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Stephanie Drenka



Had this past Sunday been any other ordinary year, I would have settled down in the evening to watch the Tony Awards and bask in the musical theater glory that once consumed my life. Even though I chose a less showtunes-filled career path, I still love living vicariously every year during The Tonys. Of course, I watched again this year, but instead of feeling joy in the watching of it, I sat alone in my living room quietly sobbing so that my husband (who had escaped to the bedroom having reached his fill of showtunes within the first 15 minutes) wouldn’t be worried.

Naturally, I cried as Lin-Manuel Miranda gave his poignant acceptance sonnet and felt tears welling up at every reference to the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting, but the moment when I lost my composure completely was during Sara Bareilles and Jessie Mueller’s performance of “She Used To Be Mine” from the musical, Waitress.

It’s not simple to say
That most days I don’t recognize me
That these shoes and this apron
That place and it’s patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used to be

The first verse of this song haunted me. I thought about the self that I used to be– one who was reckless, just enough— and it seems like someone else’s life. Nine years ago around this same time, I was president of Depaul’s Asian Cultural Exchange and organizing a Loving Day event with Spectrum, the university’s LGBTQA student organization. Something that I had noticed in my short time exposed to the Asian American community was that being a minority didn’t always supersede prejudice. I wanted to remind people that it wasn’t so long ago that it was against the law for White people to intermarry with other races or back in the days of the Exclusion act when the law against interracial marriage was specifically directed towards Chinese people. I urged my community to support our LGBTQ friends “because no matter how much heart and effort we put into whatever cause we are fighting for, if we choose to overlook the suffering of others, the blood, sweat, and tears that we have dedicated to preserving our human dignity will have been for nothing.”

To this day, the proudest moment of my life was when ACE was nominated and won DePaul’s student organization of the year award:

This year’s winner has either sponsored or co-sponsored multiple programs that support DePaul’s mission. They tried to make the ideal of dignity and inclusiveness a reality through their programs and over the year have moved from more of a social organization to one that has brought the community together through various educational efforts. Some highlights of this organization’s contributions include the following: The organization hosted, Koffee Meets Kulture, an open mic night that brought together members of different organizations representing the various communities at DePaul. This organization also co-sponsored a social justice advocacy workshop with OMSA for Human Dignity Week. This organization also took it upon themselves to be proactive, expressing their solidarity and respond to the tragedy at Virginia Tech by drafting a campus wide letter offering opportunities for dialogue and resources to deal with the tragedy. Throughout this year, this organization has strived to break down barriers and facilitate exchange among students at DePaul. They have shown a commitment to Vincentian values in action and provided opportunities for the campus community to learn from one another.

This was the same year that another shooting had rocked the country. I felt a disturbing sense of déjà vu these past few days, seeing how there has been so much focus on the Orlando nightclub shooter’s religious beliefs/ethnicity. After the media’s attention on the Virginia Tech shooter’s Korean heritage, there were incidents reported of Asian Americans being harassed and Korean community leaders that were asked by the press or felt compelled to apologize on the shooter’s behalf. Policymakers were concerned about the potential impact of the shooting on South Korea’s relations with the United States.

In the letter I wrote on behalf of ACE in response to the shootings, I stated that “we would like clarify that the Asian Pacific American community shares this catastrophic loss with the entire country and can not be expected to respond in any separate way from the rest of America. Our wish now is for the Asian Pacific American community to stand together with our fellow Americans in efforts to overcome hate, violence, and inhumanity in these coming days of mourning and reflection. We hope to promote education and awareness regarding issues such as mental health, gun violence, and intolerance.”

This week, I read a statement from Nihad Awadthe, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), “For many years, members of the L.G.B.T.Q.I. community have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community against any acts of hate crimes, Islamophobia, marginalization, and discrimination. Today we stand with them shoulder to shoulder. The liberation of the American Muslim community is profoundly linked to the liberation of other minorities – blacks, Latinos, gays, Jews, and every other community. We cannot fight injustice against some groups and not against others. Homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia – we cannot dismantle one without the other.” (#micdrop)

If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. That girl I used to be– no… the one who is still inside, but has been conditioned after years of adjusting to living in a conservative state again to be quiet and complacent– cannot remain silent anymore. I’m tired of seeing hateful words or fear-mongering political memes on Facebook from friends and even family during a time when our first priority should be outpouring love to our LGBTQ community who has experienced not only devastating loss from the shooting, but ongoing discriminatory policies and attacks on their fundamental rights. A decade ago, it would never have taken me this long to speak out publicly. I wouldn’t have wondered if my coworkers, family, or friends would think differently towards me. I had confidence in my convictions and belief in myself. It’s time for me to stop reminiscing about the girl I used to be, and become someone who that girl could be proud of today.


  • Sevi

    June 15, 2016

    THIS! Allllllllll of this!

    I seriously cannot put into words how lucky I am to have someone as strong in their convictions as one of my best friends. Your words are beautifully stated and speak volumes Stephanie.

    Stand together ❤️

    • Stephanie Drenka

      June 15, 2016

      Thanks, Sevi!! I keep looking at our amazing cheesy DC walking photo because it is a physical reminder how powerful we are together. Your friendships have pulled that part of me that I most admired about myself out slowly but surely, and it feels so good to have a piece of it back.

  • Jaclyn

    June 15, 2016

    Everything…. Thank you for opening up. Don’t EVER hide your voice or be afraid to speak your mind. The world will never learn or heal if more people don’t share compassion, support and pride. I’ve cried every day since the shooting. Not just at the horrific loss, but at the disbelief of the ignorant responses from people. On social media and in the news, it’s tragic. Keep spreading love and stand your ground the way you did in college. The world needs it more than ever. And I promise you are not alone.

  • Caroline moore

    June 15, 2016

    Stephanie – Thanks for sharing! As someone who generally indentifies as conservative (but for the record #nevertrump and I’ve got opinions on some issues that line up more liberal), it pains me that you feel stifled in sharing your opinions living here in Texas. Tragedy should always bring us together to lift others up – to stand up for the marginalized and to seek justice for victims. Getting defensive about our own points of view leaves little room for empathy and love.

    Each and every individual is valuable and when that value is stomped on because a person is Korean, black, gay, Muslim or part of any other minority group – we all have to speak up!

    • Stephanie Drenka

      June 15, 2016

      Thank you, Caroline <3 When I first moved back to DFW after college, I got a little scarred speaking out in my hometown (in the form of opinionated letters to the editor of my local paper haha) and myself and loved ones received some backlash. Definitely limitations I've probably put on myself more than the other way around, but working on feeling more free again!

  • Maria

    June 15, 2016

    According to agencies that guy was also a gay and mentally ill according to his ex-wife. i hope everything will be fine.

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