Here’s What Got This Oakland Teen Through 14 Years In Foster Care

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum.
In our series A Class Of Their Own, Refinery29 is following five college freshwomen from across the country as they define their identities and relationships.
As told to Hayley MacMillen.
I go by Cam*. I am an 18-year-old queer woman of color and a freshman at Scripps College. The background of my life revolves around being in foster care since I was a toddler. I went through that system, which is not a lovely system, and ended up in about 45 different foster homes, about 13 different group homes, and about 20 different schools. Freshman year of high school alone, I moved like seven times, and so my life hasn’t really had a lot of stability. Part of what I’m looking for in college is to get myself a community and live somewhere safe; I have yet to experience that. I’m looking for stability. I’m hoping not to transfer. I really hope that Scripps College works out.
I got into foster care when I was four years old, with my sister, who is a little older than me. My mom wasn’t able to keep us. She’s not really meant to be a caregiver for anyone. My sister and I were placed into the same foster homes until I was six, but then she was adopted and I was not. The family that adopted her decided to cut ties, so I was unable to speak to or see her until she turned 18. About a year ago, I found her on Facebook. We are both different people now, so our "relationship" is pretty much superficial and nonexistent.
I found my mother about six months ago, on Facebook too. I met her once since then, and she is very draining, negative, abusive. I have no time for her. Zero relations.

Part of what I’m looking for in college is to get myself a community and live somewhere safe — I have yet to experience that.

Even though throughout my high school years I never got lower than a B (I had all As and Bs and I was the valedictorian of my graduating class), I wasn’t doing as well as I could after I started drinking. When I was 17, my foster parent at the time lost her license, and so from there I moved into my own apartment. That’s when I started having issues with alcohol. I was at a difficult point in my life, and it seemed like the only outlet. All my life, I was like “I’m going to graduate high school; I’m going to go to college,” and that’s the only thing that’s really kept me afloat. Since alcohol was really getting in the way of me doing that, it was time to find a solution. I tried to kick it about two to three times. Then, I stopped when I was 18.
Everything that really kept me going was my end goal to go to college. It was the only way I wasn't going to become a statistic.
Now, my main priority is to graduate and handle my responsibilities, and so I’ve been accepting that throughout this process, and I’m staying focused without letting other people distract me from my goal. I'm thinking about getting a master's degree, so I’m meeting with a few of my advisers to figure out what courses I need. I aspire to create an organization to help foster youth navigate the system. Right now, I’m taking six classes. I’m also in a writing club, the Black Student Union, and a foster-youth club that I co-founded.
I tend to hang out with upperclassmen a lot. The freshies I hang out with are super down-to-earth and enjoyable to be around, though just a handful. I think maturity-wise, I had to grow up super fast. I kind of connect with upperclassmen on a better level.
At the beginning of the year, I made a lot of connections that were pretty strong, but then after that, when people started smoking weed and drinking, I automatically felt a disconnect. After you connect with someone when they’re sober, you can’t really connect on the same level when they’re drunk, because they're not on the same level. Being sober here has been kind of difficult in that sense. But I’ve been there, done that with drinking. I don’t really want to relive that life again. To relax, I go out to eat with friends (a lot), go on hikes, go to the beach, listen to music, write poetry, and talk, talk, talk.
Currently, I live in a residential hall. Luckily, I have a single dorm, and I have a balcony. I’m around people all day; we eat together, we pretty much have to share the bathroom together, we go to class together. I need Cam time at the end of the day, and so I’m glad that I have that. Plus, I sleep outside on my balcony!
I identify as lesbian. From a very young age, I realized I am. Being a lesbian here is, like, the norm. I don't particularly have any strong feelings about it, and Scripps has a big queer community. I feel comfortable here. During high school, I wouldn’t necessarily say I got into anything super-serious, maybe like eight months was my most serious relationship. Over time, that relationship became something I didn’t really want to be a part of, because the woman I was dating was very negative. I was like, Yeah, you’re cool to have sex with, but not really personality-wise. I already have a lot going on, and the last thing I need is negative energy. The point of a relationship is to build up on each other, not bring each other down; if that’s your relationship, you might as well be single.
People do have a lot of hookups in college. That’s not my style. There are too many diseases out there; it needs to be official or whatnot. I’ll be interested in dating, maybe, next semester when I’m not as busy. It’s very hard to navigate that, and I’m going to handle my business first, although there are a few people I have my eye on. I’m not going to say that I don’t.
I take a lot of meds — antidepressants, anti-anxiety. I can’t sleep at night, so I have sleeping medicine, and stuff like that. Over the years, I’ve been learning how to cope better, so I can be focused for a certain amount of time, but after that, I need to have a break. I was going to run for president, but I’m just like, that’s too much. I’ll do that next year.
*We have updated this story to remove identifying information of the interviewee upon request

More from Trends

R29 Original Series