Ranya Perez ‘20, sits in a classroom full of mostly upperclassmen, trying to dissect the dense language of sociological theory. As many students try and engage with words they may not even fully comprehend to appear up to pace, she breaks the awkward silence — “Why do they use words they know people aren’t gonna understand?” Her annoyance resonates as the class breaks out in nervous laughter and nodded agreement. Perez isn’t afraid to admit she disagrees with academia’s elitist forms, nor is she afraid to voice her concerns.
For many students, an intimate classroom setting with lots of focus on discussion can be intimidating. What is supposed to be said; what is supposed to be understood? That tension is well known to K College students, especially newer ones, who haven’t experienced a 5-person class where the professor is on a first name basis with their students. Ranya Perez is not one of those nervous, wide-eyed teenagers staring into an academic abyss. Perez is always talking — in classes, at committees, gatherings, protests, or anywhere she feels people need to be listening; even if they didn’t know they needed to be. Kalamazoo College promotes itself as a place that values intelligence, creativity, and drive. Perez embodies all of these ideals.
Perez, a New York native, has been at K for two years now, finding her way around a 1,500 student campus. She walks with confidence, carrying her NY and Dominican roots proudly in her voice, curls and social media. Her family moved from the Dominican Republic when she was two years old, but her neighborhood kept the Dominican culture alive inside of her.
“I always felt like I was in the Dominican Republic because our whole neighborhood was full of Dominicans — Spanish being spoken everywhere, plantains in the stores and a lot of music and dancing,” Perez said.
Perez seeks that richness at K in every way she can. She is involved with many organizations on campus, including executive board for the Women of Color Alliance (WOCA), and being a part of the Latin Student Organization (LSO) and Black Student Organization (BSO).
On top of her many extracurricular activities, Perez intends to double major in Anthropology/Sociology and Critical Ethnic Studies. Her scholarship takes her past the classroom however, as she is involved with Translating for Immigrants through the Center for Civic Engagement and was on the Puerto Rico Fundraising Committee. Her passion for equality and justice stretches beyond her majors and clubs. Perez can be found at protests, social justice events, and even the cafeteria, schooling someone on how racism functions through institutions just like the one she attends. Her friends are always there to support her as well.
“My friends and I hold each other down, and make sure we succeed in this space even though it wasn’t made for us,” Perez said.
Perez shared her favorite memory at K, starring in In the Heights, last year’s hit musical with an all people of color cast. The show made history, selling out every show and cast members being invited to talk with local tv stations, Perez included. Although Perez has made Kalamazoo her home, with wonderful friends and experience, there are a few drawbacks.
“There isn’t a lot of variety in food in Kalamazoo; it’s annoying and not very good,” Perez said, once again speaking truths the whole college can appreciate. Having a Dominican background and being from a place like New York City, Kalamazoo doesn’t really stand a chance.
Aside from food, there are deeper troubles she faces as a woman of color in a predominantly white institution. From being the only black person in some classes, to facing casual racism on a regular basis, it’s an issue many feel comfortable ignoring. Perez speaks out; she won’t let anyone demean or belittle her, or anyone, for that matter. Whether it’s a Snap story calling out institutional racism, or a cafeteria conversation correcting a problematic phrase a peer said, she’s not here for any of it. Her resilience sets a standard for all students at K: no tolerance for injustice. Kalamazoo College often perceives itself as a diverse and inclusive environment, but many students of color find that’s not always the case. Perez doesn’t settle for her circumstances; she works to change them through clubs she joins, her scholarship, and intolerance of ignorance in peers.
“I’ve learned a lot and grown at K; it’s a positive experience even though it can be stressful.” Perez, like most students who endure a ten-week term, stresses too, the difference being, she owns it. If she’s willing to call out an elitist journal article, she’s equally willing to admit she’s having trouble. Often, students don’t think that’s allowed at a place like K, and just as often, students struggle. It’s college, it’s stressful. Embracing it makes it a bit easier, and that’s something Perez teaches effortlessly through the confidence that she exudes. As her friend, Ashley Santana ’19, put it, in three succinct words: Radiant, Loving, Humorous.
Through the good, and bad, Kalamazoo College becomes home for a few years, and Perez shows all those around her, how to make a college dorm feel like it.