Two-people-talking-logoCollege catalogues did a great job of convincing me that my four years of undergraduate study would be a time of robust diversity, cultural exchange, and a catalyzed melting pot of ethnicity. After all, the African American woman on the brochure was so obviously having a great laugh over her chemistry book with the Hispanic man, and that girl with the hijab literally radiated acceptance in showing her phone to the Chinese student in the background.

I effusively welcomed the prospect of cultural exchange by way of textbook-jokes and was thrilled to find that my roommates were of different backgrounds. I am still grateful for our room’s diversity, not only because of my now intermediate understanding of Spanish and ability to butcher the word “car” in Mandarin, but because of the fact that any lingering prejudices I’d had about either ethnicity have been wholeheartedly abolished. Through simple conversations and late-night reminiscing, we’ve discovered similarities between our three cultures that my Persian parents would think impossible (like the fact that Persians are not the only ones to use food as an expression of love), and we’ve found great solace in sharing our experiences as first-generation college students in our cultural contexts. We’ve discussed the pain of hearing our ethnicities’ respective stereotypes and admitted to one another that our families have partaken in the judgment of each other’s cultures. Our dialogue has left me optimistic about our future generation; if conversations such as these are occurring in college dorms, a place of great self-development and growth that will impact our world views for long after graduation, racism should at least be slightly alleviated once we enter the world of policy and reform. And if not, we’ve all at least experienced an ideological and cultural exchange that I personally find invaluable.

While I’ve likely gotten relatively lucky with the harmony of my randomly matched room, I like to think that any kind of multiculturalism is valuable regardless of individual personalities. I haven’t had a day during which I’ve seen any of my familiar cultural customs or sayings mirrored or repeated, and it has been enriching beyond belief. It is for this reason I find it somewhat disheartening that my experience is not being shared among many students who opt for racially-determined Living Learning Communities. I cannot speak for the experiences or sentiments of under-represented minorities attending college as the first in their families, or under-represented minorities at all (although I do think the classification of Middle Easterners as “white” in college and census surveys is odd) but I think my point still retains some validity. It is more than understandable that an African American student at a predominately White and Asian school would want the company of people who share in his or her background or culture. It must be incredibly helpful to the transition to college to be in a somewhat familiar environment and not feel ostracized ideologically or culturally. And it is for this reason, I believe, the value of cultural clubs and associations must be emphasized. To voluntarily spend a portion of one’s time participating in cultural activities and bonding with similarly-minded people seems to me a valuable alternative to living in halls of cultural homogeny. While comfort and acceptance are critical components to the college transition, I think the growth and, often, discomfort, of experiencing a new cultural environment are equally critical. As I type this, however, I am reminded of my limited viewpoint as a Persian girl from Los Angeles with great roommates. But I digress.

While comfort and acceptance are critical components to the college transition, I think the growth and, often, discomfort, of experiencing a new cultural environment are equally critical.

For many, the dorms may be the only true cultural exchange one gets. Once we enter clubs, develop friend groups, and find our places among the 20,000 students at UCSB, we may likely fall into patterns of what is familiar and reminiscent of home and that often ends up producing a somewhat racially-segregated campus. It doesn’t take a professional to notice that our school, like most other large research universities where the majority is White, has not been entirely successful in producing a harmonious and interactive multicultural society. Such feats take time, sustained effort, and willingness by the students, and the dorms are one such way to promote this exchange and open-mindedness. Unless your roommates happen to be despicable and merely drive you to the point of prejudice, in which case, I recommend a room change.

Sabrina Hodjati will, one day, be able to say a full sentence in Mandarin!