Students learn to embrace their true selves

By Jessica Iacobazzo
Correspondent 

There are more than 7 billion people in the world, and every single one is different.

Race, religion, personality these are just a few of the things that can make people original.

On Tuesday, April 18, Sigma Lambda Beta International hosted its fourth annual “A Walk in My Shoes,” which reminded students that being different is not bad.

At the event, speakers shared their experiences with adversity and what led them to appreciate their true identities.

Meme Cisse, a junior African American studies and sociology double major, shared a personal story about her high school relationship.

At age 16, Cisse dated a white male. One day, her boyfriend’s parents asked what she wanted to study in college.

When she responded that she wanted to study biomedical science, Cisse was taken aback by their response. They proceeded to ask why she didn’t want to do social work or work in an urban area because to them, she “didn’t talk white.”

The comment made Cisse feel self-conscious and it slowly ate away at her self-esteem.

Personal stories captivate the audience. (Jason Proleika / Photo Editor)

As her relationship progressed, the idea of getting intimate with her boyfriend seemed nerve-wracking. While she decided that she wasn’t ready to be intimate, her boyfriend was extremely adamant on having sex.

At 16, Cisse was raped by her boyfriend. She never reported the incident, not even to her family or friends.

However, as time went on, she changed her mind.

“I realized it’s OK to talk to people, to let people in, to be vulnerable, to be a crier,” Cisse said.

Slowly, she learned to embrace her culture. She encouraged the audience to remember that they are not alone and that there are people who have had similar experiences.

Cesar Cruz, a junior biology major, talked about his childhood, reflecting on the significant role his grandmother played in his life. While his mother and sister lived in the Dominican Republic, Cruz and his brother lived in Passaic, N.J., under the care of their grandmother.

Growing up, Cruz always tried to make his grandmother proud. When his mother came to America, they grew extremely close, but his mother’s life slowly went downhill.

She was involved in a drug deal in a nearby city, Paterson, N.J., and arrested. After his mother was arrested and missed his high school graduation, Cruz was forced to step up and be strong for his brother and sister.

Cruz recalled the challenges of caring for his siblings while his mother was in jail.

With his mother now out of jail, Cruz said his family has gotten him to where he is today, despite the ups and downs.

“The people around me are what motivate me, even though they’re not exactly what you call a functional family unit,” he said.

Damani Walker, SLB’s secretary and a junior computer science major, felt the event was a success.

“Everyone seemed passionate about their stories, and it seemed as if they all overcame a big struggle in their lives,” he said. “The audience was great, more people came out than we expected and they were very engaged with each performer.”

Despite skin color, ethnicity or religion, “A Walk in My Shoes” taught students that there is a way to connect with their peers and to be there for one another despite any differences.