Dear Grinnell College: An Open Letter to My Alma Mater

Dear Grinnell College,

I write this letter with a heart full of gratitude, sadness, and hope.

Every day, I feel grateful to you for making it possible for a girl who grew up without running water to get a world class education and pursue a life of her dreams. It started with a full scholarship and work study opportunities on campus all four years, along with summer internship grants. Our relationship did not end with my graduation. It actually got stronger. Right after graduation, I received a small post-graduation service award that allowed me to move to Washington, DC. In 2006, I received the Wall Service Award that helped me to build the organization I had co-founded a year earlier with a personal contribution by Grinnell professors Mark Montgomery and Irene Powell.

Your investment in me and the organization in our early days made it possible for Adhikaar to become a powerhouse in facilitating new immigrants and low wage workers become leaders in the fight for justice for themselves and for everyone else. We were able to shift narratives and change industry conditions, particularly in domestic work and nail salon industries. You recognized my work with additional money in the form of the Grinnell Prize. I am happy to have been the first, and so far the only, alum to receive the prize. Among my accolades, I am most proud of the Grinnell Prize, because I felt that my life embodied the vision of my alma mater.

Your financial contributions have made a tremendous difference in my life, no question about that. But more than money, what I value most is the deep friendships with my classmates, professors, and staff, many of whom are still a strong presence in my life. I have come back often, as a guest lecturer, as Wall Award committee member, and most recently as a visiting professor. I have been a face of your recruitment ads. I have hosted Grinnellians in New York for short visits and mentored them during summer internships. I have enjoyed all of my interactions, and my love for you has grown stronger.

However, it has not been easy to remain in love with an open heart. When you scale back full scholarships for international students, I see the door close on the face of a younger me, whose family will never be able to afford the education. When programs like Posse are discontinued, door closes for similarly-placed domestic students. When I learn how many support staff have to hold a second job to make ends meet, I wonder whether you value buildings more than people. When I see the leadership pushing back against student unionizing, I question if you honored me because you really valued my work facilitating people to speak up or because nail salons were the topic du jour in 2016.

The current pandemic has forced me to pause and reflect on what I really value. It is an opportunity for institutions like Grinnell as well. I remain grateful to you for the opportunities I have received, and I will continue working to make those opportunities available to everyone else. I will continue to be a thorn on the side of your conscience. I will continue pushing you to live up to your stated mission of social justice. I hope for the day I can love you fully, unconditionally.

Sincerely in solidarity,
Luna Ranjit ‘00

organizer at heart. strategy consultant by trade. mostly prose with occasional forays into poetry.

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