Like many people on this campus, I was filled with shock and dismay as the results of last Tuesday’s election became clear. However, I was already keenly aware of the non-urban, rust belt, working class whites who delivered the Trump-Pence victory. They are my neighbors, former classmates and teachers and, yes, even my friends. I am from the heart of Trump country. In fact, I am from Mike Pence’s hometown: Columbus, Indiana.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Mike Pence and I are similar people. We grew up a few miles from each other. We both attended and graduated from Columbus North High School. And here’s my favorite: we were both president of Bartholomew County Young Democrats. Of course, that misses profound differences. He’s Donald Trump’s Vice President. He crushed teachers’ unions, fought for legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people and signed a regressive anti-choice bill that mandated fetal funerals. I am an environmental studies major with fond memories of driving with my mom around the block over and over again to yell at anti-choice protesters that “Planned Parenthood saves lives.”

Mike Pence and I hold very different values but are both somehow representatives of our shared town and state. Anyone who knows me well is probably aware that I have a complicated relationship with my hometown and it continues to shape me, the person I am and the person I will be. At the same time, I think if you asked my close friends, they wouldn’t hesitate to tell you I really dislike it. They aren’t really wrong. The sight of sunsets over rolling fields will always hold a special place in my heart, but to me, my hometown represents 18 years of feeling out of place.

Though I lived my entire pre-college life in Columbus, most of my neighbors and classmates there would not call me a local. Being a Hoosier is about heritage and values, not birth. In all fairness, I didn’t really consider myself a local either and, when I headed to Bowdoin, I naively assumed that my hometown and home state would be an unimportant part of my identity. I was eager to drive 22 hours to Maine and forget about it all as I moved on to better and brighter days. I was going to my people—the ones I had been waiting 18 years to meet.

At Bowdoin, I have found my best friends in the world but Indiana remains a peculiar part of me. I didn’t know that I had an accent before I came to Bowdoin. I didn’t know that my floormates would think my being from Indiana explained my music tastes. I didn’t think about the fact that I had never skied or sailed. I didn’t realize I would feel compelled to speak up—in class and elsewhere—for the same rural Americans I was bullied by at home.

After this election, I must consider and explain my hometown in a new context. While my peers from the coasts and cities may speak abstractly about the non-urban whites in the rust belt, this suddenly relevant part of our country is something very concrete to me. It is my best friend from second grade who was not allowed to spend time with me after his mom found out I was the ring bearer in a lesbian wedding. But it is also my neighbors who rushed to bring me balloons and a card when they found out I had pneumonia. It is all the kids in elementary and middle school who shunned me when they found out I wasn’t baptized and made certain I was aware I was going to hell. But it is also my high school teacher who still sends me care packages and takes me out to lunch when I go home. While kids in high school hated me for my Democratic political activism, my best friends traveled over 1,000 miles just to visit me for three days during our first year at college. To me, my town is a complex, weird, lived experience. But to others it is the rust belt, the corn belt, tornado alley and now, Trump/Pence country.  As many of my peers struggle to understand a part of this nation they have never seen and don’t want to, I feel obligated once again to own and represent a place that is part of me but isn’t really mine.  

Nickie Mitch is a member of the class of 2018.