Vanillanova, they call us. Why? Well, just look outside. Vanilla, meaning white, and furthermore meaning predominantly white students, are the stereotypes of the University. While tasteless, it is statistically true. The University is home to a population that is 79 percent white and 21 percent non-white, and we are as divided a campus as any in regard to who hangs out with whom.
Nevertheless, there is an exception to this rule, an exception that I am a part of—that of the minority Nationer. For those of you scratching your heads, a Nationer is a University student involved in organizations with very large member pools that preserve Villanova culture in practice or in purpose, i.e., Orientation, Blue Key, Ambassadors, Special Olympics, a cappella groups, break trip leaders, etc.
Nationers are the students who are involved in everything and seem to know everyone. They love and care deeply about this school. They are willing to wake up early to make others feel welcome. They are characterized as magnanimous, silly, talented, welcoming, loud and devoted. And like most of the University, they are mostly white.
Minority Nationers, however, find themselves in a rather peculiar situation. We are Black, Latino, Asian and more. We are the living, breathing manifestation of diversity statistics at the University, especially because we are the first line of bodies to show off to the new faces.
Whether we’re giving tours, leading our new students or singing our hearts out on stage, we are visible, more so than other minorities on campus because of our roles.
This also means that we are disconnected from our own respective races, too. When I first got to the University, I assumed that more minorities and specifically, more black students would be involved in Nationer activities. I assumed that more black students would write for the newspaper and that more students of color would be on Orientation staff. But I was wrong.
Generally, minority Nationers hail from upbringings in which we were surrounded by predominantly white people in the classroom, on sports teams and in our neighborhoods. We grew up with mostly white friends and often felt unsure of ourselves, being called “Oreos” and being referred to as someone’s “black” or “Asian” friend, instead of just a friend.
Indeed, it hurts, but we know how to manage ourselves and maneuver through predominantly white spaces because it is all we’ve known. Arriving on campus as freshmen, the first thought is not to join BCS or ASA or to join a multicultural fraternity and sorority, but to join Nationer organizations because we assume that is where we belong.
Senior Eddie Escobio is of Cuban and Dominican descent, and he is involved in Blue Key and Orientation.
“In high school, everyone thought I was black, and it never occurred to anyone that I was Hispanic,” Escobio says.
To the naked eye, Escobio could be seen as racially ambiguous. He continued, “It was also part of the process of defining myself independent from my ethnicity and moreover, many of the relationships I formed were based on the presumption that I was black.”
Despite the assumption of one thing turning out to be the opposite, Escobio’s situation is one that only minorities must face. The assumptions and stereotypes that one must constantly debunk begin to accumulate, creating potential existential identity crises.
“I do have a problem with marketing the school as a diverse institution when it’s not, because if that’s something that is important to people, then they deserve to know,” he says.
If, and indeed if, there is not a representative distribution of non-white students in Nationer organizations, what does that mean? Out of 111 students, if there are 16 non-white Orientation staff members, what does that mean? If out of 89 members of the Special Olympics Committee, there are seven non-whites, what does that mean? And if there are 350 students in Ambassadors and 13 percent are non-white, what does that mean?
I am not asserting that each of these organizations are explicitly discouraging minorities from joining. But I am asserting that this is not just how it is. There is a reason why most students of color are not members in these organizations, and similarly, there is a reason why the few minority Nationers are.
Rachel Lee, who is half-Chinese and half-white, found an internal struggle after she joined Alpha Phi, a Panhellenic sorority, sophomore year and was contacted by the Asian/Pacific Islander sorority, Sigma Psi Zeta.
“I got a request from the sorority and I was really confused,” she says. “I had never thought of myself being in a sorority with all Asian girls because I had never tried to seek them out.”
Despite being able to thrive in predominantly white environments, the crisis of identity occurs when we come to realize that most of the friends we have do not look like us.
“I’ve never been in a group of friends that was entirely Asian and it makes me feel a little bit timid,” Lee says.
Black students, in particular, must negotiate exceptionally ubiquitous stereotypes by doing certain things or behaving certain ways to assure that they will not be associated with certain typecasts. And making the choice to be a Nationer—more specifically a minority Nationer—comes with the territory of incidentally quarantining oneself from most of one’s race on campus.
“Sometimes I feel isolated from the black community because the organizations I chose to be a big part of my life are the organizations most Black students are not involved in,” Julie DeSouza, a black female, says.
The organizations we join end up defining who we are and by becoming a Nationer, it leaves little time to make the effort to socialize specifically with our own race, which could leave us to be defined as one thing as opposed to another.
“It feels like a balancing act,” she says. “I can’t always go to BCS functions because I’m already involved in Nationer activities.”
Interestingly enough, all three of the individuals interviewed for this piece—and myself included—did not jump to join multicultural organizations first. One, we hoped to avoid the stigma of being characterized as a Latino student or an Asian student instead of just a student. And two, our predominantly white backgrounds prepared us to feel relatively comfortable here at the University anyway.
One can only assume that without the years of adjustment in those white backgrounds, gravitating towards multicultural organizations could be the only place where students of color truly feel comfortable. If we minority Nationers are struggling, imagine how the rest of the non-white students might feel.