10-Year-Old Commits Suicide on Mother's Day
If my cousin still had a voice I wonder what he would say. If he had the opportunity to tell his story, I wonder who would listen. He would be 21 this month and maybe a junior or senior in college. If he were taking a social psychology class at UMass Boston and had to write an autobiography, I wonder if he would talk about what it felt like to be physically and emotionally abused or sexually violated as a child. I wonder if he would talk about the inherent challenges of growing up in a poor community with limited access to healthcare, transportation, food, jobs, stability, supervision and education. I wonder if he would identify as marginalized. I wonder what his vision would be for his own future and what he would ‘want to be when he grows up.’ I wonder about his self-esteem, his identity, quirks, concerns, talents … but mostly I wonder about his voice.
His body was lifeless and stiff, naked, hanging from his bunk bed and discovered by his brother. His autopsy revealed dangerously high toxicology levels for various medications. His inner thighs were covered with streaks of red and blue marker. He had scars from cutting and injuring himself. His Moby Dick book was left open on the page where captain Ahab gets tangled in rope during a storm, then washes away with the sea. His possessions were organized, he gave things away that were important to him, he drew a picture of himself hanging and his last words to the world were written on a computer screen saver, simply stating: “Children are not meant to be ignored.” We were ready to listen the moment he had nothing more to say. He was a child who felt so invisible, ignored and oppressed that he actively ended his life. He lost his voice and can’t tell his story. When people lose their voice who will tell their story?
I knew at a young age that I would devote my life to service. My heart remains with advocating and improving the quality of the life for abused, oppressed, marginalized and neglected youth, whose voices too often are not heard and who’s stories wait to be told. I came back to school to get better at doing that.
Last year at this time I stood before two roads diverging and needed to make a decision; return home to my family in Michigan or stay solo in Boston. Either way, my next bold step was in the direction of completing my undergrad degree as a non-traditional student. I filled my tank, grabbed dog and guitar and watched Massachusetts fade in rear view mirror. My transient heart grew warm with the anticipation of returning home, reconnecting with my broken family and going back to school. My first college experience, fresh out of high school, shattered eight years ago just shy of graduating. If I was gonna reopen that wound chin-up, I knew I’d either need my family nearby or a special community to see me through. This was not a decision to be made without heavily weighing the outcomes and considering their benefits and ramifications.
I intended to reroot myself but instead, left Michigan with tattoo in absence of diploma. I marked the milestone with a ship sailing toward my heart. My mother’s handwriting decorates part of my tattoo and reads “homeward bound.” I abandoned Michigan opportunity for something I believed would be better; UMass Boston’s College of Public and Community Service.
In my application for admissions essay I describe my cousin as an individual who has had a profound impact on my life and the way I view and interact with the world, and how this impact translates into working with communities. As a prospective student I spent a great deal of time talking with admissions about my fears, hopes and plans for returning to school to finish my degree. I was very clear about my expectations. I rearranged my life to become a student at CPCS. At no point in any of these exchanges was I informed that majors, minors and or concentrations were no longer being offered; that the number of and diversity amongst faculty and staff had been halved; excessive class cancellations were common; core curriculum writing, tutorial, and portfolio workshops, preparation and resources had disintegrated; that declining enrollment had become an alarming trend; and most importantly, most essential to ME, that the cultural and community essence that embodied CPCS’ spirit was so deeply divided, damaged, depressing, hostile and distressing. I hold the entire UMass system accountable for the gross negligence with which it continued to fraudulently accept students into a substandard learning environment. The University has a responsibility, if not a moral obligation to be certain that prospective and current students remain properly and accurately informed. The college experience that was marketed to me will not be the college experience I’ll spend half my life paying off. Which, by the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the way the college’s core curriculum is set up and the mission statement on which it prides and markets itself, this will remain abstract, misunderstood and possibly considered whining.
