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A Message for Our ReadersDiane Schwemm
It was serendipitous that, just as Ramesh A. Nagarajah’s blog “Reflections from a Token Black Friend” was going viral on Medium.com, CollegiateParent’s editor realized that he was a friend of a friend.
We reached out and he kindly made time to speak with a few of us even though his schedule was becoming packed with interview requests.
This summer, Ramesh is enjoying well-deserved time off at home in Massachusetts between his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy and the start of graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University.
It was a privilege and pleasure to get to know Ramesh. We appreciated hearing about his experiences and his take on how they connect to applicable life lessons for everybody. Between the pandemic and the protests, the mood in the country is tumultuous but Ramesh sees this moment as an opportunity. “I’m a realist but I’m also an optimist. I think we can leverage emotions‚ including negative ones, to promote personal growth.”
We are happy to share some of his insights that are especially relevant for parents and families of students starting college this fall.
We’re standing on a precipice of change, and it’s an incredibly inspiring change to witness. All of a sudden, people are starting to actively listen in a way that’s extremely unique to our time. There’s been a culture switch in which people actually want to talk about these important issues and want to learn more!
Marginalized individuals and their stories are experiencing a distinct respect and an audience that is willing to learn and change. Whereas it was once more common for people addressing these topics to have been labelled “overly passionate” or “angry,” now there are people more than willing to listen to their narratives.
This change in our conversations is also making college an extra special experience as students start to navigate this new space while interacting with so many new people from different backgrounds. This is a doubly pivotal time for college students because they are exploring these conversations without the guidance of their parents or the influence of their home culture.
College is, of course, a formative time, and everybody’s approach to their college experience is different. Many plan to spend their time in college branching out and diversifying their experiences, but a lot of times it’s too easy to slip back into old high school habits and patterns.
Though your student will obviously make their own decisions and pursue what they would like, encourage your student to experience more than what they already know! Think back to your college experiences and consider what you might have done that would have made your experience better. Share these thoughts with your student!
Be open and honest with your student about how new experiences might make them uncomfortable, because it can be incredibly uncomfortable to be the only white student at the Black Student Union or the only straight ally at the LGBTQ Alliance. Communicate how rewarding these experiences can be even if it is uncomfortable. Having an open conversation with your student about how scary it can be to consider what people might think of you will help them be more comfortable exploring their passions as well as help their sense of self-confidence and assurance that they’re allowed to be whoever they want.
Diversifying their range of experiences can help make them a more educated, well-rounded person, having made an active effort to broaden their personal world views.
The concept of allyship is something that varies from person to person, and we have many different perspectives to reflect on. Ramesh stresses that being an ally “means something different every single time and it’s completely situational and completely imperfect.”
He reminded us that allyship looks different for every individual because every individual comes with their own unique set of challenges, and that it is always a learning process. “You’re going to learn to be a better ally probably by failing tomorrow, and then the next ten times you’re going to be great at [being an ally] because you really messed up.”
Ramesh encourages people to look for what’s in a person’s heart, rather than try to pick apart every sentence or action to find fault. He reminded us how hard it can be to fight off how you were raised and socialized and that it’s important to acknowledge when someone is trying their best to connect with you.
It’s not often we meet someone who creates a shift in how we think, speak and act. We are grateful for our new friendship with Ramesh and wish him all the best as he moves into the next chapter of his life.
Ramesh Nagarajah is a recent graduate of the United States Naval Academy where he majored in Political Science, graduating with honors. He is currently a Marine Corps Officer, and will begin his graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University this fall.
Ramesh is the author of the recent viral article, "Reflections from a Token Black Friend," which discusses his unique perspective on race relations and implicit bias through the lens of an individual who is very close with the white community. Find Ramesh on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.
This article was written by Ianni Le and Diane Schwemm. Our phone interviews with Ramesh were lightly edited and condensed for clarity. We also recommend Ramesh's Facebook Live interview with Todd Herman.