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Pet Sins July 1999

European American students show intolerance for foreign students and Americans of color

I was a student at a liberal arts college. There were a group of international students in my dorm. They were all either West Asian (for the more Eurocentric-minded, this means Middle Eastern) or East Asian. They would, as other students do, get together in the living room and play their music or watch their movies.

One of the foreign students was playing a piece of foreign music on the piano. Some European Americans started clapping "with" the rhythm. (or I should say, trying to disrupt the rhythm) It was not done in an appreciative or respectful manner. When the foreigner actually stopped playing and looked at them in puzzlement, the European Americans guffawed loudly at her. Otherwise, they did not address the foreign student in any way. If was clear they were not laughing with her but at her.

From these observations, I cannot believe that the European Americans were acting out of appreciation and respect. It is mockery and disrespect, if not for a certain culture, at least for that particular foreign individual.

Another 2 European American women, A and B, one handicapped, would roll their eyes whenever West Asian (again, Middle Eastern for those of us Eurocentric folk) music was being played in the dorm. This was witnessed by more than one student, including one non-West Asian. One of the West Asian students asked them if the music was bothering them, and if she should turn down the volume. The two white women feigned surprise and said "Oh, no." A Turkish student remarked that she was surprised the white woman's minority status as a handicapped person did not teach her tolerance for other minorities.

Once, the international students arranged a foreign movie night and invited the rest of the dorm. When one of the foreigners was doing a promotional speech for the movie night, another student heard an European American student, M, snort "Heh--Heh--Heh".

During foreign movie night, the same 2 women A and B who had rolled their eyes at West Asian music constantly passed negative comments about the movie. (which was East Asian) Two minutes would not pass before one of the women interjected with "Oh, it is so cheesy", or "this is so bad", or loud laughter. A West Asian student, very irritated, stood up, pointed at the white women, and yelled, "You piss me off!" A Chinese student asked the white students to explain what they meant by all those statements. To the foreigner, they sounded derogatory. The white students then claimed that their response had nothing to do with ethnicity and were directed only at the movie.

These cumulative incidents, together with more rudeness from the influx of first year students, caused the international students to complain as a group to the Head Resident. (the student overseeing the dorm) The head resident said, "Oh well, some people are immature and you'll just have to deal with it" In short, nothing was done to the offenders. The head resident (white) was also good friends with one of women who passed negative comments to the foreigners.

In another dorm on the same campus, 8 women of color (either African American or South Asian) moved out of their dorm after the first semester. In this case, the head resident had tried to mediate between the students of color and the students who were hostile to them. The matter was escalated to the student residence life officers (paid college staff) and up the chain of the college hierarchy. No action was taken.

(In a separate incident, another unrelated student of color had met with some hostility from one of the residence life officers at a students' lesbian/bisexual forum. All attendees were queer, and the student of color had chosen to peacefully and non-confrontationally emphasize her identity as a queer person of color at the forum. This drew angry glares from the residence life officer, who was also a lesbian)

The head resident in the case mentioned above resigned because of the inaction of college authorities. And the 8 women of color left the dorm.

M.W.