If I Should Speak, page 3
They say be strong,
But what if I’m weak?
They say stand up, speak out
But what if I’m meek?
They say fight hard
But what if I’ve no hands?
They say it makes sense
But what if I don’t understand?
They say be like this
But what if I’m like that?
They say hit hard
But what if I’ve no bat?
They say choose this
But what if I’ve no choice?
They say tell ‘em this
But what if I’ve no voice?
The words had not escaped her mind before she was able to write them down, and for that, Tamika was grateful. It was short, she knew, but sometimes that was enough, especially for journal entries, which she wrote whenever she felt like it. This one had come to her that night before going to bed. And as usual, it calmed her to put her thoughts on paper, and she was finally able to sleep.
After having finished moving out of her room, Tamika was grateful to Makisha for assisting. The actual packing and moving things back and forth took more time and energy than she had anticipated. She also appreciated the campus security unlocking the door to her new building and helping her move during the weekend. However, since the room was not officially hers until Monday, they could not permit her to do anything aside from set her belongings in the front lobby of the building and leave them there. But from there, they had taken her things to the room.
Sunday night she had slept in her old room, which appeared awkwardly bare after the move. It was strange to go to sleep one night in her old bed and wake up knowing it was no longer hers, could no longer be hers. It made her feel somewhat sad, but Tamika could not explain this feeling, for she had no desire to live with Jennifer any more than Jennifer had to live with her. And there was nothing particularly special about her dormitory room compared to others. But she was not looking forward to moving to Steward Hall University Apartments. There, a person could have as many as three roommates, which was why not many people opted to live there, even though they were apartments. Those who did choose Steward either handpicked their roommates or prayed they would get lucky and have none. But Steward was known for its influx of students due to roommate fallouts, so anyone who hoped for the latter was either crazy or clueless.
Monday morning, Tamika went to the Residential Life Office to return her old keys and pick up her new ones before classes, which she decided to attend before her grades actually did suffer, as Makisha had warned. Tamika definitely was not thrilled about going to her classes, but she was less thrilled about the repercussions of not attending, especially going back home to her mother, who would give her a headache about it for the rest of her life. If only she were able to make it as a singer, she at least would have her own home.
Tamika groaned, adjusting the strap to her book bag on her shoulder. She walked up the steps of the Humanities building one by one, listening to the pounding of her shoes falling on each step, in no hurry to be on time, wondering why she had selected Religion 150 as her first class. She was not in the mood to face Dr. Sanders, who was probably thinking she was a lot different than he had expected. He had been her favorite teacher, but she was skeptical as to how long that would last. After the guilty charge, she was certain their relationship would change, and he would treat her differently, especially since he felt that she was guilty of physical assault, guilty enough to pose such a great danger that she should move out of her room—immediately.
She paused outside the classroom door before entering. Dr. Sanders sat at the desk in front of the class as usual, reviewing the notes to his class, which would begin in less than ten minutes. His graying hair on his head seemed to shine under the fluorescent lights, and his unshaved beard appeared as a gray shadow upon his cheeks. His dark brown face was intense, as it normally was before a lesson. Tamika had come to admire that expression, one that was so calm, yet serious, one that had developed from nearly sixty years of life experiences, which had molded and matured him, until he had become her professor, her wise professor. She often wondered what stories he had to tell, what energies he had once had, what fights he had won and lost, and what battles he no longer fought. She often thought it would be interesting to sit down and hear him talk about his life, and she would just listen and listen until she could listen no more. She wondered what lessons she would learn, what energies it would evoke in her, what incentives it would give her, and what battles it would cause her to abandon.
Tamika walked swiftly by his desk without looking at him and took a seat in a chair that was a safe distance from him. She feared it was too drastic to sit in the back. She had never done that before, and such an action would likely not only cause him to raise an eyebrow but other students too.
“Good morning, Tamika,” Dr. Sanders greeted her, no trace of the conduct hearing in his voice.
“Good morning,” she replied, feigning interest in searching for something in her bag, avoiding his gaze, papers rustling.
“Can I talk to you for a moment?”
Her heart raced. Talk to her for a moment? Why? He was not allowed to talk about the case, was he? “Uh, sure.” She stood and walked to his desk, acting as if everything was cool. “Yes?”
He placed his reading glasses on the edge of his nose, peering through them as he flipped through a notebook. “Did you ever give me your topic?”
Oh. “My, um, paper topic?” Inside, she was relieved. “Uh, no, I uh, haven’t really decided yet.”
“Miss Douglass, this is a major assignment, and you’ll need ample time to complete it. The other students are already working on their research, and I don’t want you to fall behind.”
“Yes, I know.” She could not look at him.
