White culture at Tulane promotes apathy, ignorance

Cecilia Hammond, Senior Staff Writer

white culture at tulane
Cecilia Hammond

I came to Tulane as a fairly stereotypical student here. I grew up in an upper-middle-class household in the north, with educated parents and little knowledge of New Orleans, but with a desire to study at a prestigious institution. Unlike many Tulane students, however, I am a half-Filipino, second-generation immigrant whose decision to attend Tulane was largely because of a scholarship.

I have been acutely aware of my racial identity for as long as I can remember and underwent my own journey towards self-acceptance. Initially, I tried to avoid drawing attention to my brownness but eventually saw it as a source of pride. I enjoyed the attention I got sharing the most palatable aspects of my “exotic” Filipino culture with my white friends. I also grew accustomed to bigoted comments which catalyzed my transition from a cursory interest in race, where I tailored my culture for white people, towards concrete explorations of racial power dynamics. When I was in middle school, I traveled to the Philippines, where my family doted over my white features. This experience prompted me to explore colorism in Filipino culture, which led to an exploration of Western colonialism and imperialism

Unlike less privileged Black and Brown people, my race never jeopardized my safety or access to opportunities, yet I feel my radicalization was inevitable because of my race. In high school, I avidly read Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis and various feminist and leftist perspectives. I also participated in school groups, protests and local organizing. Political engagement felt normal, because most of my friends were as involved as I was, if not more. Therefore, I was surprised to come to Tulane and be immediately branded as the “woke friend.”

Within a few months, I developed a grim perception of white Tulane. The onslaught of casual racism from my white peers initially shocked me, but I realized that incidents like seeing white students disrespect service workers and hearing girls discuss having a mixed kid with light eyes were regular occurrences at Tulane. I was especially let down when someone said the n-word in my room, and no one supported me when I kicked him out and stopped hanging out with him. I initially tried to educate anyone with an ignorant opinion but found this was rarely productive. Tulane students consistently refused to listen to me, often blaming me for being too sensitive or politically correct. It became extremely tiring and frustrating to call people out, because not only did no one support me, but it also felt pointless. I surrendered to crying in bathroom stalls or ranting to my friends at home. 

When my freshman year was cut short due to the pandemic, I began educating myself again through reading, social media, attending protests and engaging in meaningful conversations. My effort was also fueled by the national response to various cases of police brutality against Black people. Being away from Tulane gave me time to process and react to the emotions associated with these horrible incidents amongst friends, family and even strangers at protests. I returned to Tulane optimistic about continuing my activism and reading, especially after many students participated avidly in Instagram activism. But I returned to find the Tulane bubble intact. Within a few weeks back on campus, Tulane’s self-absorbed culture sucked me back in. 

Many students at Tulane have been told they’re gifted their entire lives, have rarely had to work for anything and grew up surrounded by people with the same extreme wealth as them. As a result, they are self-absorbed and detached from reality. Tulane culture encourages self-obsession through extravagant social events, excessive drinking and drugs, and reckless spending. The glamorization of this lifestyle is harmful not only because it is unattainable for less wealthy students, but because it overlaps with a culture of complete apathy and ignorance amongst privileged white students. We foster superiority complexes over attending a prestigious institution, yet many Tulane students lack the mental strength to expand their minds if they don’t see what’s in it for them. Caring about things isn’t cool here, with the most obvious example being how students who choose to be cautious during the pandemic are ridiculed.

I was unsure whether I could even write this article, because I am a hypocrite for participating in and thereby condoning Tulane culture while simultaneously hating it. My privilege lets me choose to engage with white Tulane culture or not, and I am often guilty of making the easy choice. However, I have realized that while it’s easy to feel stuck among a sea of people who have all the resources and no ambition to do good in the world, the bar is so low that it would not take much to marginally improve campus culture. White people, start small! Skip the darty this weekend and drive somewhere you can learn about Black history in New Orleans. Next time you do a line of coke, use the extra energy to learn about cartel violence in South America. Not only is Google free, but so are most reputable news outlets for Tulane students, so stop treating your sole BIPOC friend like an encyclopedia. Tulane students must develop an awareness of their place in the world. This can only come from popping the Tulane bubble and transforming our culture into one that encourages self-improvement, real community care and diverse perspectives.