#UMassDBelieves | Class of 2027 Provost Writing Contest Winners

June Melvin | 2023, UMassD Believes 1ST PLACE WINNER


 I believe that if you aren’t directly hurting anyone, you should be allowed to be who you are. Before I begin my elaboration, I need to establish some context. I identify as a transgender woman and use she/her pronouns. In 2020, I transitioned from male to female. Growing up male in a semi-conservative family, I never felt like myself. I was miserable, never smiling. I constantly received comments from family members and teachers that I seemed upset or sad when I was just feeling the way I always felt, a feeling I wouldn’t realize was not normal for many years. I distinctly remember having a conversation with my sister after I transitioned about how she noticed I was smiling for the first time and that she couldn’t recall a single time I really smiled before transitioning. I hadn’t realized it before this conversation, but she was correct. I couldn’t and still cannot remember a time pre-transition when I smiled without forcing myself to do so. 

Transitioning is not something I will ever regret. I am so glad I was able to experiment with my identity, because it allowed me to grow and realize who I really am. I began to wear feminine clothing, such as skirts and dresses, and makeup like lipstick and mascara. Once I started dressing as and being referred to as a woman, acting more feminine and expressing my true self, my world became a lot brighter, I felt glad to be alive, and I got to feel (and look) hot as hell! For the first time in my life, I was truly happy. However, this change was not welcomed by everyone. 

From being told I didn’t “look woman enough” to being intentionally misgendered as a form of punishment, I, like so many other transgender people, was and still am made to feel I don’t belong and am shamed for being myself every day by bigots. Transgender people are villainized and made to feel like we’re hurting people. However, that’s not true at all. Only after realizing I wasn’t hurting anyone by being myself was I able to be proud of who I am, despite the constant bigotry in our society. I received a lot of backlash from people I knew who claimed that what I was doing was hurtful to them, but they were not able to back that claim up. They were not being hurt; they were being made uncomfortable not because I was transgender, but because of how unusual it is and because of how negatively society portrays transgender people. I wasn’t the one hurting them; their inability to accept change and their societal conditioning was. I eventually realized that there are people who will make you feel good about being yourself and who will either accept you for who you are or learn to do so in time. I was so much happier after transitioning, and I learned that if nobody was really being hurt, being myself was worth others’ mild discomfort. 


The Power of Compassion

I believe in the power of compassion. After just turning ten, and demolishing a chocolate cake, I found myself in a hospital room across from a small toddler. I was terrified from the ambulance ride. It didn’t help my agitation when the toddler would cry and yell the whole night. Why me? I would think. Whenever she would express her friendliness by running around the room, it would aggravate me in my negative of mind. Why me? Why does she have to be in the same room as me? 

I believe this memory had such a significant impact on me not because it was the night I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, but because it forced me to think how that “annoying” toddler was just as scared as I was. She was less capable of understanding what was happening. She was a scared, sick child, too. She felt everything I felt and just wanted to make a friend. We were two sick kids in a hospital room.  

While I believe in the power of showing compassion to those whom we may not know the roots of their story, I also need to be able to forgive my ten-year-old self. I regret not making the girl’s stay in the hospital happier, but I was only sick and scared. Medical trauma was taking its effect on both her and me. I often wonder what happened to the little girl I shared that room with, but I can move forward as a better person in my adult life. When you look at anyone it is easy to judge them for the things you can see or hear. But whoever they appear to be, you can never know what they are experiencing. They may need your human empathy more than you could imagine.  

I believe it is equally crucial to be compassionate to ourselves. Often, I look in the mirror and see nothing but failure. I know that many people around the world have seen the same thing in their mirrors for a multitude of reasons. Everyone has faced something that has made it hard to look in the mirror… discrimination, violence, emotional abuse, poverty, or maybe even just a failed test. For many people I know, it can be often easy to be empathetic towards others, but exceedingly difficult to accept when they need compassion themselves. We must recognize our faults for our own personal growth, but it is also important to remember that we are no less human than those around us.  

In moments of depression, anxiety, or negative thoughts, it can be hard to show compassion to ourselves. It gets hard to repeat the words we say to our friends as advice. It can be hard to walk ourselves to a therapist’s office. It can be exceedingly difficult to not give up on ourselves. But believing in the power of compassion means that we can look in the mirror and say,  

“I am proud of you, too.” 


