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Finding a family

Nikitha Taniparti | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In general, I feel the most at home at Notre Dame when I spend time with international or ethnic minority students. That is not to say I do not have other friends; I just identify more with the international students, being one myself. This occurred to me at Monday night’s Town Hall meeting. The Carey Auditorium was full of students voicing their concerns and experiences with racial discrimination or incidents that have impacted their time here.

First, I commend all who shared their stories. People like Victor, Lindsey and Ryan definitely highlighted key issues we have to deal with on campus, ranging from name calling from passersby to racial derogations from hall staff. Most students are familiar with some episode or another in which a student has been negatively, or in some cases positively, affected by the ethnic background they identify with.

What is the basis of this? If we accept that stereotypes are inevitable and inescapable, then does that justify incidents of racial offense? While I do not agree that these stereotypes can stand as an excuse for people’s behavior, I do maintain that they are very much present everywhere and there are some things we can do to embrace them. Not accept, but use constructively.

The Town Hall was a great first step. Others include open dialogue and communication among everybody in the Notre Dame community. I also acknowledge that this is easier said than done. I can only imagine what everyone personally felt about the proceedings from Monday night — frustration, confusion, amusement — but I actually felt a sense of connection. I walked away glad that there existed so many people who would understand without much explanation what I feel like as a minority student on campus, secure that other people could relate to how I felt at the end of some of my days and enthusiastic about what will happen next on campus to address these matters.

While working, I often tell prospective students when asked how I felt about leaving home to come here for college that “I feel confident in having left my family halfway across the world only to find a wonderful new family here.” The past couple of weeks have definitely seen me struggle to sustain that sentiment. I am different from the majority of people here, I can’t quite follow most (actually, any) Rudy references, I do get asked very often, “How do you know English?” and I do think that American food is really bland. But is that necessarily wrong of me? I could have the same thoughts if I were anyone — why is the way I look and the place I come from reason enough to treat me differently?

As these questions linger in my mind, I know that things will eventually get better. They always do. I hope, though, that it happens because of the cohesive change arising from the student body, not because it’s imposed upon them. Bad days though I have had, I want to say thank you to the ever-increasing and amazing support system all around me — I live in the best dorm ever. I have too many professors who have adopted me for good and all the friends who put up with me, crazy Indian-girl that I am. Oh, and my favorite South Dining Hall staff.

Ultimately, I just wanted to say that while I understand and can attest to the unfair actions directed towards us “diversity kids,” I also somehow managed to still find that Notre Dame connection we talk about and fall in love with.

Nikitha Rao Taniparti is a sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.