl in a hole, and disappear. No one came to me to ask if the rumors were true. I felt completely isolated and alone.
RAs, tasked with enforcing dress-code, seemed to take a special liking to me. I would get dress coded at least once a day, and I lived in fear of “sending the wrong message” that I was a rebel. I wanted acceptance, but I began realizing that it would never happen at this place.
There comes a time when success in school isn’t enough to get you through the day. It’s not worth losing friendships over. It’s not worth the pain of people’s jealousy. At the point where I spent three days in bed, not getting up to eat or do anything, I realized I was done trying.
Congratulations, PHC, you broke my spirit.
The girl who was once confident, secure in herself, and goal-oriented is now confused, shaken up, and alone. She feels like the world is against her, simply because she wanted to make something of herself and make the world a better place for those who come from similar backgrounds of poverty and abuse.
On a campus that encourages excellence, I am, to this day, shocked at the hate people get when they succeed. The name calling is like they’re still in high school.
To the students of PHC: You, and your small comments and judgments, could be pushing someone deeper into depression every day. The person you see as an object of gossip also has feelings. The person who looks successful is actually torn apart inside because of your mean words.
I guess I was an easy one to pick on, but I hope no one else has to go through this. As I return to PHC this fall, I’m still wrestling with isolation and depression. I have panic attacks thinking about returning and I worry about what dramas await when I walk through the doors into my first class of the year. I will not be participating in the clubs, events, and senate that I have in years past. I’m withdrawing, but not altogether. I am crushed, but I’m not a quitter.
I need a semester to heal.