A Cruel World Worth Saving 

I was 6 years old when I realized that the world was cruel. Frequently, I accompanied my Portuguese grandmother to the grocery store to buy groceries for the week. She always gave me some money for me to use on the little toy vending machines. However, I noticed a homeless man begging for money outside the store. I decided he needed that money more than I did. So when my grandmother was at the cash register, I went outside and gave the old man the change. He thanked me and left soon after. Before I returned inside, a middle-aged woman pulled me aside and scolded me for what I had done. She told me never to give homeless people money as they would use it for bad things like drugs and alcohol. She took me back inside and berated my grandmother for teaching me such things. Little me felt awful. Was I really in the wrong for helping someone in need? Later, I would see that same homeless man eating at a McDonalds. He had used the money that myself and others gave him to buy himself a meal. It is important to remember that behind every person is a human heart with emotions, struggles, and stories.

At a young age, you are often shielded from the truth. Adults’ and children’s media fill your mind with a cotton candy-coated rendition of the world. They lie straight to your face as they say, “there is no war, no poverty, no violence, no injustice,” to name a few. So how are we supposed to fix these issues if we do not learn they exist?

 As you grow, you learn about this cruelty, and by that time it is far too late. You have already faced or seen these aspects of life. On the news, you see families, brothers, sisters, friends, and strangers protest in the name of justice. In the newspaper, you read articles about disasters caused by global warming that have decimated forests and people’s homes. On social media, you hear about the latest school shooting where victims mourn the deaths of their classmates and teachers. You simply cannot escape it.

These horrific aspects of life are swept under the rug, and often it is up to the next generation to uncover these issues. As each generation grows older, we see a new younger generation take up the mantle for change. And why is that? Should not the older generation be wiser and more inclined to fix their past mistakes? Why is it always a new generation that has to advocate for change? Perhaps each generation possesses a new, different, raging fire of hope unlike the previous generation.

The undeniable truth is that the world is cruel, but it is up to humanity to make this world a better place. However, we can only accomplish this together. A single person may be able to create a ripple but two or more can create a wave. So let us join hand and hand, human and human. We can make this world a better place, no matter how long it takes.

Mark W. Hemment | 2023, UMASSD BELIEVES Honorable Mention

Leveraging Sports for Social Justice

“As a Black Man and as a former player, I think it is best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.” This statement was made by Kenny Smith (the well-known NBA analyst) before exiting the live television show, Inside the NBA, on August 26, 2020. His declaration was made in support of NBA players who boycotted their games following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin three days earlier. Kenny’s fellow commentators looked on as he left the stage, while his colleague Ernie Johnson declared, “I respect that.”   

By choosing to stand in solidarity with the players and step away from his role, Kenny exemplified the impact that sports can have beyond the game itself and how they can become a truly powerful vehicle of unification. While it is common for fans of different backgrounds and beliefs to come together to cheer on the same team, it is rare that a sports team can unite those same fans around an idea outside of the “sports world.”  This, however, is exactly what happened on August 26th.  

Had the NBA not created a “Bubble” during the Covid-19 pandemic, the boycott may never have occurred. The Bubble was a $190 million investment by the NBA to protect its 2019–20 season and its players from the pandemic. Its creation allowed for both a regular season and a playoff period. While many NBA players may have elected to enter the Bubble to preserve their status or increase their finances, their participation in this sports “experiment” became an unforeseen opportunity to spread a message of social justice.  

Before the start of a critical fifth playoff game, the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take to the floor against the Orlando Magic. Their action was intended as a protest against the lack of legal response following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. This singular decision prompted many players and fans to take to Twitter to protest this injustice in our country. In future games, athletes took to the court with phrases stitched on the backs of their jerseys such as “Say Her Name,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Education Reform,” and “Vote,” to help call attention to social and racial injustices. As a result, more fans drew inspiration from these players, and joined them to protest for change.  

I count myself as one of these fans. The players’ protests encouraged me to take more of an interest in the news, and ultimately participate in various local protests. As a sports journalist for my school’s newspaper, I was inspired to write about the issue and make my peers aware of this call to action to stop social injustices. My hope was that as I was motivated to care, others might follow suit.

In a time of separation and disconnection brought about by the pandemic, the players’ actions demonstrated the great potential of sports as a unifying force. Sports gave (and continues to give) athletes a platform to promote social justice and increase awareness. In turn, it launched a movement that motivated countless people (both in and out of the sports world) to join in the fight for change. In this way, the NBA fully realized its stated mission to “Inspire and connect people everywhere through the power of Basketball.”