The Westfield Voice

The Student News Site of Westfield State University

The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

The Color of Silence: The ESL…Honors Student?

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Written by Rosita Ramirez

“Don’t even try state-private colleges, go to a community college, improve your English and then apply to an actual school” 

It was my senior year in high school, It had only been a couple of months since I came from Guatemala, so my accent was still pretty heavy. I had just sat down with my guidance counselor, hoping to receive advice and encouragement about my options/plans for college. Instead, she threw a balde de agua fria at me (cold water bucket) demonstrating that she had no expectations for me. I was placed in ESL classes, I had never taken the SAT, I knew little English, and I was unfamiliar with american culture and had no clue where to start with college applications. However, I knew I was just as capable as anyone who grew up here. As I left her office that day, I couldn’t stop thinking of her comment and it took me weeks to see the positive side of the situation. I wanted to prove her wrong. 

I started reading/listening to audio books to improve my English, I registered for the SAT by myself and borrowed books from the library to prepare for it. I  started visiting the career and college center to inform myself more of what college “meant”. I also started visiting the reading and writing center to work on my college and scholarships application essays. 

After the struggle that college applications meant for me, Westfield State University opened a door that for a long time, I thought was closed. Not only was I accepted, but also invited to become a student in the honors program. I proved my counselor wrong. 

When I first saw my college schedule I couldn’t believe I was going to take an Honors English course during my first semester. Now that I think of it, it was the word “English” that terrified me. I remember walking into the classroom my first day of classes, Bates Hall #8. I was full of fear and I realized that that single comment my counselor made to me had a much deeper meaning in my life because it destroyed my self-esteem as a student. I hated when it was my turn to read aloud and had zero confidence in my writing and I often remained silent in classrooms even if I knew the answer to the questions. 

As a student at Westfield, I often thought that I was in the wrong place and that I indeed needed to “improve my English” in order to belong. Though, things weren’t going as bad as I thought they would and I was earning very good grades and my classmates soon noticed. In fact, I started getting comments such as “Why do you have such a good grade if you have such a strong accent” or  “how come you have a better GPA than I do if you don’t speak English well”. Until today, those comments still harm me because I realize that my classmates were seeing me as someone who is deficient rather than as someone who is proficient. They were seeing a problem in the fact that I don’t speak perfect white mainstream English with a New England accent and not “celebrating” that I have the ability to speak multiple languages. I also realized that the problem wasn’t my grades or my accent, it was people’s ability to underestimate people of color with accents because people tend to make the connection between accent equaling unintelligence, but that wouldn’t be the case if I had a British accent. Even now that I became a peer writing consultant in the reading and writing center, I sometimes worry that a student might think that I am not the right person to help them because I have an “accent”. I often also worry that I shouldn’t be a writing consultant because English is not my first language and I am still in the process of learning. All these feelings just because people around me have made comments that make me believe that I am less because I have a Spanish accent.

If you’d like to submit a story, check out our submission instructions here.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Westfield Voice

Your donation will support the student journalists of Westfield State University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Westfield Voice

Comments (0)

All The Westfield Voice Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *