Anuska Dhar, ’19
Walking into the org fair my freshman year, I felt this weight lifted off my shoulders as I realized I could totally reinvent myself in college and explore interests I had never been able to prioritize before in high school. Granted, the possibilities seemed a little overwhelmingly endless, but it was exciting nonetheless. I remember enthusiastically approaching the booth labeled “Vanderbilt Feminists,” a bit skeptical talking to a blonde girl wearing a shift dress. As she pointed to the first line on the flyer spelling out their intersectional focus however, I was swiftly sold on the organization and realized I had judged her a little too quickly.
It was a realization a bit jarring for someone who had always prided herself on being open-minded, and it certainly is something I have had to keep working at ever since I first stepped on this campus– starting with my freshmen year roommate. While I certainly heard a fair share of horror stories, going random my freshmen year was the best decision I’ve ever made. My roommate and I probably differed on every point you could imagine – from religious background, political stance, family structure, and even skin color – yet the respect and support I received from her was more than enough to make me grow as a person. She didn’t just tolerate our differences, she worked to understand me better every day and actively listened to what I had to say. As someone who commits myself fiercely and loyally to the people I love, I had totally underestimated the impact and power that relationship could have, even though we hadn’t yet become the good friends we are now.
As second semester of freshman year rolled around however, I found myself feeling a mental burden that was only increasing with each day. With the help of a few friends, the PCC, and a mindfulness group, I was able to find my own strength, worth, and purpose again, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. By the time summer arrived, I was exhausted – from academics, college, and life in general. Working at a summer camp back at home, I took the time to completely detach from the world of Vanderbilt and found out a lot I had been suppressing.
I had come out to my parents, become vegan, and soon would be torn with the decision of dropping my sorority. As I returned to campus I was just desperately hoping things would be different this time. They certainly were, but not as I had imagined. As silly as it sounds, without the comfort and stability of Commons, I had to re-navigate what was important to me. The hardest thing was understanding that while I was busy growing and changing, so had other people and that everyone carries their own baggage. While I definitely found my academic confidence again and learned to prioritize myself, whether it was world events or the energy on campus, I left feeling disillusioned of the so-called diversity and inclusion Vanderbilt prided itself on.
Whether it’s the 20/20 vision hindsight reveals or the reflection the new year always brings, I’ve now seen just how much my freshman year and 2016 in general has taught me. College is a stressful environment and just because we may be named one of the happiest campuses in the nation doesn’t mean we are unaware of the realities that face us, or can’t work to change the inequality we see. I’ve learned that this isn’t high school where there always felt like a step-by-step plan for life. This is the best opportunity I’ll have to try everything and anything I’m interested in, even if it doesn’t feel like it’ll amount to anything at the time. It’s not hypocritical to change as a person just as it isn’t selfish for you to take care of yourself throughout this journey. Surrounding myself with people who care and communities at Vanderbilt that embolden me has helped me become all the more self-aware and pushed me to actually become the open-minded person I once thought I was.