When I first entered DuBois College House three years ago, I was unsure of my place there. And then, on the House's dedication plaque, I read a quote by W.E.B. DuBois that would change my view of the House and my place within it. "It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others," DuBois wrote in his 1903 classic The Souls of Black Folk. From that point, although still unsure of my place, I sensed that DuBois College House had something to teach me. Three years later -- now a graduate associate in the House -- I have learned plenty about what DuBois has to offer. But through this experience, I have learned even more about myself. DuBois serves two unique purposes. One is to educate the University community about black history and issues. There is probably no better source of information on the history of African Americans at Penn than the walls of DuBois. The multipurpose room and first floor east hallway are like a museum -- filled with plaques, pictures and newspaper articles dating back over 100 years -- even before W.E.B. DuBois himself came to Penn. Second, DuBois provides a family atmosphere and living space for the entire black community on campus. On any given day, it hosts everything from study groups to rehearsals to academic lectures. Many non-residents attend these activities, and some come to DuBois just to hang out in the Gallery and talk. So it provides a common space that extends far beyond residents. But what I have gained from DuBois goes far beyond this dual mission. In addition to learning about black history and meeting people in the Gallery, living in the House has challenged me to think about my own identity and confront my own "double consciousness." In a place that is defined by black identity, I wondered whether my ethnicity would be an issue. Where would I -- as a South Asian American -- fit in? And why did this matter to me in the first place? Why didn't the issue of race occur to me when I was in a predominantly white crowd? After all, I am also in a minority there. Unfortunately, predominantly white institutions often convey an attitude of colorblindness, acting as if race does not matter. Yet, these organizations are usually dominated by white leadership, cultural norms and values. Thus, I have often felt uncomfortable in these settings, and because race is not discussed, I did not even know how to articulate my concerns. However, in DuBois, black issues and interests are always at the forefront, and there is never any attempt to hide that. So if you are not black and want to be involved, you must make an effort to understand how you fit in. Thinking about this may cause discomfort. But in the end, if you interested, you can find a niche. And dealing with race is far better than hiding from it. As it turned out, no one in DuBois seemed to care much about my ethnic background -- except for me. In all of the black student activities I have attended over the years, not a single student has raised my ethnicity as an issue. But personally, I still had to struggle with the question of how I fit in. And as I have resolved this question -- and created my own niche in DuBois -- it is a more comfortable home to me than any other place on campus. In fact, thinking about how I fit in at DuBois also propelled me to consider identity issues for South Asian Americans. As a result, I became involved in the South Asia Regional Studies department, the South Asian Society and Sangam. I have found this involvement very rewarding and complementary to my residential experience. Ironically, living in DuBois has helped me embrace my own South Asian American identity. And ultimately, that is DuBois' main principle -- being aware of yourself and your roots. Seeing myself through the eyes of DuBois College House has become part of my own "double consciousness." And more than anything else, this view has taught me about myself.Comments powered by Disqus
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