Not another segregation article
We tend to eat dinner with those who look like us, and we feel inclined to join cultural groups with those who have similar backgrounds. To some, this may understandably bring to mind the term “segregation,” yet I believe the term “identity” is more fitting to the situation at hand.
When we first start off as freshmen at college, we are forced to face a completely new environment. Every day brings about countless little decisions and challenges. This leads to a transitional period that should not be taken for granted in its ability to decrease our senses of stability and self. This unsteadiness is what enables us to learn, with the typical notion of “venturing outside a comfort zone.” However, this process is only made possible with the knowledge that a comfort zone does in fact exist and is there for us when we feel the need to return.
Wash. U. tries its best to establish these comfort zones for us from the time we step foot on campus, as we are handed t-shirts that enable us to identify with a residential college. We are then encouraged to bond with those who live on our floor, and so on. Although these traditions enable us to create a sense of who we are here, the beauty of the cultural groups and opportunities to spend time with those from similar backgrounds is that they allow us to additionally hold onto where we come from.
Perhaps for the 58 percent white majority of the student body, maintaining one’s cultural or racial background may not seem like a primary objective in adjusting to life at college (which would explain the lack of a “White Students Association”). It is understandable then that a white freshman may experience a sense of shock when exposed to seemingly exclusive cultural groups at the activities fair or when walking through the “segregated” tables at Bear’s Den. To settle this alarming sensation, all that is needed is a change in perspective.
A typical student walking through Bear’s Den at the beginning of freshman year may have a thought akin to, “Wow, I couldn’t even sit there if I wanted to because they’re all speaking Korean. Why don’t they try to make some different friends?” Perhaps these thoughts would not occur, however, if he or she knew what was going on inside the minds of the students sitting at that table. For some of them, these first few weeks at school may have been their first few weeks in the United States. They have to adjust to an entirely new culture while simultaneously striving to succeed academically. This dinner table therefore transforms from an unfortunate display of self-segregation into an oasis for cultural identity; it allows for a connection to Korea in the middle of a university cafeteria in Missouri.
These cultural outlets allow for students to recharge, and ready themselves to make the most of whatever ventures outside the comfort zone that the next day will bring. As the uncertainties of freshman year fade away, students will gain a firmer sense of their identity on campus as well as a firmer sense of where they came from.
So don’t give up hope on the “progressiveness” of Wash. U. students. Friendships shouldn’t be forced, and luckily we are in an environment with enough curious students to ensure that these friendships will naturally occur over time. Diversity has much to offer, and sometimes it has to be fostered by these notorious Bear’s Den dinner tables in order for it to thrive. As long as we are not forcing the “segregation,” it serves a critical role in the growth of each individual student.