Am I Quirky for the Wrong Reasons?

I awkwardly cut across the steep slope behind Sophia Gordon hall with two spunky first years when one of them turns to me and says “Oh, my god, I’ve been dying to tell you that I love your style. Your whole fit! The wide leg jeans and baggy crew neck are so far out, and it looks great with your bangs!” I’ve received enough comments like these in high school to understand the veiled meaning of her well-intended compliment. To her, I gave off a “quirky” aura. You pick up on these things after years of spending time in slightly unusual clothes and opting to sport a haircut that isn’t necessarily suitable for frizzy locks. Comments about the bangs always give it away; they are quintessentially quirky. 

Let me be clear, this episode happened on my second day at Tufts; I was under the impression that Tufts is the central hub for quirky students. I came here expecting to be immersed in a student body that shares my same eccentric interests, but I was naïve to assume that there would be that much oneness amongst 5,000 undergrads. However, I think the problem lies with my definition of quirky. Maybe this silly description has less to do with exterior appearances and more to do with simply doing as you please, regardless of the stereotypes that seek to contain you.  

I am a Latina, born and bred in Miami. There is no other city in the United States that encapsulates Latino culture like mine does. For these reasons, the act of doing as I please has always clashed with the entrenched walls of Miami’s Latina stereotypes. To my mother’s slight displeasure, I did not grow to be the typical Nicaraguan — she is a fiery, unapologetic, coffee-colored woman with the crowd-pleasing ability to move her hips side to side. To those who know my heritage, I am an oddity: a pale girl, sporting an out of date hairstyle, with a strong affinity for 80s rock ballads. 

So, this means Tufts is the gateway to a world where I can bask in an identity different from the one white people have historically given Latinos and all other POC. How is it then, that Tufts can be intensely associated with “quirkiness” when the majority of its students are white? The girl who paid me a compliment was white. She understands quirky to be an artificial description. Nothing more than interesting clothes and music tastes. There is a divide between the notions that “quirky” presents. For people of color, it is a way to establish a narrative that strays from the cultural typecasts created by white people. For white people, “quirky” can satisfy a craving for identity and belonging that their static heritage lacks. 

Do liberal arts colleges, including Tufts, associate themselves with “quirkiness” to distract from the unvarying socioeconomics and ethnic identities of their majority white students? It seems that there are so many layers to “quirky.” This humble describer has the power to offer different meanings to those that take on its representation.