To students, teachers, peers, and the Harvard community: This is my official farewell to the pre-medical track here at Harvard. I hope it finds you well.
While this isn’t just another story about the toxicity of pre-med culture, getting weeded out, or leaving my academic path for some earth-shattering love of another aspiration, it is a story of how white supremacy lives and breathes in each of our bodies, spreading between each of us — body to body — like contagion. It is a story of trying to mitigate chronic pain to create the possibility for genuine healing and recovery. A story of a great act of resistance: a Black woman choosing herself.
I took an inorganic chemistry exam the same day that a grand jury failed to charge two police officers with the murder of Breonna Taylor. That day, my body inhaled molecules of white supremacy as they seeped out of my computer from that proctored Zoom room. They entered my bloodstream and catalyzed a metabolism that would allow for the invasion of my body by a violently infectious life form. A chronic pain, caused by the perpetuation of lethally unjust practices and compounded by the silence and avoidance between myself and my educators when it comes to Black women’s lives, would make its way through and onto neighboring cells within my physical being. The presence of the germ of white supremacy would cause a steric hindrance within me, slowing down and even preventing the reactions of learning and healing that I desperately needed for myself and from others in that moment. The exam began, and I haven’t been able to show up mentally or emotionally in a science class since.
When white supremacy invades the bodies of those of us who dare to be Black, female, and breathing, it reproduces as a crippling affliction that accompanies us everywhere — physically, psychologically, and spiritually. The weeks I had spent preparing for that exam could never amount to the time and energy I have spent mourning Breonna Taylor. The time I would spend understanding electrons and balancing reactions would never amount to the years I have spent watching those whose skin was saturated with melanin like mine lose their lives. I held study sessions for myself alongside silent prayer recitations for the justice I knew would probably never come. And still, I showed up to my exam — in all my Black womanness — despite the heartache that would be ignored, unseen, and unacknowledged.
I could have asked to take that inorganic chemistry exam another day, but it would have required me to release my breath to plead for the need to catch it. I could have put my racial trauma on display to beg professors, teaching fellows, and preceptors to consider a Black woman’s funeral worthy of an excused absence, but I couldn’t bear the harrowing reality that I was mourning while white America was not. In the months to come, the symptoms of the infection of white supremacy — transmitted across bodies from professor to pupil, peer to peer, educators to learners — in the pre-med academic space sent me into a prolonged battle with recurring pain as I struggled with trying to fight, while also trying to survive.
I continued to show up as I did the day of that first exam because that is what good pre-med students do. What’s more is that it’s what Black women are supposed to do for everyone and everything, even at the cost of ourselves. So out of fear of what would happen if I didn’t persist — whose life I wouldn’t save, whom I would be doing a disservice — I kept choosing to put up with an affliction that didn’t serve me as fatigue and trauma reverberated within my body. Little did I realize that the most radical act of resistance would have been choosing my wellness and my health.
Thirteen months, two biology courses, one inorganic chemistry course, and half an organic chemistry course later, the germ of white supremacy still shows up in my body every time I enter the Science Center C lecture hall or its Zoom room equivalent. Written between my answers on every problem set and at the point of my pencil on every exam are the physical and psychological wounds marking my agonizing pain as it spreads through my body, agitating my brain and cramping the muscle that is my heart.
But no more. I have chosen a path to justice and healing that is rooted in self-love and preservation.
For Black women, self-care is an act of liberation. It disrupts systems of power — even at places like Harvard — that hold a stake in patriarchy and institutionalized racism. It is a way for us to free ourselves and dilute our pain from historical patterns of trauma caused by everyday violences. It is a crucial aspect of embracing and valuing our dignity and self-worth because trauma doesn’t have to be our destiny. We deserve to heal, to grow, to change. And sometimes it looks like distancing ourselves from potentially toxic, or infectious, scenarios or spaces to protect our energy and safeguard it for our own well-being.
And it’s as revolutionary as any path — career or otherwise — we could ever choose.
Kyla N. Golding ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House.
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