About a five minute walk from my high school, right past the railroad tracks where slow-moving cargo trains occasionally hold up rush hour traffic, is a 7/11. For those students who didn’t have the luxury of a car to drive the five minutes to Panda Express, 7/11 was the haven that provided slurpees and snacks for that last stretch of classes after lunch.
I didn’t go to 7/11 often, but twice a month, our news team had “late nights” the week the paper was to be published. And I remember one of those days, to get me through the 3-9 pm grind, I made the walk to 7/11 with some friends.
I don’t remember what I bought that afternoon, or exactly who I was with. What I do remember was the initial confusion when one of the cashiers stormed out of the store after me and accused me of stealing gum. I say confusion because, at first, as I ignored the stares of the other high schoolers and walked back inside the store to show her my backpack, I was wondering if I may have accidentally stolen something. You know, the way you hold a lipstick you were thinking of buying in your hand and accidentally walk out of the store with it.
But I showed her my backpack and my empty hands, and she shrugged and said, “Oh. Maybe it was your cellphone and I assumed it was a pack of gum.”
And what I remember more distinctly than the confusion was the searing white anger that came afterward.
I looked at her for a second, bit the insides of my cheeks, walked out and started cussing her out to my friends. The audacity. Me? Steal? And of all things— a pack of gum? And she had the gall to come running after me, shouting in front of everyone outside like I was a hoodlum, only to say— unapologetically, I might add— that it was my phone? My cheeks were burning with embarrassment and fury, and that was one of the very few times in my life that I had been so angry that I was seeing red.
But after I calmed down, I tried to understand how she might have come to that conclusion. With the proximity to the high school, students probably steal from them all the time. And maybe she was just having an extra bad day and needed to take it out on some unsuspecting high schooler. Maybe she was losing her eyesight and my rose gold iPhone somehow looked like an Extra pack. Maybe her going blind was the reason she was so vindictive.
While I tried to rationalize why she’d done what she did, I didn’t forgive or forget. Clearly, seeing as I wrote an entire article about what happened four years ago. But the purpose of finding another angle to a story is not to change someone’s mind on a subject, but to understand differences, and respect those differences.
That lesson had never been more clear to me than when The Wire started focusing on complicated issues like sexual assault and immigration last year. Our main goal then was to focus on showcasing womxn who exemplified grit, and we hope to continue that not only with our weekly stories but also through our second annual 30 under 30 next spring. This year we will be starting Womxn of Cal Poly, a series inspired by Humans of New York, featuring posts on all types of inspiring womxn which will be posted weekly on our Instagram and Facebook pages. But our main goal this year is in response to the intensifying polarity on this campus on serious topics like race, free speech and sexual assault. The Wire plans to start a video series on finding middle ground, humanizing and building empathy for those who think, look, dress, act or speak differently from us.
As always, I hope that as The Wire goes into its third year and continues to grow, that you grow along with it. I hope we are able to empower you to speak out against injustices— on campus, in our community and nationally. I hope we can show you new perspectives that will provoke thoughtful discussion. And most importantly, this year I hope The Wire empowers you to overcome differences and work towards building a better future.
At the very least, you can do more than cry over spilled milk (or stolen gum) in an article years later.