CourtesyVinoda Basnayake  Vinoda Basnayake

I guess from the very start, at New Student Orientation, no one really knows how to deal with the massive influx of new peers and no one really wants to be alone, so everyone sort of retreats to their comfort zones. Certainly without any exclusionary or mean-spirited intent, the familiar groups of athletes, euros, hippies, etc. all began to coalesce. For some reason (which I am sure a sociologist or psychologist can explain to you much better than I can) despite my almost complete lack of South Asian peers and cultural experiences beforehand, I found it so much easier to walk up to groups of brown kids. Then I joined the South Asian Society and before I knew it I had sealed my fate.

During the next four years my opinions and perceptions of my minority status at Georgetown would change and mature a great deal. I guess the initial weirdness of being part of a cultural group that I had formerly not really identified with started to wear off and turned into a deep sense of pride. The pride developed and intensified throughout my four years but other perceptions changed radically.

I think I entered the unnecessary militant stage early on when I took offense to anything and everything that I felt was offensive to my South Asian culture. I remember going up to a red-haired kid walking around Red Square wearing traditionally South Asian clothes and asking him if he thought he was funny ridiculing my culture. He patiently responded with a story of how he spent his last summer in India learning about the culture and people and how he was currently a Hindi language tutor at Georgetown. I would snicker whenever I saw large groups of flip-flops and J. Crew sweaters (who I would affectionately refer to as “the oppressors”) walk by, but then I’d watch in embarrassment of my own ignorance as I watched those same flip-flops and J. Crew sweaters be the first ones standing in line for tickets to Rangila. Then I did a complete 180 and started to feel guilty that a disproportionate number of my closest friends were South Asian. I had retreated to a comfort zone of my own and now I thought maybe I was the one being exclusionary and unwelcoming. Was I being so lethargic and cowardly that I wasn’t challenging myself to try something new?

Four years has taught me that the truth, as it always seems to have a tendency to do, lies somewhere in the middle. College was the first time that I was able to discover my roots without parental guidance and be proud of my ethnicity on my own. There is nothing wrong with identifying oneself and associating with individuals of similar backgrounds because in fact it is much easier to explore other cultures and be open minded to other ideas when you are confident and comfortable with your own. But it is crucial to understand that the point of groups like the South Asian Society is to harbor this pride and use it to introduce others to one’s culture, but to still remember that this is a conversation and not a monologue. I think during my four years at Georgetown I have learned to celebrate the diversity that all different cultures bring to the community, but more importantly I have learned that these differences provide positive focal points for uniting discussions rather than creating foolish divisions. I have come to appreciate so much the way Georgetown harbors and supports cultural events such as Rangila, Visions of Excellence and Asiafest while at the same time cultivating a sense of a united and familial campus community. As these years have passed, one thing I am certain of is that though there are very few things I take as much pride in as being brown, one of those things is undeniably being blue and gray.

Vinoda Basnayake is a senior in the McDonough School of Business.

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