The night before classes started I picked out my first-day-of-school outfit and was too excited to sleep. I didn’t know exactly which classes I’d be taking because so many had been canceled, but I was thrilled nonetheless. On January 28, I attended my first class. Immediately after a classmate pulled me aside and asked if I was aware of “the political stuff happening at the college.” She went on to say that she was shocked the college was still accepting new students. Since that day I have spent an insatiable amount of energy educating myself, researching, talking to students, staff, faculty and administrators campus-wide. I have spent hundreds of dollars on ink and paper printing out former Faculty Council and Board of Trustees meeting minutes, strategic planning information, memos, media coverage, NEASC (New England Association for Schools and Colleges) reviews, Aquad reviews, University self-studies, Codes of Conduct, rules and regulations, hierarchy charts, budget and finance documents, Massachusetts General Laws, Department of Education standards, University Governance and Board of Trustees policies, statistical data, UMB’s outdated website…I’ve reviewed, read, reread, highlighted, noted, underlined, alphabetized, cut, copied, pasted and married all of it. I’ve spent nothing but time and energy on trying to understand the complexity of the “CPCS situation” so that I might have the opportunity now, as an enrolled student, to be informed before making decisions regarding and advocating for my own high-quality educational experience. My research has unearthed unprecedented and disturbing information and I’m convinced that neither the college or university as a whole will be able to provide me with what I expected to get or meet all my needs, which encompasses many things. I’m not giving up, I’m just disappointed.
My efforts to seek answers to an exhausting list of questions, in addition to addressing major concerns while simultaneously advocating for and engaging in a high quality educational experience has led me on a semester-long crossfire, cross-campus journey. Mostly, I have been pacified and asked to remain patient, while applauded and encouraged to continue to demonstrate leadership and initiative. I’ve been assured, reassured, reminded and rereminded that change is coming, that my safety or fear of retaliation at any level is being/has been and or will be addressed, that my next semester experience will be vastly different than my current, that I just need to remain patient and trust that the Chancellor will unfold his plan for CPCS when he is ready to do so.
I’ve attempted many times to meet with Chancellor Motley or Associate Chancellor Langley, I’ve filed a formal grievance against the university and remained patient while an investigation into my concerns was conducted, then dropped. I have scheduled, rescheduled, waited, rewaited, then waited some more for an administrator or someone in a position of authority to hear me, to listen to my voice and my story, validate my experience then help address my concerns so that I can functionally and healthily move forward with completing my degree. All of which includes a response that is vastly different than merely pacifying me. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is an inherent understanding that students are viewed largely as inferior-or at least not a priority.
Student concerns will become a top priority and UMass notoriety if someone reaches a breaking point, cracks or causes irreparable damage to the UMB community. Until such an action, the marginalized, hard-to-point-a-finger-at-a-specific-person-or-action-but-you-know-in-your-heart-and-gut-that-the-way-you’re being-treated-and-overlooked-isn’t-right students just have to accept separate but equal or make our voices heard, our needs known and to not go at it alone.
There are 250-300ish students left at The College of Public and Community Service. I’ve been told that this year between 80-120ish of them will be graduating. There are around 13,300 students at UMass Boston total. CPCS students comprise less than 1% of the University’s overall population. Inequality of funding represents the largest stratification in the educational system and clearly CPCS students are not a wise investment for the University; we are not money-makers. The profits lie with the communities we are part of and put our energy, integrity and ethic into.
The detrimental impact of our educational situation as students in The College of Public and Community Service is as misunderstood as the college we attend. Oppression is a reality faced by students of marginalized communities. It causes negative psychological and sociopolitical effects. These negative effects permeate the school system and serve as barriers to our advancement and sometimes we just get used to it or we don’t know where to start. I suggest we learn to empower one another by talking about the various issues that are holding us back or creating barriers for us in earning our degree. We can identify our individual needs, make them known and advocate collectively.
It is fair to say that we may be the last students at CPCS as we know it. Maybe not. There are no clear answers at the moment. The college isn’t accepting any new students and to the best of my knowledge, has not announced any concrete plans to repair, rebuild, retain or reenroll. Are we to accept the sentiment that time will make things better and allow our concerns and needs be dismissed, especially as we break for the summer?
We have children, jobs, debt, aspirations, family, goals ... some of us bust tail EVERY day to make a better life for our selves, our families and our communities. If those things meant to be accessible to us in our educational pursuit are out of reach do we let them go and hope they’ll find a way back to us? Until our individual stories are exchanged face-to-face with University members in a position of authority and who genuinely care, CPCS students will continue to be dismissed and our needs will remain unknown. We will lose our collective and individual voices and our stories will remain unimportant to everyone except those who love and care for us. If we don’t tell our stories, who will?
I bought a video camera for the purposes of collecting our stories ... if you’re interested in recording your story please contact me via email at cpcsSTUDENTstories@yahoo.com. If you’re interested in participating in a live, panel hearing where you get to tell your story, let me know asap. If you’re interested in talking more about some of these issues, we’re having a CPCS student-initiated community renewal gathering this week Thursday, May 15, 5-6:30p, W-4-138 and all who want to invest in a healthy, productive renewal of spirit are welcome.