Senior Retrospectives: Tamar Ballard

I’m writing this while sitting in my room in SoCo 3. It’s humid, even with the fan on. I’ve sat in this spot on my bed so much that my mattress topper remembers the ways I like to sit or lay down as I do work or watch embarrassingly long marathons of beauty tutorials, home DIYs and cooking demos that I’ll never do.

This space feels like the CCMPR on my first night on campus. It’s 2015. Luis Inoa is standing in the middle of a circle made up of this year’s Transitions cohort, and I’m in a Spongebob Squarepants tank top, black sweater and denim capris. I decide to never wear the Spongebob tank top, black sweater and denim capris again. Luis is teaching us how to do culture sculptures—and that pipe cleaners are really called chenille stems—and the different ways that you can respond when someone asks you, “Where are you from?” We’re all looking at him in amazement. He finds ways to bring the love and care from home into this space. I remember that throughout my four years here. My first college friends are Black and brown first-generation/low-income students like me. We spend the next week getting to know each other better than I’d ever expected to get to know someone within the first week of being in college.

It feels like Noyes’ Jetson Lounge. It’s 2016 and the day before classes start. I’m nervous because this is the first time “We Got You” is happening, and I’m hoping the few flyers I put up and the single pan of brownies topped with blue icing will be enough to get people to come. But all my worrying subsides within the next 20 minutes; I’m looking around at all of the people of color who are gathered in Noyes to talk about existing in a Black or brown body, especially at a school like Vassar. Especially in a world like ours. There’s anger and frustration. There are tears and silence. But there’s also laughter. There’s smiling and joy. And it’s beautiful.

It feels like the hours spent, during the following months, sitting with my friends at the big table near the side rooms that branch off of the Jetson. It’s 2017. The sun shines through the words of affirmation that, as a house, we wrote in paint on the windows, reminding the world that “love is love,” “black lives matter” and “no one is illegal.” A reclamation of space that affirms the right to live and love during a time where lives and love are under attack by Twitter storms, hate crimes and senseless separation of families. Poet Eve Ewing reminds us to “speak [these to ourselves] until [we] know [they’re] true.” So we speak them, write them and embody them as a community. At the table, my friends and I pretend to do homework, but we’re really waiting for 10 p.m. to hit, so that someone can collect VCards to take with them to the Kiosk in Main. Orders of chai milkshakes, chicken nuggets and brownie cookies are collected in a mad rush to get the order-runner to the Kiosk before the line gets too long. We rinse and repeat the next day.

It feels like the second floor of Main. It’s 2018. I’ve started growing some kind of flowering plants near the big window in the VSA office, despite VSA Exec clowning my plant-growing skills. Sometimes when I water them, someone I love waves to me from the entrance of the College Center. It feels like Heather Nguyen ’20 screaming my name from the window of the Info Desk as I make my rounds to the President’s Office and Dean of the College office. I’ve never entered these spaces until this year, but now it’s rare for me to miss a day. An offer of coffee or tea from Katie Bell starts a long brainstorming session where the two of us talk about everything from the meaning of life to how terrible—but also how hilarious—low-budget horror movies are. Carlos Alamo eventually emerges from his table next door. He offers up his 20 minutes of alone time to let me hang around until his next meeting. Eventually my seat on the couch, on the other side of his office, turns into a seat at the table. I can smell the essential oils better from here. I walk into the President’s Office to a chorus of “Hi, Tamar!” from Angela DePaolo, Veronica Peccia, Ilene Cooke and Wesley Dixon (and President Bradley, when I’m able to catch her in between meetings). Angela gives me the biggest hug that I didn’t realize I needed. It gives me the energy to get through the rest of the week. Out of habit, I grab a cup of tea, as Wes invites me to sit in the seat I frequent in his office; I’m laughing basically every 10 seconds, as he catches me up on anything and everything. I’ve already made plans to come back tomorrow, as I head back to my room.

It’s hot and humid, even with the fan on.

But these spaces, this place, these memories—they feel a little bit like home.

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