“Now,” he reasoned, “I can give you until Wednesday, because Friday your first set of note cards are due.”
“If I don’t have it by Wednesday, then I’ll have to assign you a topic.”
She did not want him to do that, or else she was sure to be researching something boring. Every religion under the sun was fascinating to him.
“Now, you’re aware that your presentation is scheduled for the first week in April?”
Yes, on a Monday, she knew, the timing having disappointed her, because the Friday before that was the Streamsdale Spring Formal. She did not want to be thinking about a presentation and paper that weekend, when students normally spent Friday night at the formal and the rest of the weekend partying. After the formal, students would book hotels for the night, and Saturday night was always the casual post-formal, where everyone wore street clothes. The previous year she had gone, and she ended up having the best time she thought she would ever have in college, if not in her life. And given that this school year was more stressful than the year before, she really needed that break and had been looking forward to it for quite some time. But it was February. She had enough time to prepare a twenty-page paper and presentation by then—if she could only nail down a topic.
“Yes,” she told him.
He frowned. “Well, please have a topic by Wednesday, because I’ll still need you to turn in your note cards Friday, although I know they will be rushed.”
He paused then inquired. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine,” she assured him, avoiding his concerned gaze.
He nodded, unconvinced. What else could he do? He was worried about Tamika, but he did not know how he could help. “Well, then, I’ll talk to you Wednesday.”
“Mm, hm,” she agreed, then returned to her seat and resumed searching mindlessly through her bag, uncertain what she had been looking for in the first place.
From his desk, Dr. Sanders could see Tamika take her seat, her face concentrating on whatever it was she was trying to find, but he could tell she had a lot on her mind, because she was not her normal, talkative, f
When Dr. Sanders had received the Conduct Board slip informing him of a hearing, he had thought little of it. It was normal to have to attend a hearing all of a sudden. But usually, the name of the accused was unfamiliar and the charge that of illegal alcohol consumption, given that it was commonplace for students to drink on campus. When he had skimmed the sheet of paper, he was shocked that “Tamika Douglass,” the name of one of his favorite students, was printed at the top of the paper as the accused. And the accusation had surprised him even more. “Physical Assault.” Momentarily, he had hoped that it was a different Tamika Douglass, but when she walked in the hearing room that day, his heart sank, feeling pitifully sorry for her. Whatever it was that had happened, he was certain that it could not have been as it was described on the paper. He knew Tamika better than that.
After hearing all of the witnesses testify against her, he momentarily entertained the possibility that perhaps she had assaulted the student. But after hearing her side of the story, he better understood the altercation and saw it as nothing more than an argument that had gotten out of hand. The other board members saw it differently though, unanimously agreeing to the guilty charge. He knew the 6 to 1 vote was not going to give Tamika a possible way out of being found guilty, but during sentencing, he planned to ease her punishment as much as he was able.
“But she busted Jennifer’s head, Dr. Sanders,” Sarah, the Student Head of the Conduct Board had reminded him after the hearing, as they discussed sanctioning. “Now, I know I’m not a voting member, but I do believe that someone that violent and dangerous should not only be heavily fined but should also be expelled from school immediately.”
“I have to agree with Sarah,” Jonathan, one of the student members, stated. “I mean, Tamika Douglass has been found guilty of physical assault, and that’s serious.”
Dr. Sanders had smiled knowingly. As the only African-American on the board, he knew he was standing alone on this one. The others were filled with stereotypes and prejudices, which he felt drove them to imagine an exaggeration of what had actually occurred. He knew them to be biased, because other accused students had been found guilty of crimes like possession of illegal drugs, destruction of school property, and theft, yet none of them had suggested expulsion. When a student had thrown a chair from the fifth floor window—closed window—of his dorm room and set various trash cans on fire because the school’s football team had won Homecoming, the board had thought it was funny, “excessive school spirit,” as one member asserted. But Dr. Sanders felt it was reckless and inexcusable, especially since he could have hurt someone, and he was not even drunk, at least not this time. This particular student, Robert Samuels (Dr. Sanders remembered his name quite well since the student’s name had come across his desk several times), had appeared before the board so many times for the last couple of years that he wore a smirk on his face each time he was faced with another charge, which was most often alcohol possession and consumption. And the board had given him a warning!
“None of us are disputing that Miss Douglass pushed Miss Mayer,” he calmly told them, still smiling, blinking. “We’ve already determined that, and even Miss Douglass herself said that she pushed her roommate. And although I disagree with the guilty charge—I cannot argue against that, and understandably so—but I do want to remind you that this was quite likely a fight, not an assault. And according to Miss Douglass, Miss Mayer also assaulted her, if you will.”
“But Jennifer was not charged with anything,” Diane, another member interjected. “So we can’t consider that.”
