Tori Hope Petersen is a graduate of Hillsdale College and an advocate for foster youth, a graduate of the system herself. After a group of her fellow alumni circulated a letter demanding the school speak out on Black Lives Matter, Petersen pushed back, drafting and publishing a powerful letter on her experience as a black student at Hillsdale.
Dear Hillsdale College,
I was one of your “token black” students. The essays I wrote on my admissions application spoke about my newly found faith in Christ, experiences as a former foster youth, and adversities faced while growing up with a mentally ill mother. Though my ACT score was not just below your average, but the national average, you accepted me anyways. While other prestigious colleges might have seen me as a high risk statistic, you saw me as an individual with human dignity. I look at my acceptance letter and diploma as symbols of the institution seeking justice and equality for those who represent me, and that is: former foster youth, underprivileged, undereducated, pregnant student, white, black, woman, and person.
Along with my track scholarship, you offered me a grant designated to low-income students. I couldn’t have attended Hillsdale College without that grant, as I needed it to fill the financial gap many students’ parents generously cover. Additionally, since Hillsdale College refuses to accept any government funding, I no longer had to rely on the county agency or caseworkers for documentation or representation to receive financial aid. Hillsdale College’s stance and assistance freed me from the government system that oppressed me and stifled my voice, the system that still shackles young, vulnerable men and women of color. Because I no longer needed government funds, I didn’t have to report to the people who endorsed abuse and neglect I endured as a foster youth. This caused much of my anger and bitterness to shatter, which was a catalyst to the growth of my faith. This is a statement of stifling systematic oppression.
Since I graduated in 2018 the staff in institutional advancement and I have tirelessly worked together to form the Fostering the Good Scholarship, a scholarship for former foster youth, which are 23% African American, with hopes to continue to fill that gap and leave an imprint in the life of some of the most suffering young people in America. This is a statement of fulfilling the call to help those who have less, so they might someday have more.
During my senior year I attended a casual round table lunch with six other students and Dr. [Larry] Arnn. After I expressed my heart and dream to someday build up a home for those without parental figures, Dr. Arnn affirmed he wanted the same for myself and those children. He offered me an opportunity to visit a home for underprivileged youth that had been one of the most successful homes in the nation, and purchased plane tickets for me in less than twenty-four hours. This is a statement of believing in the less fortunate for the sake of the less fortunate.
The following semester I became pregnant out of wedlock. I felt some students were unkind and some Christians I admired for their faith failed to reflect Jesus when I announced the life of my child, but Hillsdale College’s deans and leadership rallied to support me, my then-boyfriend, and my pre-born, biracial baby. This is a statement of seeing all life as equal.
I, too, initially thought silence was violence. But over the weeks, I’ve realized that sometimes silence looks like paying for a plane ticket for a dream to be fulfilled, so broken lives might be healed. Sometimes silence looks like two years of working relentlessly to fund a scholarship for the vulnerable. Sometimes silence looks like not endorsing the system that oppresses the vulnerable for their own gain, by refusing even a penny. Sometimes silence looks like handing a diploma to a young woman who doubted they’d ever hold one.
I have never viewed Hillsdale College as silent. I still yearn to practice a virtue the college taught me and displayed in the midst of the most recent racial turmoil— prudence. Hillsdale College doesn’t have to be loud with their words, because they’re bold in their actions and consistent in their education, as they whisper “justice.”
Your forever thankful alumni,