Ricky is an incoming senior at Penn State University, majoring in computer engineering. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, but is of Asian descent. He answered a few questions for me regarding his experience at Penn State as a student of color.
When I initially asked Ricky what ethnicity he is, he hesitated and said American. I anticipated this happening because of the high probability he was born in the U.S. and the assumptions often made from outsiders that he isn’t from America. I responded with reassurance, letting him know I assumed he was born in the U.S., but was wondering what country his ancestors originated from. He informed me that they were from China.
Ricky has several hobbies and interests, but two of his main ones are cooking and technology. He has grown to love discovering new tasteful recipes and improving his skill in the kitchen. He often prefers to stay in and prepare his own meal as opposed to going out to eat, partly because it’s cheaper, but also because he loves to cook. Ricky also has a lot of interest in technology, specifically computer technology. This is why he is a computer engineer major.
I asked Ricky if he had any cultural traditions or customs from his Chinese background. He explained that he doesn’t have many, considering he grew up in Philadelphia and lived in the urban American culture all his life, but that he does still celebrate the Chinese New Year with his extended family.
Ricky and I discussed how his ethnic background affects his experiences here at Penn State and how they might differ from mine. He told me that he does tend to socialize with other students of similar descent, just as other races and ethnicities typically do. He joined an Asian fraternity which also plays into his main friend groups in college. Although he is in this frat and has a lot of Asian or Asian American friends, he also has several friends of different races and ethnicities, such as African American, white, and Hispanic.
I asked Ricky if he ever sees or experiences prejudice or racism on campus. His facial expression and body language in his initial response demonstrated that he didn’t think there was. After taking a second to think, he explained that other students do usually have certain generalizations in their head when they see a student of Asian descent, such as the food they eat or the things they are interested in. Ricky talked to me about how everyone thinks Asians only eat sushi or Panda Express, which is not true. He also said when students see a student of Asian descent they often automatically assume he or she is an international student. He mentioned the stereotype that all Asians are good at math or not good at certain sports such as basketball.
As a white female at Penn State, I obviously don’t experience the same prejudice or stereotyping that an Asian-American male would. I was still able to empathize with Ricky and understand that those stereotypes would get old after a while, and are simply not always true. When I go outside and play pickup basketball with all the guys at the courts multiple times a week, they often assume I wouldn’t be the type of girl to get dressed up and go out at night. Then when I see one of them at a party they act a little surprised that I do, because of that stereotype that female basketball players are tomboys. I recognize that this is not a racial stereotype, but hearing about Ricky’s experiences with stereotyping at Penn State reminded me of a few of the stereotypes I receive as well.
I enjoyed interviewing Ricky and learning about his experience at Penn State. It was fun getting to know him and talking about different hobbies and interests. As a freshman, it was interesting for me to talk to a senior and hear about his three years here. Discussing racial and ethnic prejudices, stereotypes, cultural differences, and social tendencies helped me gain a better understanding and knowledge of life at Penn State as a student of color.