Zara Macias’ experience at American University

Hello my name is Zara Macias and my hands are trembling as I touch the keyboard in front of me. They are not trembling out of fear but rather out of pain. It pains me to fight for my existence. It pains me to recall the sessions at AU’s counseling center. It pains me knowing I am not the only case of blatant racism. It pains me knowing the institution I put faith in, failed me.

Foremost, I must make clear

I am not attacking American University

I am not ridiculing American University

I am enlightening American University

Dec 20, 2016 I went home.

(Video of airplanes taking off)

During this time I was reminded who I was. Who am I?

I am an advocate. I am a leader. I do not shy away from responsibility and communion. I do not stay still and I do not love anyone more than my family. I realized the sacrifices I made were much greater than I anticipated. I gave up family dinners, friends, and sweet Kentucky air. Moreover, I realized there was a level of respect and gratitude seen in Kentuckians, that was missing from some people at American University. Most, including those I called “Friends” lacked humility and compassion. The level of competition was fierce, and because of this, many are ready to step on whoever whenever in order to get closer to their “goal”.

But my question is — what’s the goal? Become rich? Become famous? Become the next government official? I thought to myself “There has to be more to life than that.”

My friends, family, and the KYYMCA taught me that coming together as one is more powerful than stringent individualism.

After this affirmation, I decided to take on more responsibilities in D.C. I decided to focus on real issues, issues that affected the world, not just the protected bubble of American University. I went to several lectures, joined American agoras newspaper, began volunteering at the community life center, joined Rebel, read a bunch of foreign policy books.

I dedicated myself to an extraneous mission.

Even if that meant staying in on a Saturday night writing a philosophy paper.

My ambition and intense enthusiasm about these projects did not rub my “friends” and colleagues well. I was a hyper ball of competition, but it wasn’t a competition, it was the chemistry of my brain.

(Footage of Abramson Family Founders room at the School of International Service)

Students and “friends” saw me as a threat. Who is this girl running around with a pencil skirt and pink notebook? Who is this girl getting the signature of Richard Haass? Who is this girl running around judiciary square? Who is this girl getting kicked out of her housing arrangement? Wait what?

Fifty one minutes prior to the housing deadline, my expected roommates told me we wanted “Drastically different things from our college experience.” Fifty one minutes prior to the housing deadline, I was kicked out of my roommate agreement. I was no longer roommates, and shortly after, I was no longer friends with them. Rationally, I decided to keep my distance, but I couldn’t distance myself from this sort of treatment.

I did not always have a safe space at American University.

Especially in one class in particular.

The classroom I speak of is College Writing, Intensive (WRTG-106–004–2017S) Both professor Moomau and his TA can attest to the fact that the students in my class were unwelcoming of my participation. After my professor recognized my intellect, they became hyper competitive and mean. They would ignore me during small group discussions and give me dirty looks whenever I spoke. The “they” I speak of, were some of the white males and females in the classroom. And no, I wouldn’t bring up race unless it was absolutely necessary. And yes, it is absolutely necessary.

How dare a woman speak her mind?

How dare a Hispanic woman speak her mind?

How dare a student participate in a class discussion?

And yes, I am sassy, outspoken, and passionate to a fault. But… that’s just who I am.

Goosebumps, anxiety, and intolerance infested that classroom.

Twice, I walked out of the class to cry in the bathroom. I couldn’t stand the big lump in my throat that persisted once I realized I was unwanted in the classroom.

When I looked at myself in the mirror I told myself “Toughen up Zara, you’re so much better than this.” “Stop crying Zara, you’re fine.”

I have never felt so unwanted in my life… Whenever I walked outside of the room, I heard some of the students laugh. There wasn’t an ounce of empathy in that room. Everyone was battling to be the “smartest person in the room.” I simply couldn’t understand. It is a classroom not a boxing ring. We can all learn from one another.

Insomnia, racing thoughts, and a lack of appetite were never something I had experienced in the past. Despite these obvious signs, I was convinced I was invisible, and this attitude did not settle well with my peers.

Phew this is really vulnerable, but as Emma Watson eloquently puts it,

“If not me, who? If not me, when?”

So,

March 21st was the night I experienced severe anxiety attacks. I would grasp onto my sheets and slam open the window for air. It felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I was frantic and paranoid, and my entire body was trembling with fear. So I got up. I went to the lounge and warmed up some tea. Once I finished my tea, I put on some Mozart and danced. Tears fell down my face as I expressed myself through movement. There was something soothing about my hair spinning in the air. I had a safe place. I had a home. I had room to breathe. Once I finished dancing, I sat down on the floor and cried some more. I did not want to return to my room. “What if the anxiety attacks return?” I thought to myself. “What if my heart stops?” My family, what about my family? They would be devastated. I would prove my mom right. I would prove coming to D.C. was a “bad idea” and that I was “too skinny” “too weak” to handle such a big city. No. This can’t happen, I will return to the room. So I buzzed myself back in.

My spirit was strong but my health was weak. Fear was racing through my veins the following day. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t function.

March 23rd AU’s campus police drove me to the emergency room. Prior to this, I spoke with three different therapist, including the director of the counseling center. The expression on their faces were disillusioned and distressed. They couldn’t help me, the nightmare was never ending.

I don’t remember everything that happened at the hospital but there was a moment I remember vividly. I couldn’t tell you the date but it was in the middle of the night. Nurses and doctors and woman wearing a hijab rushed into the room. I remember being injected with something in my right arm and my mouth being covered with a mask of some sort. I heard the heartbeat monitor and the room was frantic. “Just breathe, just breathe,” the lady said. I tried to keep my eyes open but it felt like there were weights on my eyelids. “Just relax Zara, you’ll be okay.” I couldn’t move. It was like I was frozen in time. The only thing that moved was the teardrop falling down my face. “Am I going to die?” I thought to myself. “Is this it?” My hands are trembling as I touch the keyboard in front of me. They are not trembling out of fear but rather out of pain. It pains me to fight for my existence. It pains me knowing that a situation had to become this severe to receive attention. 6 days I was hospitalized, 6 days I was hospitalized.

I, Zara Macias, fell in love with American University. I fell in love with its mission. I fell in love with its strength. I fell in love with the opportunity. When I left March 29, 2017, I felt like I left my dream, the American dream, was gone.

So… now what?

Well now, I need some accountability. I need fellow advocates. I need creators and storytellers. But most importantly, I need people to know you’re not alone. Cry if you need to cry. Scream if you need to scream. Dance if you need to dance.

You don’t need to hide behind a label. You don’t have to hold in your emotions. You don’t need to be strong, all the time. It’s okay to be broken and beat up and pulled down. It’s okay because there are people who are willing to pull you up. There are good people. Yes, there are plenty of bad but have faith in the good ones. The extraordinary, the weirdos, the familY, the outspoken, the passionate fiery souls.

Join me,

La luchadora. La estudiante. La mujer.