“No,” Dr. Sanders interrupted, disagreeing. “We can consider that in this phase of the hearing. We could not consider that in deciding guilt or innocence because there was no charge against Miss Mayer, but certainly, before we issue a punishment of expulsion, we should consider everything, and as we learned before joining the board, expulsion should be a last resort and only issued in extreme cases in which there is a clear and present danger to the student body or school.”
“There is a clear and present danger to the student body,” Jonathan asserted.
Dr. Sanders chuckled at the ridiculousness of the assertion. “Even if we were to assume that this was not a fight,” he began, “we cannot even begin to argue that Miss Douglass is a ‘clear and present danger to the student body.’” He shook his head at the irrationality. “How many of us have gotten into fights in our lives?”
No one responded.
“And were those fights personal ones, incited by the circumstances, or were they ones in which you wished to vent your anger on the world and hurt everyone?” He chuckled. “The strains of living in a small room with a stranger are great,” he reminded them, “and it’s natural, although not commendable, for the roommates to fight.”
“But she busted this student’s head!” Jonathan exclaimed.
“She did not bust her head,” Dr. Sanders corrected, becoming irritated with Jonathan’s overuse of the exaggerated description. “Miss Mayer hit her head, which resulted in a small injury, which by the way, required nothing more than hydrogen peroxide and light pressure to the scalp.”
“But she could have caused more damage,” Sarah put in.
“She could have slipped on the floor and caused more damage,” Dr. Sanders retorted, chuckling. “We’re not here to deal with could haves, we’re dealing with what is. And if we wish to deal with what ifs, why not consider the possibility that Miss Mayer may be just as guilty as Miss Douglass in this assault case?”
Jonathan groaned and rolled his eyes. “Well,” he suggested, frustrated. “I motion that Tamika Douglass is expelled.”
“I second it,” Diane said.
“Well,” Dr. Sanders offered, “I certainly don’t second that, but I do motion that Miss Douglass is simply moved to another room, seeing as though that would remove any clear and present danger, at least to the party concerned, if we wish to look at it like that.”
The room was silent for some time.
“I think Dr. Sanders has a point,” Michael, a normally quiet member interjected, breaking the strained silence. “Now, I don’t disagree with the guilty charge,” he conceded, “but I do think it’s fair to say that this is a roommate issue and not a general student body issue. Tamika Douglass has never appeared before us prior to this, and it may be a bit hurried to issue the sanction of expulsion.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” another member stated.
“So, I second Dr. Sanders’s motion to move her from the room,” Michael concluded.
“I do too,” the other member agreed.
“That’s three to two,” Sarah tallied. “Either both of you agree to the same sanction,” she told the other members who had not yet spoken, “or else we will have to meet again with Dean Floyd to decide. We cannot issue any verdict if the motion is four to three,” she reminded them.
The two students looked at each other and shrugged. One spoke, “Well, then I guess I’ll have to agree with Michael and Dr. Sanders, because this doesn’t seem to be a case of a student who is posing a danger to anyone except her roommate.”
The other student considered it for a moment then sighed. “I don’t know, but I guess I can’t feel comfortable expelling her either, and as long as she’s not allowed to live with Jennifer, then I suppose that’s fine with me.”
“But I do think she should ha
“I agree,” the other student added.
Presently, Dr. Sanders stood, preparing to begin today’s lesson. He could only pray that Tamika was doing okay. The outcome of the hearing seemed to be weighing heavily on her, and he feared that her stress over the guilty verdict would affect her schoolwork. He hoped he was wrong.
That evening, Tamika strolled across the college campus as the sun set in the distance, its fluorescent orange glowing from behind the trees and buildings, which sat like silhouettes in a painting. An occasional breeze blew her hair in front of her eyes and caused her skirt to cling to her legs. She gently tucked her hair behind an ear, pushed her free hand into her jacket pocket, and adjusted her bag with the other as the air became chilly. The day had been nice for February, the winter months having brought only light snow, which melted before the new year and never returned. Having been accustomed to extremely cold weather and lots of snow back home, she was still adjusting to Georgia weather, one day being hot and the next cold, especially during February. She should have been grateful that she did not have to wear a winter coat for so long, but she was beginning to miss home.
As she approached the University Apartments, Tamika sighed and paused briefly at the entrance and removed from her bag the keys and the slip that the residential office had given her. She read the room number assignment again to make sure she had remembered it correctly. 212. Good, she did not have to take the elevator every day. She was on the second floor of the fourteen-story high rise.
At the entrance, she tried each of the two keys until one slipped into the main door. She pulled the door open, letting out a deep breath. She had no idea towards what or to whom she was heading. She could only pray that everything would work out for the best and that her current roommate situation would turn out better than her former.