JoAnn Michel


Look at the woman in my portrait.

What if she told you that she rarely smiles in public? Would you believe her?

I asked several W&L friends, classmates and acquaintances to sum up their very first impressions of me, in one to two words. The most common descriptions were:


Honestly, I’m not surprised by any of these. I’m not one to speak up much in class.

I take my coursework so seriously that I drive myself crazy. I always try to be polite, even if I disagree with you. I never raise my voice. I rarely smile in public.

If I’ve learned anything about myself during my time at this university, it’s that I will go so far out of my way to be “acceptable” that I end up not recognizing the person I present. I’m actually very sarcastic, very opinionated, very stubborn. I roll my neck. I flip my hair. I have a smart mouth. But very few people have witnessed that me, the real me.


Because I am a low-income Black woman who attends a predominantly white institution. One that wasn’t made to accommodate any of those groups. Because many parts of my personality are also common, negative stereotypes. Because being seen as “too” anything (loud, sassy, Black, confident, existent) is one of my biggest fears.

So, I hide it.

In favor of a stranger’s comfort.

At the expense of my own.

Let me be clear: I am not ashamed of my social background.

I’m proud to be the daughter of Haitian immigrants

I’m proud to have earned a full scholarship to such a prestigious school.

I just want that pride to be as obvious to the people who don’t really know me as it is to the people who do.

Look at the woman in my portrait.

What if she told you that she’s finally learning to be comfortable in her own skin?

What if she told you that when she asked the same friends, classmates, and acquaintances to sum up their current impressions of her, they used words like:


What if she told you that she’s multi-dimensional? Would you believe her?