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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: Parent’s Weekend

The College was required to refill all new RLC positions this school year. Photo by Alice Herman.

I have been living in residence halls for seven years, four of which were in my home country, where my family lived an hour away. However, I never invited my family to parents’ weekend, open houses or parent-teacher conferences. The only time my mom saw my residence hall since freshmen move-in day was my graduation. This is not because I didn’t love my family or that they’re not involved, but I just didn’t see the value in it. For one, my mom doesn’t speak English, and as my classes were conducted all in English, there was no point for her to sit in on my classes.

As the years went on, I went from being indifferent to parents’ weekend to resenting it. Parents’ weekend exemplified for me the flaws of an elite private education. First, I realized that parents’ weekend is a performance. Parents have to pretend to be interested in the calculus class their kid is taking. The child puts on a good student façade: wears jeans and a blouse rather than their usual pajamas, introduces their parents to their professors and friends, etc. The institution also puts on a performance as well. It is well known that during the weekend Dining Hall food is better, there are cool events and lots of talk about wellness. So for me, there is something unsettling about the performance aspect of parents’ weekend, the façade that masks some real aspects of the student’s lives.

Second, the weekend amplifies the trend that private educations are modeled like a business where students and families are treated like customers. This module, facilitated by the cost of sending kids to expensive elite institutions, produces a sense of entitlement that some parents have to be involved in the decision making. For my high school this meant a committee of parents regularly made suggestions to the school that made our lives considerably more difficult. Additionally, last Friday I saw this sense of entitlement manifest in the parent’s interactions at Grinnell. When I saw a friend on break from her Spencer Grill shift eating dinner at 8:30 p.m., I sat down with her and we chatted a little bit. After a few minutes a man walked up to her and said, “Did you put our orders through?” It was evident that he was a parent sitting at the Grill with his wife and son. There was some mistake with the order, but all was straightened out and the family did get their order. What stunned me was how the father interacted with the student worker. There seemed to be sense of entitlement and annoyance in how he talked with my friend and the other workers. His behavior not only as a parent, but also as a white male towards students of color made me very uncomfortable. I wondered why a customer would feel so entitled that they can come up to an employee during her break? And more importantly, why would a parent talk to a student, their child’s peer, that way?

Third, I resent parents’ weekend because once I came to the States I realized that I could no longer choose whether to invite my parents or not. The absence of choice and not having my family 40 minutes away bothers me at times. But I’m not known to be the warm and fuzzy type. I don’t weep about it because I know it is part of a choice I made to study 12,000 kilometers away. So it doesn’t help that whenever a friend introduces me to their parent they engage with me in a pitiful tone. I know that they mean well by acknowledging my geographical distance, but it frustrates me that they think they can comprehend the actuality of my situation or my capabilities of dealing with it.

Finally, this article is not intended to diminish or dismiss the work that this community does to support international students. Just this weekend, a staff member invited me to join her family at the ice cream social. Those moments of connection help me appreciate the intentions of the weekend. It also not intended to speak for all international students. It will be naïve to assume that international students, even those from the same country, have the same experiences.

-Farah Omar ’18 is an international student from Somaliland.

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