Sarena Straughter: My Unique Identity

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Sarena Straughter has been immersed in the full range of cultural, political and educational identity but now, as a college senior, she’s focused on her uniqueness.

I grew up in the Bay Area with my single, atheist mom and adopted Guatemalan sister, but following the halal rules of my faraway Muslim dad. I’m not sure my background could be more diverse. But it’s not my labels that define me…it’s my experiences. Early on, those experiences centered around trying to “fit in” as a girl of color at the schools I attended in Silicon Valley.

For elementary school, I attended a dual immersion public school where Spanish was the primary language and most of the children were Latinx. As part of a monolingual English-speaking family, it was a difficult adjustment. In high school, I attended a fairly conservative Jewish private school, serving as a token Black and culturally Muslim scholarship kid. In both settings I conformed, becoming fluent in Spanish, learning Latin in high school, and taking Jewish studies courses where anti-Islamic sentiment occasionally crept into discussions. I learned about cultural, religious, and linguistic differences in these schools, but I also desperately wanted a college environment where I could be my authentic self.

So I moved 3,000 miles away from home to attend Howard University, a historically Black College in DC, hoping to escape the racial and religious tension I felt earlier and finally fit in. At Howard though, I was introduced to new dimensions of racism, even within the Black community, including colorism, texturism, featurism, and the reality of being biracial.

In my personal and professional circles, I became more aware of myself as a Black biracial woman, the privileges I receive because of it, and how I relate to the world.

Since finding my footing at Howard, I now intentionally push myself outside of spaces where Black women traditionally exist – whether surfing the Pacific Ocean when back home, translating Latin and Ancient Greek texts, or piloting small planes over Mt. Hamilton.

As I contemplate my next educational move – choosing between law schools on the East or West Coast – one thing is certain. I no longer worry about who I am not, but instead am proud of who I am and how my uniqueness contributes to the places where I live and learn.

With a Perspective, I’m Sarena Straughter.

Sarena Straughter was raised in Sunnyvale She is President of the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Association at Howard.