Growing up in Miami, I had qualms about Vanderbilt and its reputation in self-segregation and racism. I read that comments posted on http://www.Juicycampus.com had spurred discussion about racism on campus and that the administrators were trying really hard to bridge the rift between races and social classes.
When I got here, my first impression was that racism wasn’t a problem. After all, people at the airport were courteous, cafeteria ladies would not murmur obscenities and all the students I met in the “orientation” (Sometimes referred to as “Camp Vandy” because freshmen moved in early and did camp like events like going on boat rides and having casino night) were kind to me.
But after about a week, I understood where the reputation of racism at Vanderbilt came from.
By racism, I mean it in the softest sense: it would be almost impossible for anyone who is not a minority to even sense the existence of the discrimination.The reason why you have to be a minority to sense the racism is because the racism is not about actions but about attitudes.
People’s attitudes toward me revealed an underlying sense of discomfort that many people have with minorities. For instance, not once here have I been approached by a white stranger just to get to know each other (even with my VUCepter group). I have always been the one to initiate contact and even after that, I have to be the one that guides the conversation to somewhere meaningful. Curiously enough, I’ve been approached by not only asians, but blacks, indians and arabs just “because”.
Of course, when I get to know them better, many of the white students become comfortable and conversation becomes easier. Yet, i have still not been able to make a consistent white friend.
Some people might say”Maybe you are self-segregating”. To that, I would say that I have tried my best not to self-segregate. I have avoided asians as much as possible and have tried to make friends who are not like me. The college, however, hasn’t been helpful in that they gave me an asian roommate and urged me to join an asian group before I even arrived on campus. My closest friends now are: Two blacks, one half-hispanic, an Indian and my roommate.
Sure, I’ve got white hallmates who are nice and courteous but we have not made any connection. There is a mutual awkwardness between us that is hard to explain. Since they haven’t seen many asians before, they don’t know what to say to me or how to treat me. To me, it seems like they’re not talking to me as much because I’m asian and now I become self-conscious of being asian and I remain quiet and insecure.
The physical manifestations of racism are not visible on campus but the tension between the races is definitely there.
If you’re Asian and considering Vanderbilt expecting a strong education AND the great greek scene, football games and social scene, you will be disappointed. You will have difficulty tapping into the greek scene, football games and social activities.
Do I regret coming to Vanderbilt? Somewhat. The racial tension that I experience wherever I go is uncomfortable and would rather not have to deal with it but the academics and quality of life here is great. Don’t let social discomfort stop you from coming to this college if you’re really only worried about academics.