While many of my friends and classmates swear by doing all of their homework in Tisch Library, I can never muster up the courage to go in. The one time I did wander in there, I walked around in circles for what felt like an eternity, losing track of my whereabouts in the maze of academia. Every table I passed was full; students attentively hunched over their laptops or notebooks as if it was a life and death scenario. Each 30 steps or so, I would see someone I recognized and give them a quick nod before remembering I was completely lost and clueless. Each new section looked the same, and every row of books whispered a chorus of “pick me” to my ears only. The student workers at the counter scanned and swiped with robotic precision, and I felt as if the anti-theft scanners at the front door had detected the nervousness in my stride.
I didn’t go back into the library for over a year. My friends would return home from Tisch with stories of academic joy and triumph, but I just wasn’t buying it. I thought Tisch was absolutely terrifying. I made my home in other study spaces. I spent time doing work in the Africana Center, the Campus Center, and the music library on the ground floor of the Granoff Music Center. Yet my intellectual curiosities kept pulling me back to Tisch.
This past fall, I took up an interest in reading the Gerald Gill Papers. Gerald Gill was a professor of History at Tufts from 1980 until his death in 2007. During his time at Tufts, Gill was dedicated to uncovering, preserving, and celebrating the history of Black student life at Tufts and of Black people in the greater Boston Area. Almost all of Gill’s work has been preserved and documented as part of his collection in the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives (DCA). I have long been fascinated by the status of Black students in the academy throughout American history, and I was thrilled when I found out about Gill’s collection. The only problem was that the DCA is located in the basement of Tisch library.
My fears about returning to Tisch kept me from the Gill Papers for months. I started to dig into why the library was so uncomfortable to me, and found that at the root of the issue were fears that I simply didn’t fit in. I have since learned that in a world of high achieving, hardworking, and academically energized students, it is easy and normal to slip into feelings of inadequacy. Yet at the end of the day, nobody was keeping me from visiting the archives but myself.
In the archives, I have found a little pocket of Tisch Library where it truly feels like I belong. The excitement I feel when opening up centuries-old student files or athletic records is unparalleled, and all concerns about whether or not I fit in with the other students go away. There is so much to experience and explore at Tufts, and it is certainly okay to be nervous about venturing into a new discipline or intellectual space. Nonetheless, I urge the incoming class to not let fear keep you from academic exploration. The most intellectually fulfilling experience of your life could be right behind the door you’ve neglected to open.