by Amber Officer-Narvasa
Can you introduce yourself, with your name, major, and any other info you’d like to add?
My name is Dania Lewis. I majored in Africana and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies with a concentration in race and ethnicity. It was a very interdisciplinary program which has made me understand so much of myself. And I have learnt and I am learning that sometimes when you finding out who you are, you may feel like you are losing your mind. And in some instances that may be true, and chances it is not. It is just hard. And there’s help. don’t stop asking for and accepting help.
What have been your experiences with finding and/or building community at Columbia and Barnard?
I have had some time -a few months post graduation- to think about what that looked like for me. Because while I was in school, it is so clear to me that I was not present, and though I am very brilliant, I doubted myself so much so that I didn’t feel like my head was ever clear or that I ever knew what I wanted or who I wanted to be. Black and Brown people were central to my growth. Black and Brown queer people were central to my growth and survival at Barnard/Columbia. I was intentional about that. My first days on campus weren’t so wonderful. My white peers were not very welcoming and quite honestly, the many I interacted with were not very nice. So I took head. I also came into Barnard Columbia as a CSTEP student so I came in feeling supported and knowing that there are people who seemed invested in my success. And that was always very helpful in the ways it could be.
I would say my second intentional attempt at community was my audition to be a cast member of the All self-identified Woman of Color Vagina Monologues. It was made possible because I met Dorian, a fellow alum, during my days on Barnard/Columbia after I was accepted to Barnard in the IRC at an open mic that she hosted. I was such a baby, and I didn’t understand much about identity politics and the mess it creates on Barnard/Columbia Campus. I just knew I admired and trusted Dorian and wanted to be around the people I met at the IRC and the people she was around. Barnard/Columbia did not take all too well that Black and Brown wom@n wanted to hold space for themselves on this campus. Nevertheless, the show was a success, I made really amazing friends, who I am still friends with, I learn so much about love, sex, my sexuality, giving, taking and listening.
And then there was SOCLR(students of color retreat) which solidified my decision to live in the IRC Intercultural House for three years. The people I met there challenged and loved me so forcefully. I would not have it any other way.
And the professors and staff members in the departments of Africana/Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies/ICORE/BCRW.
And then, most certainly my sibling-friends and lover-friends.
You mentioned sibling-friends and lover-friends. I think these are really lovely terms, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little more about that in any way you want. I’m thinking about the different shapes love can take, the ways some kinds of relationships are supposed to be more important to us, but how that isn’t always so. Is romantic love overrated?
Romantic love is not overrated. Saying anything is overrated, is overrated. Things are what they are for a reason. I say sibling-friends and lover-friends because I think friendships are so broad and so are our needs and wants. And sometimes naming things based on what they really are to and for us, helps with confusion in any intimate relationship. Thank you for asking for clarity on that. Honestly, I can write and talk about what that is for me and has been for me for a very long time. But that will do for now.
What work are you most proud of from the last four years? (this can be “work” broadly conceived, done on or off campus, alone or with others)
Wow, this is such a big question. I am still trying figure what I want my work to be, and I am learning that it will always take time and that patience is an important part of the process.
But I was very intentional about seeking out resources to improve my mental wellness. My mind is my most important tool. And nurturing and protecting it has not disappoint me just yet, and I do not see that happening in the future. Honestly just trying really really really really hard to listen to myself and I think it has been paying of off these days and it is helped me decide the classes I took and the people I chose to be around.
There are other stuff on my very impressive resume that I work really hard for and on but as a student at Barnard/Columbia is harder to not have impressive things on your resume than it is to have impressive things on your resume.
Is there a lesson you have learned that you’d like to share with others?
You know yourself best. Only you can know you like you know you. And assumptions you make about yourself and others will hurt you. People you love and people you do not know will question and challenge who you are. But you know you best.
Favorite class/prof at BC/CU?
I don’t really commit to a favorite anything because I change so much and so does my tastes and wants. All my classes were honestly so pivotal, but the classes that were really impactful and really took me on life trips were Professor Lila Abu-Lughod’s Transnational Feminism course, Professor Kim Hall’s Digital Storytelling of Ntozake Shange and David Scott’s Anti-colonialism class.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Honestly, do what you want to do and don’t try to hurt people intentionally. You will only waste your time and theirs. Also doing what you want to do, will always have an effect on people. So do what you want to smartly and foolishly, you will learn. And contrary to popular belief, we do not have all the time in the world.