Reflective Essay – Anger, Frustration, and Helplessness

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Hieu “Hugh” Nguyen

Anger, Frustration, and Helplessness

Before I came to Trinity, racial issues had not come to my mind. I grew up and lived in Vietnam in 16 years, where there were only Vietnamese. In one year and a half in an American boarding high school, I lived and studied with many people from different races. However, I was never aware that I was a minority, and never felt out of place. During lunch or dinner, people from different races sat together. I had great friendships with a lot of white, Hispanic, and African students. Regarding social class, I’m from the lowest class in my home country because neither of my parents had jobs due to their serious health conditions. I was surrounded by privileged kids in high school, however, I did not  feel uncomfortable at all. We talked and discussed about almost everything on Earth. Unlike what I expected, a year and a half in an American  high school did not prepare me well enough to face the cultural shock in Trinity College. I experienced many signs of racism and classism on Trinity’s campus right in the first week of school. Taking the “Color and Money” seminar with the hope that it would help me build skills and strengths to fight against racism or classism on campus, I was a bit disappointed. Though I have gained tremendous amount of knowledge about race and social class, the knowledge does not do anything but raises fear, helplessness, and anger inside me.

I fear Trinity College. Yes, even though Trinity is the school that I am so grateful for because I am on a full ride, I fear this school! Being an international student who cannot afford a cent for a college education, I am well aware how much one’s socioeconomic status affects his chance of being offered admissions to any college. However, the simulation of the college admissions process that the class conducted really paralyzed me. I was totally stunned at how a school considered as “generous” like Trinity could have such a poor financial aid budget: $70,000 for 15 applicants (Round 4: the F-round, 2013). Thus, the school does not promote the idea of meritocracy, and so does any other school that has similar or lower budget than Trinity’s. I fear for the future of thousands of low-income college applicants out there, including US citizens and international students, who dare to dream big, who are brave enough to believe in the American dream, would be turned down by the less academically qualified, less motivated, and less intellectually curious but more wealthy ones. I’m angry and disappointed at most American colleges as they really are the opposite of what many international students think. American colleges are not educational equalizers.

Even for low-income kids who are lucky to get full financial aid to go to college, like me, we still struggle to fit in the social life at our colleges. One of the class’s books, “Paying for the Party”, describes how students of very different social classes go through very different experiences in college. For a low-income kid being trapped in a hall full of party kids, like me, it is a nightmare. I don’t have the money to transfer to another school like the way many isolations in “Paying for the Party” do. The book made me question “is my life at Trinity a trade-off for receiving a full ride, for daring to pursue my dreams?” The sadness inside me boils whenever I think about the seminar. The class helps students to have a deeper understanding of the life of low-income students (and lives of students from different social classes) in college, but it neither teaches how to make their lives less unbearable, nor intends to spread the word so that everyone on campus can know about the life of isolations. What is the point of knowing all these stuff but doing nothing about them?

In terms of race, the class does help me to understand more about racism and many daily signs of racism on campus. There are not only easily observed signs like people associating with those who are from the same race or class, but also under-the-surface signs. For instance, the interview project that the class conducted with Trinity’s sophomores confirms that clubs that are meant to promote multicultural interactions on campus have been doing the opposite. This is opposed to what Adolfo Abreu writes in his letter. These clubs, though theoretically would be “open to all those interested in the culture that the organization represents” (Abreu), actually are places for only people of the same race to hang out together.

Tatum’s racial development theory is quite helpful. It helps explain a lot in why there is a lack of multicultural interaction on Trinity’s campus. Based on the racial development theory, many students are in the emersion stage, which is other races than one’s own become irrelevant, and people only hang out with those of the same race. I see that multiracial interactions only increase when the number of students in the internalization stage of Tatum’s theory increases. However, as Tatum suggests, friendship beyond racial boundaries is possible, however that only happens when there are White kids who are ready to deal with minorities in terms of self-definition (Tatum 77). This answers Adolfo’s point about “Why do all the White Kids Sit Together?” Until the white kids really reach out and willing to be friends with non-white students, the number of students in the internalization stage will remain the same and so will the limited number of multiracial interactions at this school.

However, neither the seminar nor the school really tries to tackle racial issues on campus. This saddens me most. The interview conducted by the class shows that many students are well aware of racial and social tensions to some extent, but they are not likely to discuss about these topics in public. For instance, Michael whispered to his interviewer “Mather. Where people sit” and he tried to not speak out the name of the side that he sat whenever he goes to Mather (which would be “minority”) (Michael 3). In addition, Trinity College Confidential page, like Adolfo points out, is mostly about hooking up, partying, drugs, appearance. Posts about these topics get the most “likes” while posts about racial issues are nowhere to be found. There are very few students who are courageous enough to step up and talk about it. Sadly, they are often shooed away. For example, one student in our class who raised her voice about a racist joke made by other Trinity students on Facebook was verbally attacked. I feel extremely helpless. Even if I made some comments on Facebook to help her, the ignorant kids would not have listened to me anyway. If people like her who has the courage to step up are treated disrespectfully like that, who would even dare to fight against the racial tension on this campus? We students are powerless in trying to do that. Adolfo presents many insightful thoughts in his letter, but how many people have read his letter thoroughly? And how many of those who read it have really changed their racist minds and behaviors? I bet that number is less than the number of fingers on a human body. Not all students are forced to read Adolfo’s letter, so it is not likely that the most racist kids know and will ever know of his letter. The same problem happens to Trinity Tripod. There have been inspiring posts on Tripod about racial issues. For example, there were two written by students on the December 3rd issue. But the problem is how many students, and even faculty, really read Tripod? This is why the college’ administration needs to do something, because we students alone do not have enough power to change this whole racist system. A small action like requesting every student to read Adolfo’s letter would be undeniably beneficial, however the school has not done it, or has not come up with this idea? The seminar does not help, either. Like what I mentioned about social class, what is the point of knowing all these racial stuffs, then do nothing about it? Sometimes, knowledge without actions is useless. Sometimes, I even wish that I had never taken this course, so that I can be like my friends, who don’t know much about the racial and social tensions at Trinity and never have these feelings of powerlessness, anger, and frustration.

Please! Those who have power at Trinity please do something to really tackle racial and social issues on campus! I beg you! I’m sure there are students like me, who constantly seek for an opportunity to fight against racism and classism at this school. Once you trigger the fight, we all would join in the fight. I will definitely devote myself for it, because I cannot bear to see racism and classism happen at my home anymore!

Works Cited

Armstrong, Elizabeth, and Laura Hamilton. Paying for the Party: how College Maintains Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print.

Dougherty, John. Round 4: the F-round for Financial aid Evaluations. Color and Money Admissions Simulation Data, Trinity College, Fall 2013.

Provost, Kerri. Trinity Student Offers Suggestions for Bridging Town-Gown Chasm. Web log post. Real Hartford. WordPress, Nov 26, 2013.

Tatum, Beverly. Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Other Conversations About Race. New York: Basic Books, 2003. Print.